Room Work (WV 310)
26.11.2004 – 20.02.2005
I AM SEARCHING FOR A NEW ORDER STRUCTURE
Throughout his artistic career, Ernst Hermanns relied on the visual impact of what he created. As a result, his output became more and more condensed. The last few years of his life saw his material vocabulary of forms reduced to simple, stereometric volumes consisting of spheres, columns, rods and – in rare cases – discs. All of them were made of stainless steel. Consequently, their sizes and, above all, their positions relative to one another became increasingly significant. Though always conceived in advance of an exhibition, they were tested at the venue beforehand.
Hermanns executed a large number of works that brought this «game» of dimension, proportion, and relation to bear on plates. Thus, the playing field was marked out, as it were, by a base plate. Every element on this plate acted relative to another and in relation to the plate itself. In a certain way, the plates also give this group of works a model-like quality.
There are only a limited number of works that show Hermanns realizing a connection between objects in real spaces. This «group» of works begins with a hemisphere and a calotte (1969/84), which, strictly speaking, cannot be tied to a group of works. Two round rods lying on the floor at an intriguingly minimal distance from one another (1979) would be a part of
that group, as would his contribution to Skulptur Projekte Münster (1987), his exhibitions in the galleries Heinz Herzer, Munich, (1988) and Reckermann, Cologne, (1988), and without question his Düsseldorfer Raum (Düsseldorf Space) from 1994.
Until shortly before his death in 2000, the then almost 86-year-old worked on an «order structure» consisting of a huge sphere, a small column and a large column for the exhibitionspace at Foundation DKM in Duisburg. He had never seen the room himself, but knew its dimensions very well. Though he was intrigued by the fact that the space also operates like a
shop window, it also irked him. After all, the sense of limitedness that characterizes his plate works and Düsseldorfer Raum is no longer present here. By contrast, Duisburg features an interior space bound by height, width, and depth, and an open exterior space. Both flow into one another, separated only by panes of glass; both, visually connected by glazing, also form a unity – but one that refuses to be dominated, thanks to the boundlessness of the exterior space.
The result of Hermann’s preoccupation with this interior is a model and a sketch with dimensions. The model shows how he approached this subject, which was new to him, how he wanted to take this special circumstance into account, how he evaluated this coexistence of inside and outside… It shows that he approached the challenge spatially, as he usually did, but that he also valued the visual aspect of his constellations with stereometric volumes, which piqued his curiosity in Düsseldorf at the latest, and by that point were nearly his main interest. After all, the sphere expodes, as it were, beyond the interior space; it hardly appears to be in the space any more – especially when seen from the outside – but rather to dominate it.
The sphere is much more physically present inside the room than visible from beyond. Yet seen from the outside, it remains figuratively present more than anything – then like a disk – and only more so as a real sphere. Consequently, the small column disappears in the background. But it is indispensably necessary for the visitor present in the space, as due to its
clarity it inevitably invites them to engage in a visual dialogue between it and the sphere, a dialogue that the sphere (with its power) no longer initiates. And then there is the large, external column. It exceeds the height of the building – even if only slightly. It is taller than the diameter of the sphere and thus positions itself in direct relation to it, yet it also immediately seeks to set itself in relation to its «kin», the small column.
I am searching for a new order structure.” (fn.1) This sentence was Ernst Hermann’s credo until his death. The posthumously executed work for the space at the Foundation DKM in Duisburg demonstrates this conspicuously. It shows that proportions of size and smallness, of apparent power and powerlessness, can nevertheless lead to a separate whole. Every size is significant within this balance. Mass is not a value-in-itself for dominance within these relationships. Also – and strictly speaking one would have to say: even – the smallest element in complex relations is constitutive of a balanced, functioning wholeness. Even if it is speculation: Ernst Hermanns would call the Duisburg space his work.
Remagen Rolandseck, November 2004
Translation: Amy Patton
Ernst Hermanns’s 1962 quote is reprinted in the catalog Ernst Hermanns, Ein Raum; Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 1994, 65.