Norbert Prangenberg

Although Norbert Prangenberg’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures are based on a geometric vocabulary, they cannot be described as constructive. Rather, they evoke a magic that primordially imbued the shapes of the circle, the diamond, and the oval. This magic emanates from the 14 new sculptures by Prangenberg that were on display here: life-sized works in colored ceramic. Most of them are wall pieces, whose process involves a dialectic of opening and closing, of sculptural advance and painterly distance. Craters, beakers, or three-dimensional arches loom out of tremendous, palpably heavy plates that confront us like shields, as ovals or irregular polygons. The elevations in these sculptures thrust into the viewer’s space, thereby demonstrating the works’ corporeal proximity to the viewer. Their background attains the reality of a painting through the colorfully shimmering glaze, which dematerializes the surface.

If, on the other hand, the viewer focuses on the interior of the sculptural surfaces, he is drawn into an indefinite, imaginary depth, against which any background looks quite material and close by. As soon as several apertures come together, the depth forms a dark circle in the background, and this circle is matched by a light ground, which is reminiscent of many of Prangenberg’s early paintings. In all his wall pieces, Prangenberg is dealing with a reversible process, in which tangible sculptural elements and imaginary painterly figments are interchangeable. Each part has a dual reality.

The ceramic glaze heightens the imaginary component of the sculptures. Often a stream of color seems to be pouring from the inside of the work, a torrent that continues as a kind of pulsating life within the wallplate and emerges finally as a mass of lava. This makes the concave forms look like organs that enter into a dialogue with the viewer on approach. The floor sculptures also have such organs, which lead not into a background, but into a real, concealed space inside a cube. It is not mere chance that Prangenberg calls his ceramics “figures,” although there is no anthropomorphic reference. His concept directs the viewer toward the inside of the sculpture.

Some of these floor pieces initially look out of place within the artist’s oeuvre. They recall the structure of a multipartite ribbed vault, such as that found in late Gothic cathedrals. Yet these sculptural arches and bridges also occur in Prangenberg’s wall pieces. Here, again, he employs small, open cylinders, making the sculptural ribs look like tubes. On the internal surfaces of the cylinders, there are pools of glaze, as if the heat that caused the flow of glaze were still there. In all these works, Prangenberg allows the material to have its own movement: the clumpy shapelessness of clay, the unevenness of an inner wall, the imperfect beauty of a surface. None of these elements is completely subjugated to a shaping hand. In contrast, Prangenberg often makes clean cuts on the interior as well as on the external edges. Fingerprints are visible everywhere, but with varying degrees of pressure, from a deep thumb print to a playful, light touch. The casually careless dripping of the glaze adds to the freedom that emanates from Prangenberg’s sculptures, and it is this freedom that also constitutes the sculptures’ life.

Martin Hentschel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.