Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, German Mail Artist with a Cult Following, Dies at 92

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, whose typewritten pieces of mail art have developed a small but growing following among artists, particularly in Germany, has died at 92. Her death was announced on Tuesday by ChertLüdde, her German gallery. klik99

Wolf-Rehfeldt received mainstream recognition in the past decade, years after she stopped producing art after she felt she had nothing more to say. She appeared in Documenta 14, the 2017 edition of the famed art exhibition in Kassel, Germany, and won the Hannah Höch Prize in 2022. A 2023 retrospective at Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett museum earned her acclaim.

Most of her creations were decidedly lo-fi, taking the form of pieces of paper lined with arrays of typewritten text that she mailed out to her colleagues from her East Berlin studio. She called these pieces Kunstpostbriefe (art letters) and produced them using an Erika typewriter.

These works, which she also called “typewritings,” were abstract individual words and phrases, repeating letters until they formed shapes. The letters in the word “planet,” in one 1970s piece called Divided Planet, double and expand to form an orb. In another piece from the same era, titled Concrete ShoeCs, Os, and Ns encase a woman’s shoe. klik99

At the time Wolf-Rehfeldt produced her typewritings, East Berlin was a part of the Soviet Bloc and subject to a repressive regime. Yet her mail art continued to flow far beyond the borders of East Germany, reaching people in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia.

She was born in Wurzen in 1932, and married artist Robert Rehfeldt in 1955. Wolf-Rehfeldt was a self-taught artist who held a day job as an office manager. As critic Barbara Casavecchia pointed out in her text about Wolf-Rehfeldt for Documenta 14, the occupation of typist was one typically held by women, which lent her art a new valence.

Wolf-Rehfeldt continued to make her typewritings until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. During the 1990s, finding that her art had effectively grown outmoded, she ceased her practice altogether.

But in the 2010s, as critic Astrid Mania wrote in Artforum, “Wolf-Rehfeldt is now being discovered by a younger, international generation of curators and gallerists.” Artists, too, began to discover Wolf-Rehfeldt. One of them was the Los Angeles–based David Horvitz, who researched in the artist’s archives, established a friendship with her, and even created an exhibition in 2022 about their bond.

In that show, Horvitz exhibited watercolors he had sent Wolf-Rehfeldt. One read: “I send you the sea and it travels through other people’s hands.” klik99


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