Modernism and Refuge –
Georg Kolbe’s “Sensburg” as an Architectural Monument of the Nineteen Twenties
September 13, 2020 – January 5, 2021
In the late nineteen twenties, when his generously-sized studio house was being constructed in the Westend district of Berlin, the sculptor Georg Kolbe (1877-1947) was at the height of his artistic success. Represented by the major art dealers Cassirer and Flechtheim, he had customers all over the world and also enjoyed an excellent position in the network of Berlin’s artist circles. However, after his wife Benjamine unexpectedly died at the age of only 45, he desired a place to withdraw and work that was near her grave. This is the origin of his Sensburg, named after the location of the ensemble of modern brick structures on Sensburger Allee. Situated close to downtown Berlin and yet on the edge of the Grunewald forest, it was intended to be the structural manifestation of Kolbe’s ideal notion of the productive interplay between art, nature and architecture.
The sculptor had close ties to modernist architecture. From the outset, he was actively involved in the discourse concerning the further development of the New Objectivity style in building in conjunction with his collaboration with such architects as Ludwig Mies van Rohe, Bruno Taut, Hans Poelzig and Walter Gropius. To build his custom-designed home and studio, Kolbe commissioned the Swiss architect Ernst Rentsch and later the former Bauhaus student Paul Linder and he worked closely with both during the design phase of the work. The joint planning obviously profited from their concentration on the relationship between sculpture and space that would play a crucial role in Kolbe’s artistic work throughout his career.
Well-connected to public transportation, entirely electrified and with telephone as well as completely furnished baths, the brick building corresponded to the notions of modern living, embodying its definition of a new unfussy type of living comfort. As a studio, it fulfilled all the prerequisites needed to create the working conditions Kolbe sought as an artist. Especially the lighting throughout the house was meticulously planned, masterfully realizing the lucid connection between interior and exterior space.
With its ceiling-high windows, the large studio space opens up to the adjacent garden; a complex skylight allows neutral daylight to flow into the room while the high window sills direct framed views into the green of the surrounding nature. One enters the Sensburg through the brick wall that surrounds the entire property including the inlying sculpture court, giving it an almost fortress-like character that contrasts the light clarity of its atmosphere. As a secluded refuge, it protected the artists from the glances of curious passers-by and benefitted his work with models outdoors.
Kolbe’s artist studio was opened to the public exactly seventy years ago—as the first museum to founded after WWII and the only Berlin artist house from the nineteen twenties in which the original function remains visible and tangible. Even today, the cubic brick building with sculpture garden exudes the modernist spirit of the time of its construction.
“Modernism and Refuge” portrays Kolbe’s Sensburg in the mirror of its rich history. From the first planning drawings, the construction phase and the time of its first private and then public use, the exhibition brings together a large number of contemporary documents, many of which have never before been shown in public, which not only document the artist as an influential and creative building client but also within the confines of his most private nucleus. Surrounded by family and friends as well as his dogs and cats, Kolbe becomes discernible as a man of various facets that have previously remained concealed behind his public role and attributions. A considerable portion of the exhibited material comes from the estate of the artist’s granddaughter, which only arrived in Berlin this year and is currently being integrated into the museum’s holdings.
September 13, 2020 – January 5, 2021
The filigree ceramic objects by Japanese artist Shinichi Sawada (born 1982) recall fantastic chimera, demonic masks, richly decorated totems, medieval beasts or elaborate Pre-Columbian artefacts – and yet they evidently derive from a world of their own. Covered with pointy thorns, these creatures defy both art historical conventions as well as contemporary market criteria. In their existential primordialness, they demonstrate the artist’s powerful sense of imagination while reflecting the deepest and darkest recesses of human existence. With their wide-open eyes, bared teeth, antenna-like horns and protruding claws, Sawada’s striking beings sometimes make a shy impression, at other times they appear defensive. As a group, they simultaneously form a manifest unit—closely coalescing with each other in formal terms and yet drawing on an overwhelming repertory of possibilities.
While Sawada’s work seems like the expression of an inner dialogue that is extremely idiosyncratic and yet universal in its emotional presence, the artist himself speaks only rarely. An autist and autodidact, he works since the age of eighteen in an assisted living facility operated by the social welfare department of the Shiga Prefecture to the west of Kyoto. In the nearby forest landscape, a simple corrugated hut with two kilns was constructed for him that has served as his studio for about twenty years. The artist was able to develop his unique formal vocabulary in this protected refuge, creating works that invite viewers to question conventional categories and modes of thought.
Deriving from millennia-old Japanese ceramic-making techniques, Sawada’s mystic creatures find their striking forms intuitively, without any indecision or art historical referencing. Immediate in their effect and intricate complexity, they remind us that true art always draws on the innermost realms of the soul and expand our vision without distancing themselves from the core of their own existential force.
Sawada’s works were presented for the first time outside the contextual framework of so-called Outsider Art in 2013, at the 55th Venice Biennale. Organized by the Georg Kolbe Museum in cooperation with the Museum Lothar Fischer, this first exhibition of the Japanese artist’s work in a European museum will be showing twenty ceramic sculptures. The show’s inclusive approach encourages the viewer to suspend conscious or unconscious boundaries.
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.
The Sensitive Man in Modern Sculpture
September 19, 2018 to February 3, 2019
The Georg Kolbe Museum’s fall exhibition is dedicated this year to the theme of the sensitive man in modern sculpture. Featuring circa 80 sculptures by artists such as Adolf von Hildebrand, George Minne, Hermann Blumenthal, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Georg Kolbe and Gerhard Marcks, the show commemorates the achievements of the first German republic on its centennial in conjunction with Berlin’s “100 Years of Revolution” project.
Since the turn of the 20th century, a striking number of sculptors explored the topos of the unscathed, albeit vulnerable youth. The notion of a sensitive and sentimental ideal male body appears to be a deliberate reaction against the images of potent heroic masculinity prevalent at that time. The demonstrative internal defenselessness displayed by these figures stands in contradiction to the brutality of external reality.
The 1st Generation – Women Sculptors of Berlin Modernism
February 18, 2018 – June 17, 2018
Käthe Kollwitz, Sophie Wolff, Milly Steger, Marg Moll, Tina Haim-Wentscher, Renée Sintenis, Christa Winsloe, Emy Roeder, Jenny Mucchi-Wiegmann and Louise Stomps made up a first generation of freelance women sculptors in Germany who could live from their art and also found critical and popular acclaim. The ten artists represented in the exhibition were active in Berlin and in part closely integrated in the art scene of the Weimar Republic. The circa 100 works on display demonstrate their considerable creative potential. From the outset, they sought their own independent artistic paths that cannot be reduced down to supposedly female subject matters. But especially in regard of the difficult and physically oriented art of sculpture, these artists frequently had to battle against prejudices and traditional role models. They furthermore had to work out their own personal and professional paths because of the difficult educational situation for women who at that time had still no access to art academies. The exhibition in the Georg Kolbe Museum enables visitors to rediscover and deepen an understanding of their lives and works.
Emil Cimiotti. What’s on the inside, that’s the outside. Retrospective
November 19, 2017 – January 28, 2018
Awst & Walther – BE WATER II
October 15, 2017 – November 12, 2017
BE WATER, the first comprehensive solo exhibition of Awst & Walther in Berlin, is a cooperative project organized by the Georg Kolbe Museum and the Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V. The Welsh-German artist duo has been occupied for many years with the theme of a world reshaped by humankind, visualizing the impact of the confrontational encounter between social and political structures with the primary forces of nature. In BE WATER, the artists explore humankind’s ambivalent relationship with the ocean. The sea has been a projection surface of human desire, inspiration and fascination for centuries. As a crucial resource for industry and economics, it also represents a valuable living environment. Over half of Europe’s population lives within a 50 kilometer radius from the ocean. This fact bears an inherent danger. Climate change, which has been acknowledged since the nineteen seventies, and rising sea levels have led to flooding and other natural catastrophes with ever greater frequency.
Awst & Walther’s artistic work draws on the current discourse dealing with accountability as regards nature in the Anthropocene Epoch. The works presented in the exhibitions contribute to a reflection on our planet’s current ecological state and inquires about the liability of human action. Focus is placed on the question concerning the relationship between each and every individual to his spatial and social environment as well as the need to expose the structure and logic behind established systems of ordering.
The first part of the project, which was inaugurated in September 2017, consists of the piece BE WATER I made for the Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V. Awst & Walther fitted the entire surface of a circa eighteen meter tall faux facade between two buildings in Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 43 with mussel shells. The second part encompassing installations, sculptures and an especially-made video makes up the exhibition shown under the name BE WATER II at the Georg Kolbe Museum. In collaboration with Dr. Ursula Ströbele from the Universität der Künste in Berlin, the artists have organized the interdisciplinary Symposium „Nature 4.0.“ Representatives from the fields of art, art history, culture and natural science are invited to discuss the controversial problem of limited resources, the extinction of our biodiversity and the transfer of nature into a cultivated, industrialized landscape. Awst & Walther continue an essential aspect of their artistic practice here, which arises in the exchange and collaboration with scholars from various disciplines.
Alfred Flechtheim. Modernism’s Art Dealer
May 21, 2017 – September 17, 2017
The role played by Alfred Flechtheim (1878–1937) in the history of twentieth-century European art cannot be underestimated. He dealt in his galleries with the most important artworks of his time and was a charismatic driving force for artists, museums and collectors. His publication “Querschnitt” was one of the Weimar Republic’s most intellectually stimulating avant-garde magazines. Flechtheim was surrounded by such popular celebrities as Max Schmeling and illustrious artists like Renée Sintenis. Defamed by anti-Semitic hostilities and threatened by the Nazis, he emigrated from Germany in 1933 and died in exile in 1937.
Featuring works by: Ernst Barlach, Rudolf Belling, Arno Breker, Edgar Degas, Ernesto de Fiori, Hermann Haller, Moissey Kogan, Georg Kolbe, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Aristide Maillol, George Minne, Marg Moll, Gerhard Marcks and Renée Sintenis
In this first special exhibition on Alfred Flechtheim to be shown in Berlin, special attention is be paid to his pronounced love of modern sculpture from the nineteen twenties. While his dedicated commitment to painting, for example by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, George Grosz and Max Beckmann, has been acknowledged, modern sculpture played an equally important role in his exhibitions, an crucial aspect that has been neglected in previous assessments of his work. The exhibition “Alfred Flechtheim. Modernism’s Art Dealer” at the Georg Kolbe Museum documents the stylistic as well as biographical contrasts between sculptors represented by Flechtheim, ranging from Arno Breker, who rose to the rank of state artist in the National Socialist system, to Moissey Kogan, who was murdered in Auschwitz.
In 1921, the passionate art collector transferred his gallery’s headquarters from Düsseldorf to Berlin. His most successful period was the nineteen twenties, selling numerous works to collections at home and abroad. For many of “his” artists, the collaboration with the Galerie Flechtheim marked the zenith of their artistic careers. Renée Sintenis, famed for her Berlin Bears, and her sculptor colleague Ernesto de Fiori, who portrayed both Marlene Dietrich and Max Schmeling, were among Flechtheim’s closest associates and omnipresent in pages of “Querschnitt.” These artist personalities were well suited to Flechtheim’s staged self-image, radiating self-confident international cosmopolitanism.
At that time, established sculptors such as Georg Kolbe and Ernst Barlach could already look back at many successful years with the art dealer Paul Cassirer, who was one of Flechtheim’s early mentors. After Cassirer’s death in January 1926, Flechtheim assumed in numerous ways his role as the charismatic networker of Berlin’s art scene.
Representatives of the art world, politics and society came together at the Galerie Flechtheim’s legendary parties and festivities to celebrate the new-found freedom of the Weimar Republic. Alfred Flechtheim not only manifestly marketed works of art but also represented a cultural zeitgeist that sought the innovative on numerous levels. For him, art was more than a mere business; it was a passion that he discovered early in life as a collector and which he consistently promoted as a dealer. Many extraordinary works found their way into the collections of German museums through his intervention. The exhibition features two of the seven figures of dancers by Edgar Degas (from the Kunsthalle Bremen and the Städel in Frankfurt) that Flechtheim sold to diverse German museums.
The underpinning of Alfred Flechtheim’s work as a dealer was taken from him by the Nazis; many of his artists were deemed “degenerate”. In the fall of 1933, he emigrated to London by way of Paris:
“Yesterday I left Berlin forever. My galleries there and in Düsseldorf are to be closed. There is no place for me here. […] If I had not dealt with Hofer, Kolbe, Renée [Sintenes], Klee and with my French artists they would not have bothered with me; yes, they even gave me to understand that if I did without these artists I could carry on quite happily as an art dealer!!! But I would prefer to be really poor abroad than a traitor.” (Alfred Flechtheim, 1933)
In 1937, Alfred Flechtheim died in exile in London. Rediscovered comparatively late, he has again attracted much public notice in conjunction with the important debates on the restitution of unlawfully confiscated cultural properties. The exhibition at the Georg Kolbe Museum aims at focusing attention on his influential activities and documenting this special chapter in Berlin’s modern history. Flechtheim was doubtlessly one of the most important and vibrant protagonists of art in the Weimar Republic. On March 11, 1937, his obituary was published in the “Pariser Tageszeitung” (an exile newspaper) in which the art critic Paul Westheim wrote:
“Alfred Flechtheim was more than an art dealer; on life’s stage, which we had the honor to see, he was a man who was always in the foreground, a person known to the whole world and about whom the whole world talked.[…] He enjoyed it when the serious people kept on thinking he was mad. That is precisely what made him so authentic, it was this passion for artists, for artistic people, for paintings.”