BERLIN — This spring Johnen Galerie showcased Robert Sturm: Keramische Plastik 1969 – 1993 at their Berlin gallery (March 12 – April 16). It included ceramic sculptures, works on paper and archival materials. Through it, visitors were able to track Sturm’s path from graphics through ceramic sculpture.
Above image: Robert Sturm, Plastik, 1972. Courtesy of the estate of Robert Sturm and Johnen Galerie, Berlin. Photograph by Andrea Rossetti.
Robert Sturm (1935 –1994) elevated ceramics to a new level of abstraction. Initially trained as a painter and a sculptor, beginning around 1967 the artist began to focus almost exclusively on ceramics. His work emerged at a time when ceramics was claiming a renewed role in the wake of a re- engagement with the principles of arts and craft practices of the Bauhaus.
After World War II the unifying curriculum of the Bauhaus (where drawing, painting, and drafting had been taught alongside pottery, textile design and photography), was adopted by avant-garde institutions such as Black Mountain College in North Carolina but also by German art schools. Thus, Robert Sturm beginning in 1956 studied at the Werkakademie in Kassel, which in 1947 re-opened specifically with this mandate. Ceramics were an integral part of the curriculum and Robert Sturm’s instructor Walter Popp was one of the university’s most influential teachers.
Firmly grounded in graphics (for which the artist had gained early success) and sculptural practice, Robert Sturm eventually began his focus on ceramics in the mid 1960’s. Energized by avant-garde experimentations and Abstract Expressionist aesthetics, the 1960’s marked a wider emphasis on the use of this sculptural medium, already explored since the 1950’s by Lucio Fontana and Joan Miró in Europe as well as Peter Volkos and John Mason in the United States. Composed from basic geometric shapes, Robert Sturm’s ceramic works from the 1960’s and early 1970’s draw on the language of constructivist abstraction. Their formal logic is both simple and complex: the clay planes, for example, seem set in clear relationships, yet, as the spectator moves around the sculptures, new lines and forms appear to emerge. At the same time, Robert Sturm’s works never feel assembled, referential or graphic but are perceived as a unit. They have what art historian Ulrich Gertz termed an “inner monumentality.”
In the early 1980s Robert Sturm increasingly became engaged with what he considered a fraught political situation and began a series of works of masks and torsos which addressed these anxieties. In this context the artist spoke of the role of the fragment in his practice: “the examination of the fragmentary runs like a guiding thread through all stations [of my work]. The fragmentary can be principle and idea. The fragment gives the spectator freedom of thought and feeling. For me the fragment is a symbol for the brokenness of the world in which we live.”
These later comments reinforce the impression of a closely felt identification with his practice. This breaking down of the boundaries of art and life, a rallying cry of the historical avant-garde around the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism, is deeply felt in Robert Sturm’s work.
Robert Sturm, born 1935 in Bad Elster, studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University and the Academy of Fine Arts both in Frankfurt/Main and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kassel.
Text (edited) and images courtesy of the gallery.