Wolfgang Paalen catalyzed critical art and intellectual theory, invented new automatist painting techniques and inspired some of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Born in Vienna in 1905, he was exposed to the elite members of art and academic society of the age including Hans Hofmann, Julius Meier-Graefe, Hans Arp, Fernand Léger, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud. As an adult, his pioneering art innovations and theories were shared with and informed by the top thinkers including André Breton, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko.
Fleeing war-torn Europe for Mexico in 1939, at the invitation of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Paalen made Mexico his home. Paalen and his new wife, Luchita Hurtado del Solar, moved to Mill Valley, California in 1948, where Paalen formed the Dynaton Group with Gordon Onslow Ford and Lee Mullican. Hurtado eventually divorced Paalen and married Mullican in 1950. Paalen returned to Mexico and remained there until his death in 1959.
An avid collector and theorist, Paalen’s art was in an ever-constant state of change to reflect his environmental surroundings. He amassed an important collection of ethnological artifacts, many of which now belong to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Wolfgang Paalen’s paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures have been widely exhibited in the United States and abroad and are represented in many museum collections including Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate Britain, London, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Paalen founded the influential art magazine, DYN, which includes writing and works from some of the most important artists of this era and catalyzed much of 21st-century art theory, which culminated in a dedicated exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2012.
Paalen’s work is currently on view in two major exhibitions in North America—Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism from 1910-1950, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I Had an Interesting French Artist to See Me This Summer: Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen in British Columbia, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia.