Pia Stadtbäumer

Johnen + Schöttle

What is the human body? Simply flesh and water, doomed to decay after death, or a flesh-and-water vessel for something ephemeral, for something intangible and invisible? This question has plagued human minds since the beginning of time, and both religion and art have attempted to answer this difficult issue. The representation of the human body almost disappeared from Modern sculpture; abstract and geometric forms have often merely feigned a reconciliation of this body/spirit dichotomy.

Pia Stadtbäumer, a young artist from Düsseldorf, has taken up this question with renewed vigor. In this, her first solo exhibition, she showed a total of three sculptures, all of which depict the human body or parts of it. In one corner of the gallery, roughly at chest height, three black heads and three white heads were horizontally arranged on long stands in Sechs Köpfe (Six heads, 1990). They are molded out of tissue paper, and seem to radiate an unusual lightness. In the middle of the gallery, Zwei Arme (Two arms, 1989–90), two gigantic arms made of blue wax were suspended from the ceiling. The fingers, nails, muscles, and veins appeared lifelike—or not quite so lifelike. Stadtbäumer first takes photographs of real hands and heads; she then models her sculptures after those photographs. She also created a female nude made of black felt, lying under a pedestal. Stadtbäumer’s work elicits a feeling of alienation from the viewer that is caused by the spatial juxtaposition. However, despite or perhaps even because of this alienation, these works imbue the surrounding space with something that is more than the sum of their formal and material parts. It is an auralike effect that gives the space a faint yet perceptible touch of immortality.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.