Hauser & Wirth Zürich is pleased to present a selection of sculptures by Hans Josephsohn, many of which have been cast in brass for the first time. Curated by the renowned Swiss architect Peter Märkli in collaboration with Kesselhaus Josephsohn, the exhibition will include Josephsohn’s half and standing figures as well as his reliefs, a sculptural form that has played a central role throughout Josephsohn’s artistic practice.
Over the years, Josephsohn and Märkli have developed a close relationship, the artist becoming a mentor for Peter Märkli and his work greatly influencing Märkli’s projects, such as La Congiunta, a small museum in the Southern Swiss Alps designed and built to house Josephsohn’s sculptures. The young architect first came to Josephsohn’s studio in 1975. Märkli’s visits soon became regular, with Josephsohn and Märkli connecting over Italian culture, ancient Greek classicism, Romanesque art and, most importantly, their mutual interest in the relationship between art and architecture.
For these reasons Märkli has chosen to focus the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Zürich on Josephsohn’s reliefs, a type of sculpture that throughout art history has been predominantly used as an architectural ornamentation. Josephsohn’s reliefs not only explore the fundamental struggles associated with sculpture, but also issues arising in architecture, including themes of volume, form and proportion.
The exhibition will include important examples of Josephsohn’s reliefs from the 1950s and 1960s. In these earlier reliefs, Josephsohn removes figural representation from his work, depicting compositions consisting of abstracted figures and geometric shapes, as in _Untitled_ (1952). However, unlike other abstract sculptors working during this time, Josephsohn did not reduce his forms in order to express only the essence of the subject or to renounce the figure. Instead, his reduction of the form to its most basic characteristics allowed the artist to explore the practical problems encountered within the spatial constraints of the relief.
At this time, Josephsohn was also continuing his earlier explorations of standing figures, such as _Untitled (Miriam)_ (1953), a tall, slender, yet solid figure whose facial features and limbs are merely alluded to and whose feet seemingly morph into the plinth upon which she stands. These sculptures‘ straightforward simplicity and frontally oriented symmetry at once call to mind the gravitas of ancient sculpture and Egyptian stelae.
Alongside his earlier reliefs and sculptures, Josephsohn’s later ‘high’ reliefs from the 1970s will be shown. With these works, the figures once strictly constrained within the reliefs attain a new plasticity, expanding into space and towards the viewer. Many of these reliefs are closed off by a horizontal beam at the top of the work that, much like an architectural feature, acts as a stabilising element, condensing the space and enabling the sculpture to be integrated into an architectural context.
Two examples of Josephsohn’s more recent sculptures will also be included in the exhibition, sculptures which evidence the artist’s return to abstraction. These half figures, such as _Untitled_ (1994), possess an insistent corporeality, and, through their compact forms, emphasise the heaviness and materiality of the body. Although very different from his earlier, geometric reliefs, Josephsohn similarly uses these works to explore recurring questions of proportion and volume.
Throughout his career, Josephsohn has cultivated an independence and artistic freedom that has allowed him to explore traditional forms of sculpture. All of these aspects of Josephsohn’s œuvre – geometric reduction, the abstraction of form, figuration and a return to abstraction in recent years – do not speak to his association with any school of theory or artistic movement. Instead, these changes show an artist’s continuing search for a way to express what is perceived or experienced. The unassignable characteristics of his figures and reliefs lend a timeless and enduring quality to his work.
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About the artist
Josephsohn is one of the most important figurative sculptors in post-war Europe. His art is devoted entirely to the human form and the classical theme of sculpture: standing, sitting and recumbent, as full or half figures, bodiless heads or reliefs in which…Learn more