Critics’ Picks

Franz Sedlacek, Rest on the Flight Into Egypt, 1934, oil on canvas, 25 x 21".

Vienna

Franz Sedlacek

Wien Museum | Karlsplatz
Karlsplatz 8
January 30 - April 21

Large, bright windows and dim inner spaces, landscapes plunged in melodramatic light alternating between idyll and dystopia, isolated protagonists with grotesque features, and bleak images that anticipate the catastrophic political developments of the 1930s: In this overdue exhibition, Franz Sedlacek is fairly characterized as a “Chemist of the Imagination.” With a magic-realist, graceful brushstroke, he offers a view on a shadowy world, he exaggerates an oppressive present with dark tones, and he transforms the uncanny into the transcendental.

Sedlacek, who was born in Breslau (then part of the German Empire, today the Polish city of Wrocław) in 1891, is relatively contemporary compared with the antediluvian artists who most commonly become subject to retrospective artistic rediscovery. His oil paintings of the 1920s and ’30s—representative of a fantastic combination of the influences of the Neue Sachlichkeit plus a skepticism of progress and neo-Romantic seascapes—also feel timely in that they invoke, as does so much very contemporary art, oppressive atmospheres and irritating states of mind. Sedlacek officially joined the Nazis in 1939 and his paintings negotiate the turbulence and disavowals of the First Republic and the repressive climate of Austrian fascism. “In my work I can say with colors what I think of my contemporaries without being sent to a concentration camp,” he once surprisingly said.

“Viennese Painter Revels in the Grotesque” was how Life magazine categorized his paintings in 1937. The canvases bear the traits of caricature; the parodic quality of his work was also manifest in his theatrical works, short films, and grotesque-absurd poems. Providing just a snapshot view of his career, this show, with its images of cities, still lifes, interiors, and landscapes, captivates with a visionary power that has lost none of its intensity.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.