‘Becoming, That’s the Word!’ Scenes for Barlach’s 150th Anniversary

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2020 January-March 'Becoming, That's the Word!' Scenes for Barlach's 150th Anniversary, Ernst Barlach Haus, Hamburg (curated with Pauline Behrmann, Felix Krebs, Laila Kristoffersen, Petra Lange-Berndt, Tilman Levine, Helena Müller, Karsten Müller, Josepha-Maria Otto, Steffi Pralle, Caecilia Reemtsma, Lucas Stübbe, Karin von Behr, Lina von Waldow und Fanny Weidehaas, intervention by Marten Schech)

Between 1912 and 1929 Ernst Barlach (1870–1938) published seven plays. These texts, which decisively break with the stage conventions of the day, were considered unperformable – but their author thought very little of contemporary theatrical productions anyway.

Barlach’s literary output is inseparable from the artist’s work as a whole. So the famous wooden sculptures, as Barlach noted in 1924, appear as ‘art-people’, comparable with hand puppets or marionettes, on the stages of museums, galleries or private collections. Plays like Der arme Vetter [The poor cousin], Die gute Zeit [The good time] or Der tote Tag [The dead day], with their wealth of preposterous figures and carnivalesque neologisms, make the physicality and inner life of this sculptural ensemble tangible: psychically and physically maimed figures wrestle with the meaning of existence. There are no certainties, only knots or ramifications and the yearning for change: ‘Becoming, that’s the word!’ is the programmatic claim of Der Blaue Boll [Blue Boll] in 1926.

This anniversary exhibition takes a cross-media approach to Barlach’s central themes of spirituality, gender roles or the precariousness of human existence, so as to cast them in a new light through their interaction. A site-sensitive intervention by the Berlin-based artist Marten Schech supports the aim of examining the ambivalence and contemporary relevance of Barlach’s work. But despite all seriousness the artist’s humorous side won’t be overlooked. For as he himself remarked: ‘Barlach ist lachbar’ [‘Barlach is risible’].

‘Becoming, That’s the Word!’ presents sculptures, drawings and prints from the Ernst Barlach Haus collection. The exhibition is a joint project with the Department of Art History, Universität Hamburg.

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