The massive angel seems to weigh tons as it floats motionless in the middle of the exhibition space – just above the heads of those who look at it. In 1927, Ernst Barlach created his iconic work with the idealized facial features of Käthe Kollwitz for Güstrower Cathedral. However, the example on display was made as a plastic cast for filming in the 1960s, says Hermann Noack. Barlach’s ingenious form, and not the material itself, gives the work that feeling of heaviness that is so inimitably suspended in the impression of floating.
The pseudo-bronze angel used to hang in the basement of the Noack bronze foundry, at that time still at the headquarters in Friedenau, the fourth-generation boss remembers. The family business, founded in 1897, has long since moved into a new area on the banks of the Spree in Charlottenburg. In the modern showroom, Barlach is now celebrating its 150th birthday, two years late due to the pandemic. Otherwise, mostly contemporary art is shown here.
Everything that Barlach has in bronze bears the stamp of the Noack foundry. His complete works were cast in the Berlin workshop, often only posthumously. In the meantime, according to Noack, this only exists in exceptional cases in a museum. Even his small retrospective cannot fall back on the rare casts from his lifetime. The loans come from the estate administration and are supplemented by almost a dozen lithographs from the Galerie Nierendorf.
The 17 small and medium-sized bronze figures have plenty of room to unfold in the high-ceilinged exhibition space made of concrete and glass. Noack finds that Barlach’s work is often shown in a too cramped, cramped and encrusted way. There are no object labels here, and certainly no explanatory texts. Barlach should work for himself. The illumination is perfect, the light sweeps sensitively over the bronze surfaces.
The “Singing Man” is a favorite piece of Hermann Noack. Sitting relaxed on the floor, the figure leans back, opens its mouth – and becomes a body of sound. The bronze caster points to the extremely fine hammered hallmarks; this lively surface structure was only worked in after the casting.
Barlach himself had nothing to do with it. He carved his work out of wood in Güstrow and sent it to Berlin, where a plaster model and finally the sand mold, which could only be used once, were made for the casting. People here are still familiar with such difficult processes, and in the entrance area, magnificent showpieces by international artists from Tony Cragg to Heinz Mack shine.
The introductory wall text makes a somewhat attempted reference to actuality by Barlach, without the exhibition pursuing this aspect any further: In the summer of 1906, the 36-year-old artist traveled to Kyiv, Kharkiv and the Donez region. He saw beggars and farmers, saw vast landscapes and felt that this was an important stimulus for his search for clear, truthful design.
The “melon cutter” created the following year is on display. He sits with his legs apart and handles his knife with full physical exertion. All unnecessary details have been omitted, the face also appears simplified, and all forms are streamlined.
That became Barlach’s strategy. His characters simply do what they do, gaining timeless validity. The artist leaves aside the classic poses of sculpture and trusts the experienced moment.
This is how the corpulent “walker”, only 50 centimeters high, braces himself against the apparently strong headwind. The “flute blower” merges with his instrument, tightly wrapped in a coat and helmet-like hat. You don’t want to disturb the “book reader” at all, he’s so engrossed in his reading.
And the “pregnant” just stands there, like a fruit, a germinating grain. You know them, these Barlach figures. They endure. The exhibition gains nothing new from Barlach’s work, which is a pity. But at least she puts the work in the right light.