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Hermann Obrist: Sculpture, Space and Abstraction Opens at Pinakothek der Moderne
Hermann Obrist, Hermann Obrist Tomb Oertel, Cemetery Schmiedebach Lehesten 1903/04. Historic photography. Museum für Gestaltung Zürich Kunstgewerbesammlung. Photo: Museum fur Gestaltung Zurich Kunstgewerbesammlung Betty Fleck© ZHDK

MUNICH.- The degree of fame enjoyed by the works of Hermann Obrist (1862–1927) has little relation to their art-historical importance. In Munich in the 1890s, the Swiss-born sculptor established the German variation of the Art Nouveau movement – Jugendstil – which merged the intricate craftsmanship of the applied arts with the aesthetic demands of the liberal fine arts.

However, more importantly, with his fountains and tombs Obrist created the first abstract sculptures that developed a language of their own through the interaction of organic and inorganic structures – something that cannot be simply included under the heading ›Jugendstil‹. It has only recently reemerged that he managed to erect these newfangled tombs throughout the whole of central Europe. Many can still be seen on their original sites – for example in Munich’s East and North Cemeteries.

Obrist used new materials such as plasticine for his designs and executed his sculptures in cast stone (concrete). In 1902, the joint founder of the ›Vereinigte Werkstätten‹ (Workshop Guild) established a school comprising ›studios for teaching and experimentation in the field of the liberal and applied arts‹, with the aim of linking the skills of various crafts together in one training course – a stimulus for the Bauhaus founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius.

Apart from reconstructing an oeuvre that has become largely unknown, the exhibition illustrates the considerable artistic and scientific importance that Obrist’s idea of combining imagery and contemporary scholarship still has to this day. This interrelation with the world of science can also be found in contemporary art. In his treatment of photography, Obrist went beyond the traditional understanding of sculpture and paradigmatically opened up new paths for the art of the 20th century. For the very first time, this exhibition brings together pieces bequeathed to the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München (State Print Collection) and works in the collection of applied art at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (Design Museum in Zurich) housed in the Museum Bellerive, providing a comprehensive picture of the oeuvre created by the draughtsman, sculptor and theoretician. Major contemporary figures and friends, including August Endell, Henry van de Velde and Rudolf Steiner, enable us to see Obrist’s art within a wider context.

Obrist’s last public appearance was at the ›Exhibition for Unknown Architects‹ staged by the ›Arbeitsrat für Kunst‹ in Berlin in 1919, where he was considered a father figure by the younger generation of Expressionist architects and sculptors. The exhibition is rounded off by taking a look at the work of Rudolf Belling, Hermann Finsterlin, Wenzel Hablik, Hans Poelzig and Bruno Taut in conjunction with Obrist’s abstract sculptures. The biomorphic structures in Hermann Obrist’s barely known sculptural oeuvre at the Pinakothek der Moderne demonstrate their contemporary qualities in the sculpture and architecture of the modern day.

Pinakothek der Moderne | Hermann Obrist | Munich | Walter Gropius | Europe | Berlin |

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July 18, 2009

Hermann Obrist: Sculpture, Space and Abstraction Opens at Pinakothek der Moderne

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