Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bernhard Hoetger

"Less appealing to our tastes, though appropriately reminiscent of the "land of porcelain," are certain fantasies by a very prolific sculptor of Darmstadt, Bernhard Hoetger (1874-1949)... It is hard to realize that this astonishing chameleon of sculpture should have lived for ten years in Paris. He considers himself "greatly beholden to Rodin and Maillol, questions whether they would recognize their influence in his art"

So wrote my current tutor in early 20th C. sculpture, Lorado Taft --- and though negative in tone-- any publicity is good publicity -- and driven by curiosity -- I discovered the wonderful world of this phenomenal sculptor.

Here are two photos with which he illustrated his commentary -- " very genial grotesque personifies "Light". So we are assured, although a superficial glance would pronounce the figure anything but "light."" (referring to the Buddha-like figure on the left.)

While "scores of his quaint fancies, many of which seem to be of a distinctly Gothic inspiration." would have to refer to the Rheims-like piece on the right.

And seeing these two pieces -- well --- this was when I realized that this was a very unusual sculptor -- because these are two very different historical styles, and he's doing both of them very well.

And that's not all he does:

Here's his early 20th C. modernism

Here's an orientalized porcelain

Here's a very strong modern portrait

Here's an extreme expressionistic portrait

Here's an elegant Victorian portrait

And what you call this bull --- Helenistic ?

But.. to top it off... he does Egyptian

He does lots of Egyptian -- and how strange is this photo and these four geeky German boys who, unless they were lucky, all probably ended up marching across Europe in the Wehrmacht ten years later.

But I think it's his soulful gothic that moves me the most

What a fine monument this is ! (This is exactly the kind of sculpture that Frank Lloyd Wright needed -- and never got.)

But he wasn't just a sculptor -- oh no -- this bricklayer's son was a painter, print-maker, and architect as well. The above staircase is one of the more tame examples. (and he also designed a fine set of eating utensils)

But the piece de resistance has to be the Boettcherstrasse -- the alley in downtown Bremen that he designed for his patron :

Ludwig Roselius, the coffee merchant who invented the process of decaffination that is still used today (Note: one of the customers at my store is a high-end coffee salesman, and he tells me that his company still gets their decaf from Germany)

Ludwig was not an attractive man, was he ? Indeed he seems to have been type-cast for the role that he played in German history -- as one of the wealthy merchants who backed that young, struggling enemy of the Weimar Republic, Adolph Hitler.

Which brings us to yet another anomaly about Hoetger: he was also an early, enthusiastic National Socialist (I'm sure he loved those torch-light parades) -- but when the party came to power -- he was rejected as "decadent" ! Oh, the irony of it, all those fair-weather fascist sculptors who joined the party just so they could get the big commissions -- and here's a true-blue skinhead -- and he ends up fleeing to Switzerland (where he died in 1949)

But back to the Boettcherstrasse -- what a fanciful and incredible creation it was:
( a full tour is available here )

In conclusion -- I'm really not sure what to make of all this.

The early 20th was certainly a time when the rivers of world sculpture flowed into the European consciousness (and did I mention that Hoetger also did a good version of Mayan? )

But here's here's one mind that just seemed to have been touched by it all -- an ocean of sculptural feeling - a one-man art museum.

Guess I'll have to go to Bremen some day.


Anonymous Joy In Life said...

How fine the line betwixt the chameleon and the virtuoso...betwixt the merely versatile and The Singular Voice.

October 18, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

I think I'll wait to see the actual pieces to decide which side they're on. (Is there any other reason to travel to Bremen ??)

October 18, 2006  

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