Lothar Wolleh Sees Jan Schoonhoven at Prinsenhof in Delft

The exhibition Lothar Wolleh sees Jan Schoonhoven, curated by Antoon Melissen at the splendid Prinsenhof Museum in Delft, gives us a fascinating insight into the life and work of an unconventional and eccentric Dutch artist through the lens of a very successful and fashionable German photographer.

Schoonhoven’s work was always three dimensional, always on paper or cardboard, always symmetrical and always white. Imagine a sort of monochrome Mondrian in relief. He was born and lived all his life in Delft, his working life spent in an office of the Dutch post office. He created his art in the evenings on the dining table in the tiny first floor apartment he shared with his wife overlooking a canal in the shadow of the Nieuwe Kerk in the centre of town. There is a photo of him sketching while sitting on his iron-farmed bed surrounded by piles of stuff in his minute bedroom.

We know a lot about where Schoonhoven lived and how he worked because of a strange friendship he had with German photographer Lothar Wolleh. The unlikely rapport between two completely opposite characters resulted in the former’s life and work being documented over the course of several years until Wolleh’s untimely death at the age of forty-nine in 1979.

Wolleh always used a large format Hasselblad camera.  The prints are square, always produced from the negative without any cropping or intervention. And although the camera is unwieldy, and the fact that Wolleh invariably used a heavy tripod, the pictures have a very informal, spontaneous feel to them. There was always a rapport, a symbiosis between the two artists. In the second room of the exhibition there are drawings by Schoonhoven made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny thin lines. Close by is a Wolleh photo of the artist taken in the street from above showing the thousands of lines created by the cracks between the brick paving.

Schoonhoven had an obsessive personality, his work and the intricate preparation involved lots of precise measuring. But apart from his work he was equally fixated in his personal life, arranging fruit in order of size and lining up his roll-up cigarettes in a neat line before going off to work. He became obsessed by a single paving stone on one of the canals, constantly checking it and removing weed or rubbish. Despite a fairly impoverished cramped existence, diametrically opposed to that of Wolleh, his life was as ordered as his work, perhaps as a result of his pushing paper around a desk at the post office.

Wolleh’s day job was as a top commercial photographer in Düsseldorf where he lived in a luxury loft apartment surrounded by designer furniture and art by friends and people he photographed – Josef Beuys, Immendorf, Baselitz and all the other German artists that would rule the art world in the 1980’s. He also worked with painters to create pictures that were half photos, half paintings or collage and some of these are in the exhibition. But it his relationship with Schoonhoven and the resulting work on which this exhibition concentrates that demonstrates that opposites attract, often with surprising results.

There is an excellent book/catalogue to accompany the exhibition written by Antoon Melissen full of reproductions of Schoonhoven’s work as well as the photographs of Lothar Wolleh.

Lothar Wolleh sees Jan Schoonhoven is at the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft until 7th January 2024