In the few years between the Second World War and his sudden death in 1970, Reinhold Koehler developed an immense body of artistic work, dedicated to his principle of décollage. Both he and his art belong to the Rhine-Westphalia lands of Germany, where the Düsseldorf ‘Gruppe 53’ came to prominence in 1956, practicing ‘Informel’, using the Tachist and gestural styles. Nowhere else in Germany was there an artistic concentration of this kind. The movement included painters such as Peter Brüning, Karl Fred Dahmen, Albert Fürst, Herbert Götzinger, Gerhard Hoehme, Hahn Trier, Otto Piene and Heinz Mack. It was also during this time that Gerhardt Richter came over from Eastern Germany to be able to paint freely. He practiced Tachism, then a form of Pop Art before turning to his trade-mark style of blurry press-photographs.
Amidst this buoyant artistic scene, Koehler was a lone wolf. He had invented the technique of ‘décollage’ and used it as early as 1948, ten years before the Neo-Dadaists. On the Island of Sylt, Koehler had covered pieces of cardboard with black ink and then started tearing off parts to make visible a form of figuration. His early use of different techniques of manipulating paper were revolutionary: tearing, cutting by knife, scratching by knife or fingers and unravelling.
In 1951, Koehler made his first wrinkled works and during 1956-57, he turned his attention to sand as a material, to create ‘matter’ paintings. In 1958, Koehler had one-man shows in Siegen, Dusseldorf, Kassel and Frankfurt, before moving to Paris. At this time the official naming of his works came into being and were from then on known as: Décollages purs’, ‘Décollages gravés’ and ‘Object décollages’. In 1959, Koehler experimented with fire and made a series of ‘Décollages brûlés’ – paper blackened with the imprint of heated metal, usually forks. The same year, the eminent writer and philosopher Max Bense published a first text about Koehler’s ‘Décollages’.
By 1960, his painting on canvas consisted of ‘Space Fields’ and ‘Thorax Paintings’. The former are areas decked with hollow points, a little like craters of the moon. In fact, from a distance these do have a space-expansion, which almost amounts to optical illusion. The ‘Thorax Paintings’ are Koehler’s approach to the human figure; the space experience is shallower and denser, more like that surrounding sculpture.
During 1963-1964, Koehler covered his collages and décollages with broken glass, which are known as ‘Contra-collages’. Simultaneously, he composed objects from broken plates and bottles. His work was now subject of many one-man shows in Siegen, Wiesbaden, Groningen, as well as the subject of articles by scholarly writers such as Helmut Heissenbüttel, Wilhelm Nettmann and Wieland Schmied.
Between 1965 and his untimely death in 1970, Koehler exhibited worldwide in Prague, Auckland, Casablanca, Bukarest, Zagreb, Stuttgart and Cologne. His unique contribution to art history was recognised during his lifetime. In 1986 the Sprengel Museum, Hannover hosted a retrospective show, which travelled to the Wilhelm-hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen, the Museum moderner Kunst, Palais Liechtenstein, Vienna and the Siegerland-Museum, Siegen.
1950, Galerie Kunstspiegel, Freiburg im Breisgau
1951, Museum des Siegerlandes, Siegen
1951, Museum Haus am Dom, Mainz
1958, Galerie Lometsch, Kassel
1958, Galerie ruth Nohl, Siegen
1958, Galerie Alfred Schmela, Düsseldorf
1958, Galerie Klaus Franck, Frankfurt/Main
1960, Galerie Otto van de Loo, München
1960, Städtisches Museum, Weisbaden
1961, Galerie Boukes, Wiesbaden
1961, Kunstpavilllon, Soest
1961, Galerie Lometsch, Kassel
1963, Galerie Boukes, Wiesbaden
1964, Märkisches Museum, Witten
1964, Kunstzaal de mangelgang, Groningen
1964, Galerie Albert Waalkens, Finsterwolde
1964, Galerie Ruth Nohl, Siegen
1964, junge Galerie, Kassel
1964, Städtische Galerie, Siegen
1965, Studiengalerie Techn. Hochschule, Stuttgart
1965, von-deer-Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal
1965, Galerie Na Karlove Námesti, Prague
1966, Kunstpavillion, Soest
1966, Galerie Ruth Nohl, Siegen
1967, Galerie Porta, Wuppertal-Barmen
1968, Forum für visuelle Experimente, Solingen
1968, Galerie Hans Jörg Meyer, Stuttgart
1968, Kleine-Grafik-Galerie, Bremen
1968, Galerie Toni Brechbühl, Grenchen
1968, Galerie Ruth Nohl, Siegen
1968, Galerie K 235, Köln
1968, Galerie Weinelt, Hof
1969, Galerie Schiessel, Köln
1969, Städtischer Kunstverein, Bochum
1970, Galerie S-Press, Blankstein
1970, Städtische Galerie, Siegen
1977, Galerie Karin Fesel, Wiesbaden
1980, Galerie Karin Fesel, Wiesbaden
1985, Sprengel Museum Hannover
1985/1986, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen
1986, Museum moderner Kunst, Palais Liechtenstein, Wien
1986, Siegerland-Museum, Siegen