Article by Jazmina Figueroa in Berlin; Monday, Nov. 26, 2013
Body Pressure: Sculpture since the 1960s is the current exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof, which focuses on abstract sculptural interpretations of the human figure since the 1960’s. The “sculpture garden” in the main hall displays the work of ground-breaking artists that furthered a certain expressive or contemplative approach to the human figure, including documentation of process-based work and performances. Ranging from video to appropriated toy figures, Body Pressure – taking the title of one of Bruce Nauman‘s works in the exhibition – provides a historical framework of artists whose work offers noteworthy examples of the abstracted human form.
More familiar abstractions of the body can be found in the works of Berlinde de Bruyckere and Wilhelm Lehmbruck. De Bruyckere’s Robin V (2007) is a headless figure laying within a glass container. The mixture of wax and oil creates a marble like texture adding to the refinement of the headless, elongated figure. The artist’s choice to place the figure within a glass box eludes to the aesthetic of a natural history museum. Lehmbruck’s Fallen Man (1915-1916) is a withdrawn bronze figure stretched similarly to the way de Bruyckere’s figure is stretched. The overextended body expresses struggle, hunched over on its hands and knees with its head tilted downwards. Lehmbruck’s Fallen Man was an early example of sculpture that portrays an expressive abstraction.
At a distance the Lady With Shopping Bags (1972) by Duane Hanson seems to be studying Lehmbruck’s sculpture. Upon closer inspection, the viewer realizes that the super real sculpture has a blank expression on her face. Hanson’s work is an example of a more playful approach, one that displays a realistic character that is not easily discernible as a sculpture but one nevertheless senses that this “person” is somehow out of place.
One purpose of abstracting away from classical forms of sculpture was to stipulate discourse around specific social behaviors and guide social critique. Paul McCarthy‘s large, solid gold and grotesque model of Michael Jackson and his chimpanzee Bubbles, comments on the senselessness and triviality of consumer culture. Floriano Bodini‘s Portrait of an Industrialist (1973) is a robotic bronze figure with a coin for a heart. This metaphor is a comment on how an industrialist society functions as a factory producing human robots unable to reflect or question, simply driven by material wealth.
The minimal processed-based works of Franz Erhard Walther require the visitors’ participation. Certain behaviors are expected within the gallery and museum due to conservation regulations, so the viewer is normally only able to engage with the works through observation. With Large Cloth Book (1969) Walther instructs the participants, with each turn of the page, to move within and interfere with the large-scale cotton book. Standing Place and a Step to the Side, Across (1975) by Walther invites the viewer to stand on each piece of the work, adding an introspective element and, again, integrating the spectator as a part of the work. Complete abstraction of the human form is manifested through the viewer’s interaction with the work.
Adding to the performativity of Walther’s sculptural body of work are documentations of performances conducted by Marina Abramovic and Valie Export in the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s. In her “live sculpture” Freeing the Body (1976), Abramovic displays her physical endurance to the sound of conga percussion. Her face is hidden as her naked body moves to the tempo of the conga. In Export’s Touch Cinema (1968) the public was invited to touch her breasts through a box she wore over them. Both works suggest feminist notions of sexual freedom.
The video works by Gilbert & George and Friederike Pezold represent different applications in which the body can be perceived through moving image. Gilbert & George use their time-based format to document themselves as within the moving image, similar to the way they use portraiture photography in their piece titled, A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men (1972). In the black and white video the artists sit and stare into the camera and make subtle movements that allow a certain intimacy with the two artists. Pezold takes the female body in The New Embodied Sign Language According to the Laws of Anatomy, Geometry, and Kinetics (1973–1976) and divides it into specific parts. Four screens are placed on top of each other with blacked out mouth and pubic areas. The TV monitors denote the female form and takes on an abstracted and completely unfeminine aesthetic.
From kitsch art to feminist concepts influencing artistic discourse, Body Pressure represents a vast collection of artistic paradigms exploring the human form.
Body Pressure: Sculpture since the 1960s
Exhibition: May 25 – Jan. 12, 2014
Invalidenstraße 50-51 (click here for map)
Jazmina Figueroa is an artist and writer based in Berlin.