In Berlin’s Modernist Network
January 22, 2017 to May 1, 2017
In the early twentieth century, Berlin attracted a large number of modern-thinking artists. The arts were in an upheaval—a profitable reciprocal influence was taking place between the most diverse and old patterns were discarded. One of those active in this creative environment was the young artist Georg Kolbe (1877–1947), who would soon rise to become this generation’s most successful German sculptor. On the occasion of his 140th birthday, the Georg Kolbe Museum is celebrating his surprisingly diverse network encompassing art, architecture, politics, and dance with a large-scale exhibition featuring works from its holdings. The extensive show presents over 50 sculptures, numerous historical photographs, drawings, paintings, letters, and contemporary documents from the artist’s estate. Like a cosmopolitan cross-section it reflects Berlin’s development into an artistic and cultural metropolis.
A major portraitist especially during the Weimar Republic, Kolbe’s nearly 200 sculptures of prominent personalities convey the image of an epoch that was marked by brilliance and contradiction. A selection of circa 50 of these works are presented in the exhibition, including the Social Democratic President of Germany Friedrich Ebert and German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the famed surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch from the Charité and the influential art chronicler Harry Graf Kessler, Kolbe’s art dealer Paul Cassirer as well as the author and pacifist Annette Kolb.
Whether as a member of the Berlin Secession or subsequently as chairman of the Free Secession, Kolbe was in constant contact with his colleagues. The famous animal sculptor Renée Sintenis posed for him as a young woman and the artist also worked for a while in the same studio house as Max Beckmann. He later undertook trips with his friends Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Richard Scheibe. Kolbe maintained close to Max Liebermann and carried out intense correspondences with Ernst Barlach and Gerhard Marcks, among others.
Kolbe’s enthusiasm for Expressionist dance resulted in major drawn or sculpted works showing persons in motion. He was inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky, the star of the Ballet Russes, as well as by such early modern dance pioneers as Gret Palucca, Mary Wigman, and Ted Shawn.
Kolbe’s sculptures have been installed in some of the most iconic examples of modernist architecture. The most famous of them is surely “Morning” (1927), which stood in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion (1929). But other renowned modern architects such as Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut, Hans Poelzig, and Henry van de Velde held his works in high esteem, connecting them to their own edifices. Kolbe’s own intense occupation with contemporary architecture found concrete visual manifestation in the landmark ensemble of structures in Sensburger Allee, the present-day Georg Kolbe Museum, where the artist created an ideal setting for his sculptures.
The Georg Kolbe Museum – A Jewel in the Berlin Museum Landscape
Georg Kolbe (1877–1947) was the most successful German sculptor of the first half of the twentieth century. His expressive sculptures dating from the nineteen teens and twenties reflect the spirit of the times in the European art metropolis Berlin, conveying a vivid image of the era they were produced in. Their close ties to now iconic examples of modern architecture is particularly enlightening for an understanding of their historical significance.
Mies van der Rohe placed Kolbe’s sculpture
“Morning” in the reflecting pool
of his Barcelona Pavilion
built on the occasion of the 1929 World Exposition.
Mies van der Rohe, for example, placed Kolbe’s sculpture “Morning,” a female nude with arms outstretched upwards, in the reflecting pool of his Barcelona Pavilion built on the occasion of the 1929 World Exposition. The museum’s building was erected as Georg Kolbe’s home and studio on the outskirts of the Grunewald forest in 1928/29. It is an architectonic jewel amidst a green setting. Berlin’s sole sculpture museum is dedicated to questions regarding classical and contemporary sculpture as seen from a present-day perspective.
Georg Kolbe and his Times
Georg Kolbe, who trained as a painter and draughtsman, became famous overnight for his sculpture “Dancer” that captures a girl in a self-engrossed twisting motion with arms outstretched to the sides. The delicate bronze figure was exhibited for the first time in 1912 at the Berlin Secession and acquired that same year for the Nationalgalerie. Particularly the younger audience in late Imperial Germany was passionate about the sculpture that came to symbolize modern human beings dancing themselves free of the shackles of the Wilhelminian Period’s incrusted traditions. Kolbe became a representative of a new era with this figure. Especially during the Weimar Republic, the sculptor received a large number of official commissions and honors. A bust he made of the Germany’s Social Democratic president Friedrich Ebert in 1925 triggered an extensive public discussion that was not only ignited by the work’s aesthetic qualities but also its political message. This sculptural dispute exemplifies the enormous social upheavals of these years that were accompanied by an aesthetic debate.
Especially during the Weimar Republic,
the sculptor received a large
number of official commissions and honors.
Like most classical modern sculptors, Kolbe favored the nude as the theme of his works. His concentrated and idealized depictions of the human being are far removed from the detailed realism and mawkish eroticism typical of the nineteenth-century Prussian-Wilhelminian tradition.
The Sensburg – Georg Kolbe’s Studio and Home
The two buildings making up the site were erected in 1928/29 according to Georg Kolbe’s own specifications by the Swiss architect Ernst Rentsch. The brick structures with ceiling-high windows are a clear affirmation of architectural modernism. The artist chose a refuge on the outskirts of the city for his new home and workplace, not far from the Heerstraße Cemetery, where his wife Benjamine was buried after her death under tragic circumstances in 1927.
The two houses are connected by a park-like garden with old pine trees. The artist himself lived and worked in the present-day museum building. The ensemble also includes the stylistically similar home belonging to his daughter, where museum workspaces and Café K are now located.
The brick structures
windows are a clear
affirmation of architectural modernism.
Very few sculptors’ studios from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century have survived in Berlin, and only Georg Kolbe’s studio is open to the public. Three years after his death in 1947, it became the first museum to be opened in the Western Sector of the city. It has been preserved in its original state; only the former clay studio gave way in 1995 to a spacious extension that more than doubled the size of the museum’s exhibition space to circa 400 square meters and created storage space for the collection.
The Museum and its Collection
The museum is dedicated to researching, preserving and probing Georg Kolbe’s artistic legacy. Not including the plaster models, it encompasses over 200 of his works, particularly bronzes, among them many unique examples. It furthermore houses an important collection of classical modern sculpture, for example by the sculptor friends Renée Sintenis, Richard Scheibe and Gerhard Marcks in addition to numerous extensive artist estates.
A lively dialogue is initiated in exhibitions on Georg Kolbe and his times as well as on art of the present day that examine historical and current questions from a scholarly and critical perspective. One focus of the museum’s activities is reanimating the museum as a site where art is produced. At the start of the twenty first century, a museum devoted to sculpture faces questions regarding what constitutes sculpture today. This also involves a reexamination of the genre’s boundaries and its place within a contemporary spectrum.
The Georg Kolbe Grove and the Museum’s Surroundings
The site is not only captivating due to its enchanting grounds, but the museum is also located within walking distance from the Georg Kolbe Grove, a park featuring several large-scale sculptures by the artist. Berlin’s most scenic cemetery is also situated in the immediate vicinity, the Heerstraße Cemetery, where Georg Kolbe is buried alongside his wife and grandson.
As well as in the Kolbe Museum and public places, sculptures by Kolbe are to be found in the museums of the following towns and cities: Altenburg, Antwerp, Berlin, Berne, Bielefeld, Bremen, Buffalo (N.Y.), Chicago, Cleveland, Cologne, Denver, Detroit, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Erfurt, Essen, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Görlitz, Hagen, Halle, Hamburg, Hannover, Kassel, Kiel, Lawrence (Kansas), Leipzig, Leningrad, London, Los Angeles, Ludwigshafen, Lübeck, Magdeburg, Manchester, Mannheim, Marburg, Minneapolis, Moscow, Munich, Münster, New York, Nuremberg, Oslo, Otterlo, Philadelphia, Prague, Princton, Raleigh, Rochester, Rotterdam, Saarbrücken, San Antonio, San Diego, San Fransisco, St. Louis, Stockholm, Stuttgart, The Hague, Waldheim (Saxony), Wiesbaden, Wuppertal, Yale and Zürich
There are furthermore a number of important architectural landmarks in the neighborhood, including famous New Objectivity villas, the Le Corbusier House, Olympic Stadium and Broadcasting House.