Kirsten Ortwed

Galerie Miller Nordenhake

What is a piece of sculpture? According to Kirsten Ortwed, it is a solid three-dimensional form and the space surrounding that form. She investigates the interplay of fixed form and space in her work with amazing persistence. Her view of space is not monolithic; it is not simply the area surrounding the sculpture, it is also the space taken up by the work itself. She places a simple cube of untreated plaster on the floor, next to it a steel construction that traces the volume displaced by the cube. An empty space and a space filled with matter face-to-face: this is a simple gesture, actually the alpha and omega of all sculpture, but still it cannot be repeated often enough, it would seem, since Ortwed continues to sharpen our view of these spatial relationships.

Double Up (all works 1991) expresses the essence of her sculpture reduced to its simplest, most germinative principle; the other works here represent a further development of this principle. She juxtaposes a heavy scaffold of black steel, and two oval plaster forms inside it, thus creating a tension. Only by force does the steel frame seem to contain the two plaster forms within its volume. The otherwise hollow space defined only by the scaffolding appears to press in upon the space occupied by the plaster of the oval forms—a contradiction in itself, and not intellectually but only sensually perceptible as the tension that emanates from this sculpture.

In another work the plaster is enclosed by steel rods replicating a vessel. The steel is in part just a frame, in part a support. The contrast of the two materials creates the feeling that the steel rods will soon give way to the pressing weight of the plaster, and the whole piece will burst like a glass. Appropriately, and with an ironic undertone, its title is Thirsty Glass.

The construction of a form is first of all an act of violence in the sense that a place for the form has to be created. The form occupies space and penetrates it with its volume. Ortwed makes this action visible. With a galvanized steel fence she partitions off an area and isolates it. In Cire debout (Standing wax) she places a sculpture made of soft wax into this space. The soft material requires protection; otherwise the surrounding space might crush the sculpture. Ortwed’s works are concerned with a number of esthetic issues from the ’70s and enlarge upon them both in psychological and ironic dimensions. They are quiet, unobtrusive works that offer unexpected spatial experiences to those who enter into a dialogue with them.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland