Born 1922 in Szczerzec near Lvov, died 1978 in Nice, France.
Born 1922 in Szczerzec near Lviv, died 1978 in Nice, France. Oberländer - along with Jan Dziedziora, Jacek Sienicki, and Elzbieta Grabska - was an initiator and among the most active organizers of the "Against War, Against Fascism" Polish National Exhibition of Young Visual Arts, held in July of 1955 at Warsaw's Arsenal just before the political "thaw" of 1956.
Oberländer - along with Jan Dziedziora, Jacek Sienicki, and Elżbieta Grabska - was an initiator and among the most active organizers of the "Against War, Against Fascism" Polish National Exhibition of Young Visual Arts, held in July of 1955 at Warsaw's Arsenal just before the political "thaw" of 1956. The idea for the exhibition was first put forward at a social gathering held at his small apartment in the Okolnik district of Warsaw. Stalin had died two years earlier and hopes were high for ideological change. It was in this atmosphere that a group of young painters, supported by an equally young art historian and critic, decided to organize an exhibition made up of works created during outside of the official art world during the Socialist Realist period and subsequently hidden away in private studios for years. Once assembled, the exhibition was viewed as a protest against both Socialist Realism and Colorism - a movement that had ruled Polish art after World War II, reigning especially strong in academic circles.
In 1939 Oberländer was pressed into the Soviet Army and remained a soldier through 1946, serving within the borders of the Soviet Union. After the war he enrolled at the Visual Arts College in Warsaw (1946-48) and went on to study at the city's Academy of Fine Arts from 1948 to 1953.
Oberländer's first significant experience as an artist was his participation in the Arsenal show, at which he exhibited works that depicted the martyrdom of the Jewish nation during the war. These included his dramatic lithographs Nigdy wiecej getta / No More Ghettos and Reportaz spod szubienicy / Report from the Gallows (before 1955) and paintings titled Napietnowani / Branded and Cebule / Onions (1955). These works (the paintings in particular) were described as "expressive realist", were brutally austere in expressive means and characterized by an economy of color and a simplified representation of tarnished figures and decaying, ugly objects. Oberländer was consciously, ostentatiously, and "barbarically" anti-aesthetic. This approach, derived from his choice of motifs, was directed against the aesthetics of Colorism and simultaneously increased the expressive power of his compositions. Critics today identify the artist's two paintings as exemplifying the attitudes and poetics characteristic "Arsenal" art. Although overlooked by the jury, Oberländer did receive a special prize from the editors of "Po Prostu" / "Simply" weekly for these works, developing a long-term relationship that resulted in the opening of the "Po Prostu" Exhibition Salon in 1956, where the artist his first solo exhibition in 1959 and which he managed throughout its existence (1961). This was followed by similar relationships with the magazines "Nowa Kultura" / "New Culture" and "Współczesność" / "Contemporary Times", which helped the artist to his second solo exhibition in 1960. Oberländer continued to be publicly active and through his efforts brought about the creation of one of the first contemporary art galleries in Warsaw, prompting others to seek the same.
Throughout this time he was also painting and drawing, creating numerous works in which he gradually cast off his original brutality and focused on creating a more intimate mood. These were largely portraits that emphasized the psyche of his models, though he also painted genre scenes and still lifes and at times turned towards abstraction. In general, his works of this period were more variegated than previously. With time he began to deform the human figure more and more radically, though he retained it as a clear symbol of individual experience (evident in his ink and gouache portraits of 1957-58, among them, the Garbate / Hunchbacks series). Through constant modification of the human silhouette, he consistently and (what is more important) successfully strived towards a maximal synthesis of form. He drew inspiration from the world of nature; the unreal, sometimes stylized, elongated shapes of insects became a model for his approximately drawn, over-simplified, highly condensed, vertically oriented female figures (Sylwetki / Silhouettes, 1961-63). The vibrating, unsettled components of these compositions (a spider web-like tangle of thin lines, unrestrained splashes and drippings of semi-translucent paint) strengthened their disquieting, angst-ridden aura. Oberländer's "torsos" and "skeletons" were often compared to Jan Lebenstein's Figury hieratyczne / Hieratic Figures and Figury osiowe / Axial Figures, though this seems somewhat unjustified. Lebenstein's compositions seem more ostentatiously and tangibly aggressive, while the drama in Oberländer's figures derives from their hidden, inner life. In spite of this, the works of both artists evoke associations with Wols's Tachiste drawings of seemingly anatomical assemblages.
In 1963 the painter left for France and his contacts with Poland loosened. While abroad he exhibited widely (Stockholm, 1963, 1965; Paris, 1964; St-Paul de Vence, 1965; Berlin, 1967; Amsterdam, 1970; Antibes, 1973). After a bout with serious illness, his art changed (for example, see the gouache Zawał serca / Heart Attack, 1964). He began creating mostly abstract works filled with dissolving shapes, their stratified textures bisected by sharp rays of light. Shortly thereafter all allusions to the human figure disappeared from his work, and in the end, Oberländer focused almost entirely on "impressionistic" landscapes (Lato / Summer, 1964; Noc / Night, 1967), which he sought to imbue with a more optimistic air. The compositions he created in the last years of his life, however, no longer had the electrifying inner tension that lent so much integrity to his earlier works.
Oberländer donated a large section of his legacy to the National Museum in Wroclaw in 1977; his other works remain dispersed throughout Poland and the world. The artist remained committed to Arsenal exhibition ideas and traditions and lent his full support to Jacek A. Zieliński, who in the late 1970s initiated an effort to create the "Arsenal Circle" collection at the Regional Museum (known today as the Jan Dekert Lubuski Region Museum) in the city of Gorzów Wielkopolski. This collection, made up of works embodying Arsenal themes, is on permanent display at one of the museum's branches and was presented in 1992 at Warsaw's Zachęta Contemporary Art Gallery. A larger selection of the artist's works was presented at posthumous exhibitions organized in Warsaw and Wroclaw in 1980, the catalogue for which contains extensive information about the artist's oeuvre.
Author: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, Art History Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin, Faculty of Art Theory and the History of Artistic Doctrines, December 2001