Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's (1880-1938) sculptures have to this day remained virtually unknown to the general public. This is all the more astonishing in view of the fact that, during a creative period of almost thirty years, from 1909 until 1936, he produced as many as 150 works of sculpture, the quantity of which alone testifies to the importance of this genre within his oeuvre as a whole.
"Making sculptures is so good for painting and drawing," said Kirchner in 1911, underlining his all-embracing aesthetic approach, which also found expression in the objects of his everyday life. The 70 works that have survived the upheaval and devastation of two world wars include not only sculptures and reliefs but also objects of practical use and pieces of jewellery and ornamentation. It is through these exhibits that the forthcoming exhibition seeks to visualize the life and work of this painter-sculptor and also present the entire spectrum of his sculptural oeuvre: his early, Expressionist period (1909-1915), the serenity and plainness of form that came very close to New Objectivity (1918-1925) and the more abstract style of his later years (1930-1932).
The exhibition has been organized in close collaboration with the Kirchner Museum in Davos, where it had its first venue from 15th December 2002 until 23rd March 2003. The Staatsagalerie Stuttgart, whose own important Kirchner sculptures – "Adam" and "Eve" (1921) – will now be joined by a small figure of Adam, has succeeded in augmenting this presentation of Kirchner's sculptures with further significant works loaned both from private collections in Stuttgart and from European museums. On show altogether will be 60 sculptures, 20 oil paintings and 50 drawings, watercolours and prints. These works will be presented in such a way that visitors will be able recognize quite clearly the mutuality which exists between Kirchner's sculptures and his paintings. In addition, 43 photographs taken by the artist himself document those sculptures which have meanwhile been destroyed or have disappeared without trace.
Kirchner's first provable preoccupation with sculpture, after 1909, is closely bound up with the intellectual environment of the artists' group Brücke, which Kirchner, as a young engineering graduate, had co-founded in Dresden in 1905. Inspired by Erich Heckel, who was the first to turn to this medium and whose works he had photographed, Kirchner produced several sculptures, including "Dancer" (1911) and "Girl with Hat" (1913) as well as woodcuts and objects of practical use. Entirely in keeping with the new artistic approach of the Brücke artists, which aimed to achieve greatest possible immediacy of expression and inner experience, Kirchner sought to combine art with life. Although the objects of everyday use which he produced during those early years have since been destroyed or lost without trace, the exhibition nevertheless succeeds in visualizing the importance which Kirchner still attached years later to the sculptural embellishment of his everyday environment. This aspect is conveyed, for example, by such works of applied art as several chairs, a bed for Erna (1919) and a mirror with carved figures representing the four parts of the day (Viertageszeitenspiegel, 1924). Works which also bear eloquent witness to Kirchner's all-embracing approach are the two life-size wooden sculptures "Adam" and "Eve" (1921) which originally adorned the door of his house "In den Lärchen" in Frauenkirch near Davos. "Not mathematical speculation but the quest for monumentality" – this is how Kirchner, writing under a nom de plume, described the driving force behind his primordial, expressive kind of art. Kirchner's vocabulary of forms of those early years clearly reflects a receptiveness to the art of Polynesia and Black Africa. The visual aids and guidance he needed to this end were provided not only by the Museum of Ethnology in Dresden but also by the paintings of the French artist Paul Gauguin.
Like Gauguin, whose work he greatly admired, Kirchner considered wood to be the most suitable medium for achieving the desired immediacy of expression. The "taille directe", the process of cutting away the material, overcoming its resistance and its peculiarities of growth, constituted a challenge to the accuracy with which he sought to realize his sculptural vision. Neither clay, plaster nor bronze afforded him that "sensuous pleasure when, with every blow of the mallet, the figure grew out of the trunk more and more" (1911). Both in his sculpture and his painting, genres which followed a largely parallel course of development throughout his lifetime, the human figure – reclining, crouching, dancing, paired – remained the central theme of Kirchner's oeuvre.
During his Expressionist period, the wood itself replaced the model as Kirchner's source of inspiration for his sculptures. Many of the sculptures of that period were spontaneously inspired by a found piece of wood, a tree branch or a tree trunk. No matter whether it was the oak timber of a stranded schooner off the coast of the Baltic island of Fehmarn, or birch, poplar or pine, Kirchner always sought the "compelling rhythm of the form imprisoned in the block" (1913).
Following the dissolution of Brücke in Dresden and Berlin at the end of the First World War, Kirchner's Expressionism gave way to an anti-Expressionist tranquillity of form and smoothness of surface. Such works as "The Friends" and "Mother and Child" (1924) clearly testify to this aesthetic change from roughly hewn wood to homogeneous, smoothly finished forms. Here we can already recognize Kirchner's turn away from a natural, primordial notion of form towards greater abstraction. After a break of a good six years – during which time, from 1925 onwards, Kirchner concentrated on a wall design commissioned by the Folkwang Museum, Essen, for its festival hall – his sculptures at the beginning of the thirties assumed a superindividual language of form through an uncompromising reduction to one single formula. "Reclining Figure", "Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erna" and "Two Acrobats" of 1932 are typical examples of Kirchner's new, concentrated treatment of his subject matter. Comparisons with the corresponding drawings and paintings clearly reveal the intensity with which Kirchner sought to explore and exploit every possibility which this new approach afforded him. Kirchner, who in 1926 had already described his artistic goal as "a revival of sculpture in the modern sense", had developed, through his direct approach to the medium, an immediacy of expression which was to exercise a decisive influence on subsequent generations of artists, from Baselitz to Balkenhol. Kirchner's artistic development came to an all too early and abrupt end, for the artist committed suicide on 15th July 1938 in consequence of the intellectual devastation wreaked by the Nazi era, to which both the artist and his work had fallen victim.
This forthcoming monographic presentation will also afford the Staatsgalerie the opportunity to show its own collection of sculptures by Kirchner's contemporaries, enabling visitors to experience the artist's epochal accomplishments within a broader context. Accompanying the works of such famous artists as Lehmbruck, Barlach and Beckmann will be a number of rarely shown works by Rudolf Belling, Alexander Archipenko and Ossip Zadkine.