CONCRETE MEETS GOTHIC Photographically staged by Michael Leis
Aloof, bulky and hideous monsters that blight the city and countryside: that's the common view. “Brutalism” is more controversial than almost any other architectural style. While the population is largely unanimous in their rejection of the profane “concrete monsters”, the situation is somewhat different when it comes to church buildings. The architectural term is quite disconcerting, after all: Brutalism has nothing to do with the concept of "brutal", but is derived from the French "béton brut" (exposed concrete). Nonetheless, the stigma inherent in the name is gladly picked up by critics. Back to the beginnings: In the 1960s and 1970s, this kind of bunker architecture, with its visible concrete skeletons, unrendered facades and exposed pipes and cables was celebrated as a symbol for a classless society. Modern architects successfully touted concrete as an honest, deeply democratic building material. From then on, towns and cities commissioned a whole series of concrete structures, and concrete giants soon came to define cityscapes in the form of town halls, schools and churches; entire residential areas and lighthouse projects such as the Olympic Village in Munich were also built in a brutalist manner. Today, the fragile structures are getting on. Many require extensive renovation, but hardly anyone is fighting to save them, and a number of concrete structures have already been demolished. However, the wrecking ball hasn't yet reached brutalist sacred buildings. Not only because many of these places of worship are under monument protection, but also because people genuinely love them and – surrounded by day-care centres, supermarkets and affordable living space – they are focal points of social life. Sometimes small and inconspicuous, sometimes as powerful as Gothic cathedrals, they fit in to the fabric of the city. Like their more profane relatives, brutalist sacred buildings are presented in the simplest possible form. The construction is also clearly recognisable and functional, using only a few materials.
The sole purpose of the architectural design here is to show the house of God in the splendour of noble simplicity. The viewer may initially feel confused by the exterior views of brutalist church buildings, but the atmosphere inside will leave them deeply impressed: emptiness, vastness, almost no room decorations, and daylight that falls on raw concrete through a few tiny openings. The spatial effect is phenomenal, and there's nothing to distract from spiritual contemplation in these walk-in sculptures that look like caves. Gottfried Böhm is considered the leading protagonist of brutalism. The man from Cologne, who turned 100 on 23rd January 2020, is one of the most important architects of the post-war era. In 1986 he was the first German to be honoured with the Pritzker Prize, the “Nobel Prize” for architecture. Gottfried Böhm created architectural icons of the 20th century, including the pilgrimage cathedral in Velbert-Neviges, consecrated in 1968, as his most important work. This massive concrete rock looks like a monumental, Expressionist sculpture. The church holds 6,000 people; its rising, curved pilgrim's trail symbolises the path of a pilgrimage and, in its severity, looks like an alternative to Gaudí's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Incidentally, Gottfried Böhm is still active and designs spectacular large buildings under one roof with his sons Stephan, Peter and Paul, such as the Central Mosque in Cologne and the Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich.
There are no decorative accessories in concrete churches, so that a colourful rosary is already enough to delight the eye. It gets exciting when Gothic sculptures come into play in the concrete desert. This is shown by the photo report for which Michael Leis staged exciting encounters between late Gothic sculpture from the NEUMEISTER Christmas auction (see pages 23–26) and sacred concrete buildings.
The photography directs one's gaze to an astonishing interplay: on the one hand, the centuries-old sculptures fill the cool concrete rooms with content. On the other hand, the late medieval Madonnas, the skilful elaboration of which could simply be overlooked in a Gothic cathedral due to the excessive "competition" of all the decor, suddenly appear full of emotion and develop an undreamt-of joy in movement.
Of course, you don't have to go to church to experience the interplay of Gothic and concrete. Your own home can do the same. More and more art lovers enjoy the contrasting combinations of styles, so that a late Gothic Madonna finds herself in the living room on a Bauhaus chest of drawers in front of an exposed concrete wall – to cast a spell over the viewer with her restrained smile. (al/kjk)
Let there be light!
The Pilgrimage Cathedral in the Velbert district of Neviges, which the Cologne architect Gottfried Böhm designed as a prototype of a brutalist sacred building, looks out of this world. It is most beautiful on sunny days, when natural light penetrates the interior through the few small windows, and the stained-glass windows – a rose symbolising Mary – bathe the cold concrete in a warm red. Street lights, pavement and galleries arranged like the windows and balconies of houses give it the feeling of a church forecourt. But the mighty retractable roof is a reminder that this is an interior. It comes across as a monumental spatial sculpture, a place of encounter with an altar at the centre of the action.
Also from this perspective, the Velbert pilgrimage cathedral puts everything in the shade.
Like being in a cave
Nested walls made of exposed aggregate and facing concrete, economical lighting and an asymmetrically pleated roof. The interior of St. Gertrud's Catholic parish church in Cologne looks like the interior of a spaceship. The crucifix above the altar provides warmth, while the concrete sets the Holy Kinship mounted in the picture in motion.
The tower of the Catholic Church of Saint Mary in Gaggenau looks like part of a power station. Inside, you also sense that energy and (spiritual) strength are at work. Rough concrete, reduced forms and dramatic light here; a Madonna on cloth and carpet there. Inside Saint Mary's, it becomes tangible that a church and modern architecture can exist in fruitful tension with one another. The building, designed by Rainer Disse is characterised by a mathematical harmony and clarity. Horst Antes is responsible for the artistic design.
St. Gertrud's in Cologne, built from 1962 to 1965, also bears Gottfried Böhm's signature. From the baptismal font, tabernacle and altar to the portal and weather vane: almost all of the fittings come from the famous architect's designs. Large-format paintings and colourful windows bring colour into play.
The Friedenskirche in Monheim is designed as an accessible sculpture. Small windows bathe the interior in subdued light, while warm wood, orange doors and other colour elements soften the exposed concrete. Large Lenten veils and a short-pile carpet ensure excellent acoustics.
Mountains of concrete
This Woman of the Apocalypse in Nuremberg seems to feel at home in the Rhenish environment. At least, that's what her tender smile suggests. It is said that the Alps inspired Walter Maria Förderer to create this extraordinary design for the Protestant church in Monheim. The Swiss architect shaped the Friedenskirche, built between 1968 and 1974, as a towering, jagged concrete mountain. The summit is the 23-metre-high bell tower. The ensemble includes a day-care centre, a community centre and staff residence.
Niches and angles
Raw exposed concrete, nested niches and angles, heavy concrete columns, brutal vaults, cave-like atmospheres and magical lighting effects: The Christi Auferstehung church in Cologne (1970) also has the typical Böhm touch – except for the reddish brick walls: the architect received the inspiration from his mother.
Art of ceiling
The ceiling of the Catholic parish church of St. Mauritius in Munich (1967) consists of a prestressed concrete grid and 49 square concrete cassettes. Daylight only enters through some of these cassettes above the altar area. The church and the associated buildings were planned as an urban unit by architects Herbert Groethuysen, Detlef Schreiber and Gernot Sachsse. The main room is a 14-metre-high square hall with exposed concrete walls.
A small, but very fine suite of gothic sculptures from Oberschwaben is the highlight of the Christmas auction.
Dr. Bettina Schwick, NEUMEISTER expert for furniture, sculptures and textiles, presents the region, works of art and collectors.
IN THE AUCTION
FREE OF CHARGE. SELT. FINE.
Vases by Émile Gallé are true poetry.
VASES FROM EMILLE GALLÉ
Meissen porcelain always looks good under the Christmas tree. Anyone looking for exceptional pieces will find them at the NEUMEISTER auction in December. A recent musician's group, for example, is interesting from an art historical point of view. Background: Towards the end of the 1950s, the Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Meissen picked up the spirit of the times. From the 1960s onwards, it was Peter Strang who first as a modeller and later as artistic director had a major influence on the new, modern face of the manufactory. Together with four colleagues, he also founded the "Collective Artistic Development" in 1960, a congenial cooperation that produced many ideas - and an orchestra.
And the best part: the five artists who played together as musicians immortalized themselves in Meissener Musikanten-Porzellan: Ludwig Zepner (orchestra leader), Prof. Heinz Werner (accordion), Peter Strang (saxophone), Volkmar Bretschneider (drummer) and Rudi Stolle (doctoral cap). A gift tip from Dr. Bärbel Wauer, expert for applied arts of the 20th century.
FROM THE TIME FROM OUR FOREFATHERS
THE COMEBACK OF THE PARROTS
KARL MAY WAS NEVER IN THE WILD WEST. AND NEITHER WILL ALBERT RIEGER EVER HAVE ENJOYED A SUNSET IN AN OASIS. IN THE ORIENTAL SCENE, WHICH THE ARTIST BROUGHT TO CANVAS WITH OIL, HE LET HIS BRUSHES BE GUIDED BY CURIOSITY AND LONGING. THE PAINTER, BORN IN TRIESTE IN 1834 AS THE SON OF THE PAINTER GIUSEPPE RIEGER, WAS A CHILD OF HIS TIME. ALL OVER EUROPE, THE ORIENT FROM EGYPT TO CHINA IN THE 18TH AND 19TH CENTURIES TRIGGERED AN ENORMOUS FASCINATION. A MYSTIFIED DREAM WORLD - SCARY AND ATTRACTIVE AT THE SAME TIME.
In his work, Rieger was very much influenced by the Berlin-born German painter Bernhard Fiedler (1816–1904). He did what many scientists and artists would like to have done at the time: he travelled far away. Funded by King Frederick William IV of Prussia and King Leopold II of Belgium, Fiedler undertook expeditions through Egypt, Palestine and Syria – and brought with him everything he needed for his motifs. The influence on Rieger's work of Fiedler's large-format, oriental paintings and his romantic understanding of nature is unmistakable. For example, in "Oase bei Sonnenaufgang" (Oasis at Sunrise), which will be auctioned in the NEUMEISTER Christmas auction. It is also a large-format painting – 159 × 226 cm – and rich in detail. In the centre, there is an oasis overgrown by date palms. The setting sun reflects in the water. Sitting under palm trees by the water, there is a group in oriental clothing, turbans and fezzes, some smoking pipes. A child is walking around. It's an apparently peaceful picture. And yet, the overgrown plants irritate the viewer somewhat. What is behind the exotic backdrop? Such an imaginative visualisation of foreign worlds was conceptually fuelled by Napoleon's campaign in Egypt (1798/99), especially in France. For example, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' (1780–1867) “The Turkish Bath” (1863) provokes with its depiction of a harem of naked women, two of them even caressing each other. Ingres had never been to the Orient, but his revealing depictions of this world were inspired by reports. He adopted the cliché of the Orient as a place of decadence and sensuality in his visual language. With foreign interiors in the background, the artist cleverly located even the most wicked scenes somewhere at the other end of the world, making them less explosive and socially acceptable in Europe, too.
Interest in the Orient was limitless. The popular "human zoos", especially the world exhibitions of 1855 and 1867, promoted the trend. In Paris in 1867, for example, the Prussian contribution to this global show was a Moorish kiosk. In the 19th century, more and more artists in Germany were inspired by distant lands. And with the beginning of tourism in the Orient, exotic motifs found great interest among the gallery-going public.
Painters such as Adolf von Meckel (1856–1893), whose early paintings still represent European landscapes (see page 75), turned to the oriental genre after a trip through Egypt, Palestine or Syria. Another German orientalist, Georg Macco (1863–1933), is represented in the December auction (lot 528, 529, 713), as is the Italian Domenico Morelli (1826–1901) with the drawing “Sitzende Orientalin” (Sitting Oriental Woman). A wonderful pair of paintings by French artist Théodore Frère (1813–1888), who turned exclusively to oriental subjects after 1839, will also be up for auction. The man toured Algeria and Syria, Constantinople and Asia Minor and crossed the desert. The artist would regularly spend his winters in Egypt, and even had a studio in Cairo. In 1869, Frère was in the wake of the French Empress Eugénie on her journey to Egypt to open the Suez Canal, a tour that he recorded in 13 watercolours and paintings from the series "Voyage de S.M. l'impératrice Eugénie en Egypte".
Two paintings by Théodore Frère are up for auction in the Christmas auction: a caravan resting in front of the ruins of the Karnak Temple; and a cowherd on the bank of the Nile. Court of the Lions, Alhambra, an atmospheric painting by Wilhelm Gail (1804–1890), for whom trips to Italy and 1832/33 to Spain provided a large stock of motifs for paintings and prints, also fits well into the Moorish theme. In 1837, for example, the year of origin of the painting and which is up for auction, he published the series of lithographs entitled “Memories from Spain”. The Alhambra in Granada and the Court of Lions can be identified as motifs on several of Wilhelm Gail's paintings. What remains is wanderlust. And we are hardly any different today than the observers of oriental paintings in the 19th century. Especially since planning trips to exotic destinations is currently difficult. Experience the sunset in person in a heavenly oasis? Rather difficult at the moment. How good that beaming oneself mentally to other places is still very possible in the 21st century. The painted sources of inspiration are already hanging on the wall. Open your eyes – and enjoy your journey! (kjk)
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN BEETLES, MASTERFULLY PLACED ON THE CHAIN
Composing an opera for Cairo!! Phew! I am not going to stage it because I would have to fear being mummified there," Giuseppe Verdi said in a letter to a friend on July 16, 1870. He did compose them. The premiere of "Aida" took place in Cairo on December 24, 1871, after which the opera conquered Europe. First Napoleon's campaign, then Aida and the Oriental painters: Egypt was more popular than ever in Europe at that time. Every self-respecting gentleman undertook an "expedition" to this promising land of adventure, preferably by ship. On January 22, 1891, for example, gentlemen from Hamburg, British ladies and wealthy Americans, together with an entourage of butlers and servants, stalked the gangway on board the "Auguste Victoria" in Cuxhaven to explore the Mediterranean Sea with the sophisticated passenger ship. Hapag Lloyd's steamship, equipped with unbelievable luxury, causes a stir everywhere, is greeted with salutes in the ports of the Mediterranean and in Constantinople even the Sultan comes on board. The ship spends five days in the Egyptian Alexandria, enough time to ride camels, marvel at pyramids, take a trip on the Nile and bag scarabs and other memorabilia.
Reports of such exciting journeys were a popular topic of conversation in the salons. But then the question was seriously asked whether it is at all appropriate for ladies to take a cruise? Or is it not unseemly that - to stay with the example of the Auguste Victoria - there were 67 ladies on board.
Hm, what would be the best way for a lady of status to show off her penchant for the Orient and Egypt in particular? Sure, she could hang paintings on the wall or position a small obelisk in her bedroom - but how much more appealing is it to feel the breath of the pharaonic era on her skin, for example in the form of ancient Egyptian scarabs and amulets, set as necklace, bracelet and earrings. A dream! Much later, in December 2020, this dream could come true, because then NEUMEISTER will call up a parure, created in France around 1865 at the weddings of the Orient Hypes. Now all that remains is: Bid!
Max Liebermann, Lesser Ury and Max Slevogt:
At the NEUMEISTER Christmas Auction, three of the most important German Impressionists pay tribute to themselves.
A squat-like painting by Max Pechstein in the artists' colony of Nidden marks the seamless transition to Expressionism.
And a lithograph by Pablo Picasso leads to the sunny south of France.