Heidersberger: Return to the Point of Departure Photographs at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

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Heidersberger: Return to the Point of Departure Photographs at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
Heinrich Heidersberger, "Kleid aus Licht", 1949. Black-and-white photography. 109/12 © Heinrich Heidersberger.

WOLFSBURG.- In the 14 years since it was founded, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg has regularly presented the medium of photography in exhibitions devoted to the work of individual artists. These have included Lee Miller, Cecil Beaton, Brassaï, Richard Avedon, Man Ray, Pietro Donzelli and Ed van der Elsken.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the City of Wolfsburg, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg is presenting a comprehensive exhibition of work by the photographer Heinrich Heidersberger, who died in Wolfsburg in 2006, shortly after celebrating his 100th birthday. Around 170 photographs from different phases of Heidersberger’s career will provide insight into the Ingolstadt-born artist’s complex body of work.

Heinrich Heidersberger (1906–2006) was one of the most important German photographers of the second half of the 20th century. His oeuvre reflects a specific concept of the image that is grounded in the modernist aesthetic. The exhibition therefore forms part of the Kunstmuseum’s “search program” dedicated to the “pursuit of modernism in the 21st century”. Heidersberger’s photographs offer an expanded perspective on this issue in a creative and often surprising manner.

The exhibition opens with the presentation of a thematic series of photographs that are explicitly linked to Wolfsburg – images compiled by Heidersberger in 1963 for an artist’s book entitled “Wolfsburg – Bilder einer jungen Stadt” to mark the city’s 25th anniversary. The photographer created a sensitive portrait of the prospering model city of Wolfsburg, its rural past and industrialized present. Working initially without any official commission from the city authorities, Heinrich Heidersberger photographed street life in the city, modern buildings and the idyllic countryside around Wolfsburg. The ‘city fathers’ were so impressed by these photographs, which now occupy a central position in the artist’s oeuvre, that they commissioned Heidersberger to compile a book about Wolfsburg. His artistically ambitious photo book with its fascinating views of the young city continues to define Wolfsburg’s identity to this day.

The second part of the exhibition is devoted to Heidersberger’s architectural photography, product photography, nudes and Rhythmograms, and also presents examples of his experiments with snow crystals and electrical discharges.

In his groundbreaking images of 1950s architecture Heidersberger revealed the modernist aesthetic, presenting it as an interplay of structure and form. He described his artistic approach as follows: “The modern building is no longer just a work of plastic art; instead, with the aid of technological means, a range of functional, economic, social and urban development requirements combined with artistic intention are formed into a whole by the architect. Tracing this process is one of the most important tasks of an architectural photographer.” Heidersberger’s ability to visualize architectural concepts and his artistic treatment of the surfaces, volumes and structures of the buildings resulted in images that foreshadow conceptual photography.

With his Rhythmograms (“lines made of light”), developed in parallel to his architectural photographs, Heidersberger devised a new photographic technique aimed at making abstract structures visible. In similar fashion, his product photography for companies such as Schott and Volkswagen is clearly influenced by his enthusiasm for serial structures. Heidersberger achieved extraordinary results with experimental light structures, even in his images of nudes, where the aesthetic appearance of the photographs plays on the prudery of the 1950s.
Heidersberger’s “Schneesternchen” (snow stars) and “Elektrische Entladungen” (electrical discharges), also called “Lichtenberg-Figuren” (Lichtenberg figures), can be regarded as examples of scientific photography. These images not only show the artist’s interest as a researcher, they also reveal specific aspects – such as order systems and proportional relations – which were a constant source of fascination for the photographer in his other areas of work.

On the initiative of the Institut Heidersberger, which is dedicated to the study and preservation of Heinrich Heidersberger’s life’s work, a reprint of the book “Wolfsburg – Bilder einer jungen Stadt” has been published by Nicolai Verlag, Berlin. It contains essays by Bernd Rodrian and Michael Kasiske as well as a text by Markus Brüderlin, who explores the issue of modernism in Heidersberger’s work.

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