Bernhard Heiliger 1915–1995

A Sculptor’s Cosmos

5 November 2005 to 15 January 2006

Poster of the exhibition “Bernhard Heiliger 1915–1995: A Sculptor’s Cosmos”

Poster of the exhibition “Bernhard Heiliger 1915–1995: A Sculptor’s Cosmos”

Bernhard Heiliger (1915-1995) is one of the most important sculptors in post-war Germany. His diverse work spans half a century, ranging from small-scale sculptures and drawings to huge sculptures in public places, such as the seven-metre bronze Flame (1962/63) in Ernst-Reuter-Platz in Berlin. Heiliger’s work reflects the development from the figurative to the abstract. Central aspects of his work are the lifting of volume and capturing the static moment in movement, to the limits of the material.

The artist was born in Stettin in 1915 and trained as a sculptor from 1933 to 1936 at the Stettin School of Creative Works, after which he studied with Kurt Schwerdtfeger until 1938. He then began a course of study with Arno Breker at the United State School of Free and Applied Art in Berlin, and met Richard Scheibe. He went to Paris in 1939 and this brought him into contact with works of International Classical Modernism by people such as Malliol, Despiau and Brancusi, but his stay ended abruptly in 1941 when he was called up to fight in the war. It was not until 1945 that he was able to resume his work as a free sculptor in Berlin. After a lectureship at the College of Applied Art in Berlin-Weißensee (1947-49), Heiliger was offered an appointment as professor at the College of Arts by Karl Hofer, teaching there until 1986. He was elected to the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1956.

It was Heiliger, along with Hans Uhlmann and Karl Hartung, who re-established the international reputation of German sculpture. His design for the memorial to the Unknown Political Prisoner (1953) was awarded the Federal Government Prize and the Appreciation Prize of the Institute of Contemporary Art. He also rapidly attained international recognition through his participation in documenta I and documenta II in Kassel (1955 and 1959) and the Venice Biennale (1956). Numerous individual exhibitions and important commissions followed, such as the Tree of Figures for the World Fair in Brussels in 1958. Heiliger was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1974, the Lovis Corinth Prize of the Federal Ministry of the Interior in 1975, and honorary membership of the German Association of Artists in 1984. Following the last retrospective, which was held in 1995 in the Federal Art and Exhibition Hall in Bonn, there was a posthumous exhibition in 1998 in the National Museum in Heiliger’s birthplace, Stettin. Heiliger’s portrait heads were shown from 2000 to 2002 in six German museums, and in 2005 in the Beelden aan Zee Museum in Scheveningen (Holland) and the Museum of Modern Art in Passau.

The Bernhard Heiliger Foundation, which was set up in 1996 a year after his death, is situated in his former private studio and its adjoining garden in Dahlem, next to the Brücke Museum. It has a permanent exhibition of works from all his creative periods. The charitable foundation is concerned, among other things, with the art-history appraisal of his collected works and with caring for his unexhibited works; it organises exhibitions and publishes catalogues, gives bursaries to young sculptors and, every four years, awards the International Bernhard Heiliger Prize to a sculptor for an outstanding life’s work.

To celebrate Bernhard Heiliger’s 90th birthday on 11 November 2005, the Bernhard Heiliger Foundation is presenting the most comprehensive retrospective to date, which has been made possible by the German Lottery Foundation. The definitive catalogue of his works is being published in conjunction with this. The exhibition reconstructs Heiliger’s outstanding artistic role in post-war Germany with works that have never been shown in Berlin before. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the large aluminium hanging sculpture Cosmos 70 (1961-1970) in the atrium of the Martin-Gropius-Bau. Heiliger originally created this work for the foyer in the Reichstag, where it hung until Sir Norman Foster’s reconstruction in 1994. After a partial hanging at the Bonn retrospective in 1995, Cosmos will now be presented again for the first time as a complete piece in the atrium of the Martin-Gropius-Bau.

In addition to Cosmos, the chronologically sequenced exhibition rooms enable the visitor to comprehend the development of Heiliger’s various phases and the way he experimented with a multitude of materials in each phase.

His early works, often in cement and mainly figurative, still show unmistakable signs of the influence of Moore, which was ubiquitous at the time. Heiliger soon broke away, however, finding his own unmistakable form language. Like the drawings, Heiliger’s portrait heads constituted an independent field of work from the beginning, with their fascinating mixture of precise reproduction and abstraction of characteristic facial features. The artist developed a distinctive style during the 1950s with the vegetal breaking through the surface of his ever more abstract sculptures, a tendency that peaked in the late 1960s in the partially polished bronze works.

After the bronze works of the 1960s, a new phase began with his work on Cosmos 70, and in the 1970s Heiliger experimented with aluminium and stainless steel. The increasing creation of unique pieces after Cosmos was also characteristic of the later abstract iron sculptures of the 1980s and 1990s, the last major part of the exhibition of his works.

Supporting programme
11 January 2006, 19:30 | atrium
“Kunstinsel West-Berlin: Frontstadt, Kunststadt, Hauptstadt”
(“West Berlin as an island of art: frontline city, city of art, capital city”)
Panel discussion
Moderation: Dr. Hermann Rudolph (Publisher Der Tagesspiegel)
14 January 2006 | atrium
c/o ART+IMAGE Maria Pelzer, Phone: (030) 85 72 81 81
Further literature about Bernhard Heiliger (selection)
Salzmann, Siegfried/Romain, Lothar, Bernhard Heiliger, Frankfurt am Main/Berlin 1989
Bernhard Heiliger. Retrospektive 1945 bis 1995, Ausst.Kat., Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn (19. Mai – 20. Oktober 1995), Bonn 1995 (exhibition catalogue)
Bernhard Heiliger, Ausst.Kat., Nationalmuseum Stettin (25. April – 30. August 1998), Berlin 1998 (exhibition catalogue)
Bernhard Heiliger. Die Köpfe, Ausst.Kat., (The Heads; exhibition catalogue) Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (12. November 2000 – 28. Januar 2001) et al., ed. Marc Wellmann, Berlin 2000.
Further exhibitions about Bernhard Heiliger
In parallel with the forthcoming retrospective, an exhibition of Heiliger’s life and work as reflected in photographs will be shown in the Marie Elisabeth Lüders Building, under the direction of Andreas Kaernbach, curator of the Bundestag Art Collection.
After Berlin, the retrospective will be shown in the Würth Museum in Künzelsau from 1 February to 2 July 2006.

Organizer: Bernhard-Heiliger-Foundation
Made possible by the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin (German Lottery Foundation, Berlin)
Curator: Marc Wellmann, Berlin
Venues: Berlin: Martin-Gropius-Bau, Künzelsau: Museum Würth