Marek Oberländer

The Polish National Exhibition of Young Visual Arts "Against War, Against Fascism" at the Arsenal in Warsaw came as Oberländer’s first significant artistic manifestation. He turned primarily to wartime archival photography, from which he borrowed inspiration for his works. Related to the memory of the Holocaust, the pieces presented at the Arsenal exhibition in 1955 were treated by Oberländer as a documentation of war events. The painting Branded commemorates three Jews standing with their eyes firmly fixed on the ground and with red stars cut on their foreheads, which were supposed to signify both their Jewish origin and communist affiliation. Their yellowed faces emerge from a dark background. The painting features thick impastos as well as simple, austere forms. Oberländer referred to this style as expressive realism. It was characterized by a brutal asceticism of artistic means and simplification of figures degraded by war violence. Austere in colour, even anti-aesthetic, the paintings offer an antithesis of both Colourism and Socialist Realism. Besides works by Izaak Celnikier, Oberländer’s pieces were some of the first post-war paintings bearing testimony to the Holocaust, as opposed to the official heroic narrative of communism as a victory over fascism.

Marek Oberländer (b. 1922 in Szczecin, d. 1978 in Nice) – Polish painter. Forcefully conscripted into the Red Army during the war, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw between 1948 and 1953. In 1963, Oberländer left for Paris and turned to abstract and landscape painting. The Polish National Exhibition of Young Visual Arts Against War, Against Fascism was one of his most significant artistic manifestations.

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