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Hubertus von der Goltz – Paths of Thought

Hubertus von der Goltz has a background in traditional sculpture. His evolution as a sculptor began with works based on the human body – portraits, nudes, robed figures, sometimes embedded in staged compositions in the form of reliefs. While these early works are sophisticated in their realization, there is something strangely unresolved about them; the artist is clearly striving not for harmony, but for a fitting contemporary expression that is hard to “capture” using conventional techniques, since neither the classical canon nor a portrait-based approach can absorb and convey what he experiences and feels. For von der Goltz, modern humans are beings who operate in a large space and whose main problem consists in finding their way as individuals within a multitude of relations. In search of an adequate articulation of this mode of existence, he analysed the human figure with regard to the space that surrounds it, shaping its habitus and behaviour, and arrived at an artistic essence. This surrounding space includes both the built environment, as a manifestation of the social world, and nature, as the space of the universe and as a sphere of human thought. These spheres are closely interwoven to create the specifically human space of existence, filled with all manner of orientation aids. The sculptural formula von der Goltz found for this is the result of conceptual abstraction and sensory concentration.

The notion of having to keep to a narrow path across the universe, either alone or with a few others, a path that ruthlessly prescribes the ground to be covered as a line of movement, is a metaphor familiar not only from cyberspace with its elaborate stories. It describes the difficulty of finding one’s way in life, but it also stands for the dangers inherent in our shared alienation from nature. The Romantics were already aware of this problem: the landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich that we admire so much today were found by critical contemporaries to be untrue to nature and uncanny. Today, Friedrich is considered a father of modernism, especially of “abstract” art. One could say that Kazimir Malevich’s black squares on white and black backgrounds constitute the final possibility for a two-dimensional rendering of a landscape by day and by night. This landscape no longer plays host to human creatures. Humankind is present in spirit only, as if it were the creator of the stars and their movements. We know the flipside of this doubtless wonderful sense of self from the writer Samuel Beckett, who described such a detached life of the mind as a torturous delirium that leads to the verge of the void. Art today is inconceivable without addressing this dilemma. With the metaphors of his sculptural approach, von der Goltz is in the thick of it. In his works, he inserts the physical human body into the non-corporeal sphere of his own constructions, where it must then find its way. This takes place in a small number of now typical variants and materials, as if it were self-evident that this single constellation is the only one that deserves artistic consideration. And indeed, over the years of his career, it has not become worn out, neither intellectually nor aesthetically.

Von der Goltz found his lifetime theme of “balance” early on. Born in East Prussia, as a young boy he had to flee with his parents at the end of the Second World War. As a twenty-year-old, he was apprenticed to a piano maker in Hamburg, then studied architecture and fine art in Berlin, working for firms of architects at the same time as learning to master the human body as form. Both aspects were to play a key role in his art: on the one hand the interpretation of structural relationships, on the other the human figure and its many possible positions and postures. Von der Goltz strictly avoided transferring the tectonic principle of classical sculpture to the human figure, adopting a position fundamentally at odds with classicism. Rather than ordering and disciplining the human form, the constructive element in his works serves to give it a free support, including in the sense of a conceptual mirror. In a way, this recalls the French painter-sculptor Edgar Degas, whose interest in dance and dancers also came down to the question of the form of a body in motion and the spaces it can occupy without losing balance. In the works of Hubertus von der Goltz, this body in motion has taken on a far more anonymous quality. It is a body in the distance, against a background of vastness and emptiness, a forlorn body, almost ethereal in its smallness, but one that appears natural and unpretentious so that viewers hold their breath and enthusiastically follow its progress. This is due not to any simple naturalism, but to the way the form sums up the essence of entire movements, which always unfold as a sequence in time, via a single characteristic line, the animated outline of a body. This also testifies to the artist’s long life and work experience. Rather than culminating in calm and serenity, his works – often installed in public space high above the roaring traffic of real life – show an audacious vitality.

Katrin Arrieta