Frankfurt / Krefeld

Hubert Kiecol

Galerie Bärbel Grässlin

As a building material, concrete has become a sign of the soullessness of contemporary cities. But an essential element of Modern sculpture has been its recourse to the banal materials of everyday life. Steel, discarded junk, plywood, and Styrofoam have successfully challenged the “noble” materials—bronze, marble, wood—and concrete too has entered the landscape of creative form. Among other artists, the young German sculptor Hubert Kiecol makes it his preferred medium.

Kiecol’s dense constructions are distinguished from residential and industrial concrete forms only by their small format. (Most of his works so far have been no taller than 14 inches or so.) The economical distribution of the works throughout the broad exhibition rooms of both these spaces emphasized this smallness; if today’s architectural environment is in fact the model for his works, Kiecol’s sculptures might be described as miniatures. But this idea misses the real implications of the work, which have less to do with the miniature than with architecture itself.

In his works from a few years ago, Kiecol’s concern was the factories, warehouses, and bunkerlike structures of the industrial age. Increasingly, he explores residential buildings, alternating between flat-roofed, shoe-box-type structures and gabled, illusorily romantic houses. These solid, undecorated blocks—installed alone, in threes, and sometimes in larger groups—do not so much miniaturize Modern architecture as describe the mentality expressed in it. In their heavy materiality, Kiecol’s tiny buildings are literally stumbling blocks on the floor. Their dense solidity turns a material that in real buildings forms a protective envelope into an invader of space; already uninhabitable because of their size, they are also impenetrable. Insofar as windows are indicated at all, they have the character of gun slits, and are really nothing but vertical depressions in the surfaces. Rather than opening into the concrete they intensify its denseness.

Despite their small dimensions, the works emanate a kind of disturbing presence. Toylike, they paradoxically appear threatening. The concrete repels, yet announces its malleability and tactility, expressing despite itself a childlike pleasure in the act of shaping. The gabled structures evoke memories of humane architectural styles, yet ultimately they are no more pleasing than the bunkers; meanwhile, the small size of the works has its own modesty and pathos. A yearning for shelter, for monumentality, for protection, is palpable. Stairways imply ascent, but lead to an empty space or a blank wall. Where the houses stand in rows, ideas about relationships are implied, only to be denied by the absence of interior space. Some arrangements suggest the pleasant inner courtyards of urban apartment houses, but leave them in chilling silence.

It would be a mistake to look for a clear critique of the bleakness of modern life, or for an unequivocal protest against it, in the concrete of Kiecol’s work. The atmosphere of coldness, of threat, is counterpointed here by a suggestion of grandeur, of the seductiveness of the fortress or memorial. And the image of the house has a reassuring familiarity, even when suffused with the discourse of object-hood, of sculpture. Where Minimalism’s abstract units supposedly refer only to themselves, Kiecol’s sculptural objects are tied to everyday experience, as well as to dreams of a life beyond time and space. In the Frankfurt show, the pairing of a gabled piece with an abstract-looking block emphasized the works’ dual role as content-bearing representations and autonomous spatial forms. Kiecol’s houses are metaphors—for existence; for a childlike, prerational conception of the cosmos; for the absorption and entombment of creative energy.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.