Experimental Forming

Black and white photograph of Hans Uhlmann in his studio. The artist is surrounded by his metal sculptures in progress.

Ewald Gnilka, untitled (Hans Uhlmann in his studio), um 1954

© Legal successors Ewald Gnilka/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023

Hans Uhlmann is one of the most important sculptors and draftsmen of the post-war period in western Germany. His works are represented in numerous national and international collections and his sculptures for ‘per cent for art’ projects continue to shape public spaces in Germany and abroad today. Despite this propagation of his works, Uhlmann is now no longer known to a broad public. With a selection of roughly eighty sculptures and graphic works as well as documents from the artist’s estate, the exhibition Hans Uhlmann: Experimental Forming provides an overview of Uhlmann’s artistic work from the 1930s to the 1970s.

  • All the explanatory exhibition texts are available in German and English.
  • The exhibition contains no information in Easy German.
  • The exhibition contains no information in German Sign Language.
  • Some outreach events are held in or with German Sign Language.
  • The exhibition includes videos with spoken German and English subtitles. There are earphones for listening.
  • Assistive listening is not supported by induction systems or neck loops.
  • There is step-free access to the exhibition.
  • Most of the exhibits and explanatory texts can be seen and read from a seated position. The standard showcase height is 78 cm and they are wheelchair accessible.
  • There is no seating. Wheelchairs and folding stools can be borrowed free of charge from the cloakroom.
  • To protect the works in the exhibition limited use is made of bright illumination. Most of the exhibition texts are designed with strong contrast.
  • All the panel texts are available as a large-print brochure that you will find at the entrance to the exhibition.
  • The exhibition contains no tactile floor guidance and no touch models.

Do you have any other questions about accessibility? Andreas Krüger, officer accessibility and inclusion, will be happy to answer them via e-mail or via phone +49 (0)30-789 02-832.



Chapters of the exhibition

The four chapters ‘Spaces Shaped with Wire’, ‘Dance and Movement’, ‘Transcending the Material’, and ‘A New Astronomy of Space’ guide viewers chronologically through the various phases of Uhlmann’s oeuvre. The three chapters ‘Curator and Networker’, ‘International Success’, and ‘Monumental Sculptures’ present Hans Uhlmann as a curator, internationally celebrated artist, and author of important ‘per cent for art’ projects.

Spaces shaped with Wire

Hans Uhlmann came to art by a circuitous route. He first studied mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule and, after his studies, worked as an engineer. In his leisure time, he tried his hand at sculpture and occasionally participated in exhibitions. In October 1933, Uhlmann, then a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), was detained by the Gestapo. Due to ‘preparing for high treason’, he was sentenced to one and a half year in prison. During his time there, Uhlmann produced drawings and developed the idea of a ‘wire sculpture’, which he executed sculpturally following his release. His early oeuvre remained very important to Uhlmann throughout his life: ‘As the basis for all my subsequent work, it is the most important period in my artistic development.’

Dance and Movement

After the Second World War came to an end, Uhlmann intentionally decided to abandon his engineering career in order to work solely as an artist. In post-war Berlin, he was also active as an organizer of exhibitions: initially for the district administration of Berlin-Steglitz and subsequently for the Galerie Gerd Rosen. Uhlmann thus influenced the art scene in West Berlin not only as an artist, but also as a mediator. His works from the years after 1945 are characterized by a great pleasure in experimentation, particularly with the handling of various materials.

International Success

In the 1950s, West Germany strove to present itself abroad as a free and democratic nation. Visual art played a central role in communicating this image. Attempts were thus made to underscore the image of a modern state particularly by promoting modern and non-representational art, which had been defamed by the National Socialist regime as ‘degenerate’. Hans Uhlmann also achieved international success in this context. With his abstract works in metal, he was staged internationally as a representative of a young German art. His works were presented at international exhibitions such as the Biennale di Venezia, Biennale de São Paulo, and documenta, as well as at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Transcending the Material

In 1950, Uhlmann began teaching at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (today: Universität der Künste) in Berlin-Charlottenburg. He first took over the preliminary course as an associate professor. The position at the college offered Uhlmann financial security and opened up new possibilities for him. Within the framework of his teaching activities, he had a large studio at his disposal, which gave him very new technical design options. His sculptures consequently became considerably larger. Artistically, Uhlmann’s works in the 1950s became more and more detached from representational references. The question of material also seems to have clarified itself for him. For his sculptures, he now used exclusively metal. Thematically, however, he continued to devote himself to the question of representing movement and transcending his material.

A New Astronomy of Space

In the 1960s, Uhlmann worked intensively on the realization of ‘per cent for art’ projects. These commissions influenced his small-format sculptures as well, which now became significantly more compact. They are also less playful than the wire compositions of the 1950s. Formally, Uhlmann occupied himself in his late oeuvre with the topics of ‘tower’ and ‘column’.
But unlike what the titles suggest, these sculptures are not massive blocks, but instead spaces constructed round an inner life. As in his early oeuvre, Uhlmann was also interested in permeability in his late sculptures. While his early drawings were closely connected with his sculptural works, his late chalk drawings become more and more detached from his sculptures. The drawings of the 1960s thus form their own complex of works. For Uhlmann, the drawings were an important artistic means for expressing himself spontaneously—a spontaneity that was barely possible when working on his rigorously conceived sculptures.


Monumental Sculptures in Berlin

In the 1950s and 1960s, Uhlmann was very much in demand as an artist for ‘per cent for art’ projects. Between 1954 and 1972, he thus produced a total of seventeen publicly commissioned works, which can still be seen today in cities in western Germany as well as in Rome, Italy. In the western part of Berlin, altogether four large-format sculptures adorn striking urban public spaces: Concerto (1954) in the foyer of the concert hall of the Universität der Künste and the sculptures on Hansaplatz (1958), in front of the Deutsche Oper (1960–61), and on the roof of the Berlin Philharmonie (1963). In the 1950s and 1960s, these works were an expression of the general striving for modernity that characterized West Berlin.

Cooperation and Media Partners

The exhibition has been generously supported by the Förderverein Berlinische Galerie e.V.