This painting, regarded as the most important work by the German surrealist Richard Oelze, argues its subject – presence of expectation – by destroying our expectations about what we see. Fedoras turned toward ominous sky give us a clue: we think that there must be something important up there that everyone is seeing. Our observation of the sky, however, reveals nothing. This pushes us toward a different interpretation: that the people are expecting something. As a result, our initial impression of absence is replaced by a sense of foreboding.

I think that there is a marked difference between experiences of waiting and experiences of absence. Compare hearing the footsteps of someone who is about to enter the room (expectation without an experience of absence) and seeing that someone is missing from the room. But maybe the difference is not intrinsic, and sometimes, our anticipation of an object essentially involves experiences of its absence.


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