During the 1959/60 season, Elisabeth Bergner and O. E. Hasse guested at the Lucerne Theater in the play Dear Liar (1959). As the theater's first, albeit only, dramatic advisor, I had access to the artists. The contact I enjoyed with actresses, including Therese Giehse, Käthe Gold and Hanne Wieder, as well as with famous au-thors, such as Kafka's friend Franz Theodor Csokor, during their work in Lucerne emboldened me to ask Elisabeth Bergner, who was slightly kittle as she liked to feign forgetfulness, about her relationship with Wilhelm Lehmbruck in the winter of 1918/19 in Zurich. At the time her autobiography had not yet been published, leaving me to sift through the murky waters of rumors which had trickled down from Zurich throughout the art world.
Wilhelm Lehmbruck had seen Elisabeth Bergner in the Zurich staging of August Strindberg's play There Are Crimes and Crimes (1899). Like every "petty bourgeois" (1) spectator (to quote Bergner), he had applied the events on stage to himself. Owing to his physical and psychological constitution and the fact that he constantly reproached himself for not being able to lie fulfill his obligations towards his family, he chose even more so to see his very own situation play out on stage. At the theater restaurant Le Dézaley, Bergner informed me that the usual psychologies of unrequited advances could not be used to explain Lehmbruck's devastating disappointment. Rather, the life of the theater, which he had been introduced to by his friend Albert Ehrenstein, had made it clear to him that the modulation of a vivid expression of mental-spiritual forces was, according to his artistic notions, more suited to the stage of a theater than to his work as a draftsman and sculptor. The artists Hans von Marées and Egon Schiele – the latter presented works alongside Lehmbruck in an exhibition at the prestigious Folkwang Museum in 1912 – irritated the sculptor immensely, as he was rarely able to achieve a similar intensity of adding and detracting in sculpture that was possible as a painter or draftsman. The artist Lehmbruck had never been able to convey the act of creation by adding, as in plasticism, through the act of creation by detracting, as in sculpture.
The fact that a sculptor wants to relate his work to painting in the first place becomes understandable when he develops his sculptures as three-dimensional realizations from two-dimensional pictorial symbols. This stands to reason, as most sculptors design their sculptures in their drawing pads. The paper or canvas, no matter how large it might be, always provides a natural, material frame that delimits the depiction. This natural framework does not exist in sculpture. How, then, is the space of appearance of three-dimensional objects to be defined, especially as the site that the work is meant to occupy is in most cases unknown? The Greek or Roman masters rarely had this problem, for they could always expect their works to be placed either in temples or palaces, in villas or on market or courthouse squares, that is to say, in an architectonically defined environment. But with the emergence of "free-standing" sculptures in early medieval times, and especially with the liberation of art creation from socially defined purposes in the bourgeois age, sculptors were faced with the problem of relating objects in an undefined space to the space only created when the object is placed within it. Laymen can't even begin to imagine what it means for an artist to place an artifact into this "open space". While paintings are literally carried by their frames and the walls upon which they are hung, sculptures have no frames or any other sign of delimitation. Placing them on plinths is only a rather pitiful way of enlisting the vault of heaven or the high ceilings of churches and palaces as a defining horizon.
This erection of free-standing sculptures may well signify to art evolution what the four-legged ape rising up on two feet meant in the evolution of nature. Wilhelm Lehmbruck's almost obsessive preoccupation with crouching, squatting, reclining and fallen figures illustrates the importance of this strictly design-evolutionary focus on the aim of releasing verticality. As kitschy as phrases such as "extending into nothingness" or "reaching up into emptiness" may seem to us today, the circumstance described by them remains a challenge to any artist, a challenge which we might denote by means of a "Benn variant" as the "form-demanding force" of the empty space. Peter Sloterdijk's programmatic approach to an "evolution of vertical tension" may be more adequate to describe this challenge in today's terms. At any rate, the ratio of horizontality and verticality in an undefined space remains crucial for all three-dimensional artifacts, even for those that have been placed into an ensemble.
Thus, it was primarily the artist Lehmbruck who was overwhelmed by Elisabeth Bergner in her role as a form-giving interpreter of characters, rather than the rejected lover or, even less so, the man suffering from syphilis who was strictly forbidden from entering into sexual contact with anyone. For he realized that actors were far superior to sculptors when it came to giving shape to intra-psychological events. Bergner told me about private lessons during which Lehmbruck would call to her to assume different physical, primarily facial and gestural, expressions. As she later found out, the commands he called to her were titles of Lehmbruck's works, which she was meant to embody.
Let us remember that since Auguste Rodin's times, bourgeois audiences had taken over the artistic role of conveying concepts and perceptions, and no celebrations were without the performance of a "tableau vivant". Despite this collective creative force, however, these bourgeois exercises rarely went beyond flat illustrations of concepts. Sculpture titles referring to a thinker, to expectation or hope, to a kneeling woman, a fallen man, a mother's suffering or longing (2) appeared to have been completely devalued by the joshes of pupils, students and other members of the bourgeoisie. This type of disappropriation of the artist by the audience would be far surpassed by the professional exponents of the emerging "critique of cabaret reason" (Bazon Brock), which satirized the lack of concepts and vagueness of expression of Wilhelmine artists in a philosophical, esthetical and first and foremost socially educational manner. Many an artist, including Lehmbruck, suffered a shock when they had to witness how extensively the artistic and intellectual genius of the cabaret artists, caricaturists (of the satirical magazines Simplicissimus, Kladderadatsch, Der wahre Jakob, Eulenspiegel and others) and especially that of actors highlighted the backward pitifulness of academic artistic affectations.
In the greatest of all artist novels, Doctor Faustus (1947), Thomas Mann expounded upon the artistic-philosophical dignity of cabaret reason: "I mean that even while he mocked he set store by preserving the right to appreciate: set store by the right, not to say the privilege of keeping a distance, which includes in itself the possibility of good-natured acceptance of conditioned agreement, half-admiration, along with the mockery and laughter. Quite generally this claim to ironic remoteness, to an objectivity which surely is paying less honour to the thing than to the freedom of the person, has always seemed to me a sign of uncommon arrogance […]” (3). This applies beyond cynicism, beyond the pathos of failure or agnosticism (the fundamental impossibility of gaining lasting insight from the human creation of artifacts).
Latest since his move to Switzerland in 1916, which had been officially facilitated by his friends, Lehmbruck asked himself if, like many of his colleagues, he, too, should seek refuge from the aporias of creation in Voltarian-cabaret irony in order to carry on, even though he had already been surpassed in this respect by Medardo Rosso, Constantin Brancusi or Aristide Maillol, and especially by the stage and silent movie actors of his time. Bergner advised Lehmbruck, much to his surprise, to rather study silent movie characters than her stage performances if he wished to advance his sculptural powers of expression. In truly Teutonic fashion he would refuse to alleviate the ethos of the artistic struggle through irony, for he professed himself insufficiently arrogant to do so. From February 1916 the programmatic Zurich Dadaists demonstrated precisely this arrogance, which Hugo Ball analyzed in his justification report Die Flucht aus der Zeit [Flight Out of Time] (4) of 1927.
Was there no rescue for metaphysics in artistic work apart from romantic-ironic or modern-caricaturist critique, demonstrated to such public appeal especially by the "esthetic executioners"? From 1908/09 Wassily Kandinsky wanted to force answers to this question from his fellow artists and primarily from himself, which he eventually published in the 1911 work Concerning the Spiritual in Art. The most popular of answers was that Der Blaue Reiter [Blue Rider] was to become a "rider towards the heavens", as, according to Arnold Schönberg, "our time is looking once more for its God" (5). However, this was at best a recommendation to conduct art once again as a religious service and to reactivate the priest in the artist. But this would have spelled the end of secular art through resacralization. Art would have once again been subjected to cult and would only have had meaning as a servant to the cult. Seeing as this union of cult and art could be passed off as the original foundation of metaphysics and early art could be believed to be unsophisticated, pure and immediate, the return to the "primitive" art of African, Oceanic or Asian cultures became the expression of the spiritual in art. Artists began to educate themselves on South Sea beaches, in rainforests and ashrams to enhance their cult powers, much like career-oriented people today prescribe themselves trips to Pune and "sect Sundays" to advance in their professions.
The cult-drunken artists only realized that this choice amounted to an "intentional re-barbarization" in 1915, when any power-based enforcement of metaphysics became hopeless in the build-up to Verdun. They fled to Switzerland, where, in the name of Voltaire, the philosophy of cabaret reason as pataphysics or "Dadarology" promised them occasional relief from the entirely unmetaphysical omnipotence of arms. Indeed, never before had the world been changed by the power of the scientific spirit in a more profound manner than with the invention of dynamite and poison gas, which is why the great minds of science to this day receive the Nobel Prize, and rightly so. For Alfred Nobel realized that his weapon had enabled the mightiest "ride towards the heavens" in world history, more powerful than any words or visions of religion founders or artists. Owing to the power of Nobel's mind, the pieces of exploding bodies of millions were visibly thrown skywards towards the kingdom of salvation from all agony of life. What could even the most gifted artist or thinker have done to counter this?
The historical manifestation of the spiritual in progress, and how this was perceived back then, must be described in such drastic terms in order for us to even begin to imagine what overwhelming feelings of impotence and failure threatened artists like Lehmbruck throughout the first two decades of the 20th century. (A challenge, in fact, not unlike the one faced later by the likes of Alberto Giacometti and Joseph Beuys, Fritz Wotruba and Franz West.) They found help neither in the feuilleton-style allusions to the new cosmologies uttered by physicists following Max Planck or Niels Bohr nor in those of the linguistic philosophers surrounding Fritz Mauthner and Ferdinand de Saussure. They could have actually saved them from the unreasonableness of interpreting the metaphysical as transcendence into divine and eternal realms by making them recognize that the term metaphysics reasonably denotes all our relationships to the world which can only be thought and which cannot be identified as physical occurrences in an empirical manner. The notions of sustainability and holism (which are very fashionable today) or of God, immortality, love, justice and freedom can only be grasped intellectually, as mental constructs similar to those encountered in mathematics. The fact that the same also applies to concepts like "the arts", is something that, even today, most artists have yet to embrace.
Wilhelm Lehmbruck's works and times illustrate very clearly what it means to create even though the creation can only achieve a reference to but not a realization of the abstract notion of "art". Works such as The Fallen Man of 1915 or Seated Youth of 1916/17 do not refer to the fact that a certain person has fallen or is sitting pensively; rather, the individual artifact shows the intellectual focus on the acts of falling or contemplating, far removed from any concrete occurrence. For the concrete creates the general as its complement – especially if we only focus on the concrete. For instance, while we see individual objects fall, the general law of gravity behind it can only be thought – mostly in mathematical/philosophical/theological terms.
But are these formulations, then, not also concrete occurrences, and is this distinction between concrete and abstract therefore obsolete? The answer is no, as we have just been hearing from Geneva. For even if the mathematically representable Higgs particles have been confirmed as physical facts amidst huge effort in CERN's machine, they remain a mental construct, as the acquired clues as to the existence of the Higgs particle can only be grasped intellectually. The same applies to any intellectual analysis of the world as a reality of the spiritual. This realization that the metaphysical describes that which takes shape in our thoughts rather than reaching extra-human and preternatural spheres, could have spared Wilhelm Lehmbruck, and thousands of other artists ruined by the manic efforts of forcing the absolute, the agony of suffering outlined in Expressionist poetry as the "'O man' pathos".
At least the likes of Theodor Däubler and Julius Meier-Graefe tried to help artists from 1904 with their references to the medieval approach to the problem of metaphysics in the universals controversy. They offered Lehmbruck the possibility of considering himself a Gothic artist. For his problem was being bound to the materials of plaster and marble, bronze, stone and clay in his expression of the longing for the metaphysical, without ever really experiencing when he had transferred the physical into the spiritual, the meta-physical. Perhaps he could have achieved this through the notion of being able to advance into a realm beyond the physical by dividing the smallest physical elements into ever smaller ones until their very basis had been reached? This was, in fact, the approach of nuclear physicists, who captured this very basis as energy and information. (Alberto Giacometti and Franz West came very close to the disappearance of three-dimensional expression.) But what constitutes the Gothic aspect to this? It is the realization that the medieval workshop of cathedral builders, the so-called Bauhütte, advanced the quest for the ever more comprehensive whole of the whole heavenwards into the cosmological whole, entirely complementary to the atomists of philosophy and physics. At the culmination of this process was the notion of the "kingdom of God" or the "celestial paradise" as the ultimate of all efforts of imagination.
Both approaches, that of the nuclear physicists as well as that of the cosmologists (or, with Wassily Kandinsky, the "Cosmics"), manifested themselves in artistic creation. While the sculptors worked much like the particle physicists with constant reduction, the plasticists, like the cosmologists, created ever greater versions of the whole. But could one be a cosmologist or Gothic plasticist without God, without thinking about the before of the Big Bang or the Creation? Could one be a Gothic artist without the certainty of God? Could one reason cosmologically without an answer to the question of beginninglessness, of the before prior to the Big Bang? How could a perpetual shift between expansion and contraction of the cosmos be grasped through "thought images"? The Leipzig-born sculptor Max Klinger gave us a still highly respected clue as to the answer to these questions in his grandiose cycle of graphic works A Glove of 1893 with the turning inside out of a glove.
Wilhelm Lehmbruck, at any rate, could not use the example set by contemporary nuclear physicists for himself. For, in essence, he was not a sculptor who found form in detraction, after all. Where should the continual taking away end? The search for the ultimate building blocks of nature cannot end in the smallest of small particles anyway. Rather, it led from the manifestation of physical nature to that of the spirit. This shift of basic theoretical assumptions would have overwhelmed Lehmbruck as a solitary artist working with manual techniques. All the more welcome to him, then, was the recommendation to consider himself a Gothic artist, which was also willingly accepted by other artists, for instance Walter Gropius, who made an express reference to the medieval Bauhütte as a design collective in the name of the school founded by him. For the cover of the first manifesto of this school, the Bauhaus, Lyonel Feininger created the programmatic image of a Gothic cathedral in the style of an old German woodcut. In a historically as well as systematically consistent manner, Gropius insisted on collective work from the Bauhaus teachers, especially in the basic courses, in which morphologies were anonymized as dogmatic truths. Gropius later used the more contemporary term "team" to denote his hut and house societies.
Despite attempts at joining artists' associations (for example the Rodin admirers or the members of Die Brücke), Wilhelm Lehmbruck was not able to invoke the protection of any group for his process of "gothification". But how might individual artistic creation become Gothic? I am convinced that no better answer to this question can be found in any historical or systematic contexts than that offered by Thomas Mann in his novel The Magic Mountain (1924) for the situation of intellectual artists during the programmatic period of the "spiritual in art". For in its union of analysis and synthesis, of approval and objection it is simply unsurpassable. I have to quote in great detail, if only in excerpts.
In the corner, to the left of the sofa and chairs, was a work of art: a painted wooden sculpture set atop a large pedestal draped in red, a profoundly terrifying work, a naive pieta – very effective, almost grotesque. The Mother of God, her hood drawn up, her brows furrowed in agony, her mouth skewed and gaping in lamentation; the Man of Sorrows on her lap, a primitive figure, badly out of scale, the crudely fashioned body revealing an ignorance of anatomy, the drooping head studded with thorns, the face and limbs splattered and dripping with blood, thick globs of congealed blood at the wound in the side, nail marks on the hands and feet... […]
"What is this you have here?" [Hans Castorp] said softly. "It's frightfully good. I've never seen such suffering. Very old, of course, is it not?"
"Fourteenth century" Naphta replied. "Presumably from the Rhineland. You're impressed, aren't you?"
"Enormously" Hans Castorp said. "It couldn't help making an impression on one. I would never have thought that anything could be simultaneously so ugly – beg your pardon – and so beautiful."
"Works of art from a world in which the soul expresses itself," Naphta responded, "are always beautiful to the point of ugliness and ugly to the point of beauty. It is indeed a law. We are dealing with beauty of the Spirit, not of the flesh, which is basically stupid. And abstract, as well," he added. "The beauty of the body is abstract. Only inner beauty, the beauty of religious expression, possesses true reality."
"How kind of you to define and differentiate the matter so clearly" Hans Castorp said. […] "Thirteen hundred and something? Yes, perfect textbook Middle Ages Certainly there was no economic social theory in those days, that much is clear. Do you know the artist's name?"
Naphta shrugged. "What does it matter?" he said. "We should not even ask, because at the time it was created no one asked, either. There is no miracle-worker, no Mr. Individual Creator behind it – it is an anonymous, communal work of art. It comes, of course, from the very advanced Middle Ages, the Gothic – signum mortificationis. You'll not find the crucifixion glossed over and prettified here, the way the Romanesque period thought it best to deal with things – no kingly crown, no majestic triumph over the world and martyrdom. The entire work is a radical proclamation of suffering and the weakness of the flesh. It is not until the Gothic that tastes turn to true pessimistic asceticism."[...]
"Herr Naphta," Hans Castorp said, heaving a sigh, "every word of everything you've said interests me. 'Signum mortificationis,' was that it? I shall make a note of it. And just before that you mentioned 'anonymous and communal,' which also appears worth some serious thought. […]" (6)
The topic of conversation continued to be the pietà, for Hans Castorp kept both one eye and his remarks fixed on it as he turned now to Herr Settembrini, trying to bring him into critical contact, as it were, with the work of art, even though the humanist's aversion to this bit of decor could very easily be read from the expression on his face when he twisted around to look at it – he had taken a seat with his back to that particular corner. Too polite to say what he thought, he confined himself to remarks concerning errors in proportion and anatomical defects in the figures; such offences against the truth of nature did not come close to moving him, he said, since they were based not on any primitive lack of skill but arose out of wilful malice, out of an antagonistic principle. And Naphta maliciously agreed, saying that it certainly was not a question of any lack of technical skill. It was, rather, a matter of the emancipation of the Spirit from the bonds of nature, indeed, the work proclaimed a religious contempt for nature by refusing to submit to it. But when Settembrini declared that such a neglect of nature and a refusal to study her led humankind down a false path and then began in taut words to contrast an absurd formlessness – to which the Middle Ages and epochs that imitated it were addicted – with classicism, with the Greco-Roman heritage of form, beauty, reason, and serenity born of natural piety, for classicism alone was destined to further the human enterprise, Hans Castorp interrupted him and asked how all that fitted in with Plotinus, who, as was well known, was ashamed of his own body, and with Voltaire, who in the name of reason had rebelled against the scandalous earthquake in Lisbon? Absurd? Yes, this work, too, was absurd, but when one stopped and considered the matter, one could, in his opinion, call absurdity an intellectually honourable position, and so the absurd enmity toward nature in Gothic art was ultimately as honourable as the gesture of a Plotinus or a Voltaire, for it expressed the same emancipation from facts and givens, the same proud unwillingness to be enslaved, the same refusal to submit to dumb powers, that is, to nature. [...]
Settembrini said loftily "[...] You know yourself of course, that the only intellectual protest against nature that can be called honourable is one that keeps in mind the dignity and beauty of man and never one that, even if it does not aim at man's degeneration and debasement, nevertheless accomplishes just that. You are also aware what inhuman abominations, what bloodthirsty intolerance – without which the artefact behind me would not exist – that epoch brought forth. [...] You, I am sure, would never approve of the sword or the stake as an instrument of brotherly love." [...]
"All the same, it was in love's service," Naphta declared, "that machinery was set in motion by which the cloister cleansed the world of its wicked citizens. All ecclesiastical punishments, even death at the stake, even excommunication, were imposed to save souls from eternal damnation, which cannot be said of the mad exterminations of the Jacobins. Allow me to remark, that every sort of torture, every bit of bloody justice, that does not arise from a belief in the next world is bestial nonsense. [...] "My good friend," Naphta replied with sour composure, "there is no such thing as pure knowledge. The validity of ecclesiastical science – which can be summarised in Saint Augustine's statement: 'I believe, that I may understand'– is absolutely incontrovertible. Faith is the vehicle of understanding, the intellect is secondary. Your unbiased science is a myth. [...] The great scholastics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were unanimous in their conviction that nothing could be true in philosophy that was theologically false. [...] A human race, however, that refuses to accept the proposition that nothing can be true in science that is false in philosophy, is not human. The argumentation of the Holy Office against Galileo stated that his theses were philosophically absurd. There can be no more cogent argument than that."[...] "Whatever profits man is true. Nature herself is summarised in him; in all nature, only he is created, and nature is solely for him. He is the measure of all things and his salvation is the criterion of truth. [...] Either the world is finite in time and space, which means that God is transcendent and the polarity of God and world is maintained, so that man, too, leads a dualistic existence, and the problem of his soul rests in the conflict between what his senses register and what transcends his senses, making all social issues entirely secondary – this is indeed the only form of individualism that I recognise as logically consistent. Or, conversely [...] the cosmos is infinite, which means there is no world that transcends the senses, no dualism; the world beyond is absorbed into this world, the polarity of God and nature is annulled, and since the human personality is no longer the battlefield of two hostile principles, but rather harmonious and unified, all human conflict stems from the clash between the interests of the individual and of society as a whole [...].
But you are badly mistaken if you think that future revolutions will end in freedom. After five hundred years, the principle of freedom has outlived its usefulness [...] The mystery and precept of our age is not liberation and development of the ego. What our age needs, what it demands, what it will create for itself is – terror." [....] (7)
To this day, there is no more precise summary of the intellectual-artistic challenges posed by the first quarter of the 20th century, whose achievements in all areas we can only adequately appreciate if we are prepared to acknowledge the demands made of thinking and working at the time. We cannot live up to this era's radicalism in thinking and creation with our marketable feuilletonisms. What we as artists and scientists like to say in our defense today had already been established as belonging to the field of advertising in 1904 by Julius Meier-Graefe, a profound connoisseur and appreciator of Lehmbruck's art. He even went so far as to ascribe the avant-garde of popular philosophies and arts solely to the artifacts of merchandise creation. Anyone who today wants to find out what claim to validity is inherent in our focus on happiness, love, friendship, success, health, vitality, intellectual power and tenderness, has to take the advertisements for food, medication or everyday technical objects on the packaging of the products themselves seriously. These advertisements actually expect us to equate touching an old, sick person or an infant with the swipe of a touchscreen. Commitments to ethics are communicated via tattoos, the "Dead Sea" is rebranded as the "Sea of Life", the dictate of integration is formulated as a readiness to adapt to criminal structures, while love, happiness and health are promised as the result of sufficient participation in the culture of consumerism.
Never before have the aforementioned universal notions of philosophical-theological or general cultural provenance reached such popularity as they have today as product markers. The artist Stephanie Senge has observed this in an investigation conducted in 2015 in a supermarket in Ingolstadt by transferring the package designs into the mostly non-representational, abstract, non-figurative paintings of the "Magic Mountain period" from Russia, Italy and Germany. Senge emphasized that she had not been able to achieve this equalization of work and merchandise for instance by transferring a Lehmbruck sculpture – which proves that Wilhelm Lehmbruck knew how to resist Meier-Graefe's critical objections. The emancipation of the spiritual from the natural triumphed in his suicide as a refusal to submit to dumb powers, that is, to nature (his syphilis infection). As this was certainly also a refusal to show humility in the face of fate and the hard facts of biology, he might have been arrogant after all? While his sculptures bear the "signum mortificationis", the reference to their meaninglessness as individually unique works, they illustrate all the more emphatically a longing for the recognition of the anonymous and communal power of mankind. This desire to ostentatiously offer one's ability to work as a team or in a collective (like that of actors) may be dismissed simply as an absurdity. However, it is this absurdity that is intellectually honorable. The Dadaesque nonsense and pataphysical absurdity of the cabaret alone save reason, just like a liar saves the commitment for the truth by admitting his lies.
"Where are we when we are beside ourselves?" asks Peter Sloterdijk. And where do we go if we turn inwards? The artists' answer, which Wilhelm Lehmbruck could only confirm but not surpass, is that we can reach the expression of the mental and spiritual only as form, as a form of inwardness, or, by contrast, as a form of ecstasy when we surpass ourselves.
So what, then, was the sculptural space of appearance, the space created by sculptures, to Lehmbruck? How did he think about the sculpture as an usurper of space, as a negative space, about the space only created by the structure and by the relationship of the sculptures to the space? Did he view it as an interspace, like Beuys, who rendered it positive or concrete by filling it with tallow? For space is also merely form, created by the relationship of forms. The relational structure of the objects present in it make the space effective, and space exists only in those moments when the power of the forming of meta-form, the form of forms, becomes effective. Space is a transformation of forms, just like a landscape constitutes a transformation of naturally present mountains and valleys, bushes and trees in front of a horizon of perception. Landscapes do not exist in nature, but only in our thinking and our imagination. This relating to what is naturally present, for instance to the body of the imagining and thinking person, is what constitutes the ensemble of forms, which we train our bodies, our attitudes and our actions to become, which we achieve through formation, like the sculptor who creates form from stone and clay, marble and bronze.
It is in the form that the eerie long-distance relationship between psyche and soma, between spirit and body, between metaphysis and physic is established. And only in it. Therefore, formation has become a central concept for people in their relation to themselves and the world. Through this concept, a unity is formed between physically grasping the concrete world material and mentally grasping the inherent entity of the large and the small. Individual perceptions of nature segments thus form varying concepts and images of landscapes, and the same applies to the design and concept of shapes. What we perceive and communicate to be typical aspects of Wilhelm Lehmbruck's, Medardo Rosso's or Alberto Giacometti's works are similar impressions to those which shape landscapes as perceptions of nature.
The history of sculpture and plasticism, and indeed of artistic work in general, shows that the human design repertoire is rather limited. Time and again, we encounter nudes and items of clothing, figures that are reclining, standing, walking, carrying, pulling, pushing, running or riding, as well as still lifes and history paintings, landscapes and portraits. The impressions created by these ensembles of forms, however, result in almost infinite variations, depending on the atmosphere and lighting, the perspective and presentation venue. These impressions are then enhanced according to whether they are perceived by beholders as temple visitors, tourists or connoisseurs. In these impressions we become aware of our spiritual or emotional animation, allowing us to reach the ultimate pleasure of self-abandon, a state children achieve when they are playing, or driving us to the aggressiveness of destructive self-abolition. The latter manifests itself in the force created by design, or, in the words of Naphta, in the terror created by it. Iconoclasm can be regarded as the highest form of validation of the significance and power of forms. The fact that Lehmbruck's works were among those declared to be degenerate, and were thus more or less considered worthy of destruction, equally represents the highest form of recognition that artistic work can be afforded in the world of power. Can there be any greater proof of the power of artistic design than its validation by dictators and censors who fear it as a potential threat to their claim to power?
Wilhelm Lehmbruck's self-aggression, like that of countless of other artists, resulted not least from a practical experience of the correlation between molding and de-molding or the power of formation through deformation. Rather than by the artifact itself, the information of a work is created by the manner in which the artist and the beholder respond to its forms. Outside of a general, empty commendation of Wilhelm Lehmbruck's oeuvre, I believe the present question to be how we are to approach the framework of forms created by the artist, that is to say, which information with a view to Lehmbruck at present carries the furthest. Thomas Mann's recommendation is still the most binding.
(1) Elisabeth Bergner: Bewundert viel und viel gescholten. Unordentliche Erinnerungen, Munich 1978, p. 38.
(2) Editor’s note: examples of this are works such as Desperate Mother (1910), Kneeling Woman (1911), The fallen Man (1915), Buried Hope. Gethsemane I (1918) and Head of a Thinker (1918)
(3) Thomas Mann: Doctor Faustus, translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter, London 1992, p.6.
(4) Hugo Ball: Die Flucht aus der Zeit, ed. by Ernst Teubner, Göttingen 2016.
(5) Arnold Schönberg: “Franz Liszts Werk und Wesen”, in: Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung, 38, no. 42 (20th October 1911), pp. 1008-1010, here p. 1009.
(6) Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain, translated by John E. Woods, London: 2005, pp. 465-467.
(7) Ibid., pp. 468-474.