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The contemporary sculptor Ottmar Hörl has had a delightful effect on the state of contemporary art and sculpture as a whole. His playful style mixes with his social commentary to form a public service that gratifies as well as educates. A master sculptor, he is most famous for his works that cover public places and squares and implicitly demand public attention, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything from everyday dogs and ravens to the more fantastical depictions of gnomes and the heavy seriousness of Martin Luther and Charlemagne are directly in his purview and his ability to instigate conversation is remarkable.
Ottmar Hörl was born in 1950 in the town of Nauheim, Germany. He enjoyed an everyday childhood and upbringing similar to most other Germans of the time, and he enrolled for studies at the Academy of Fine Arts at Frankfurt in 1975, where he remained and graduated in 1979. In 1978, he received a scholarship from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (the German National Academic Foundation), which he used for three years while he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf, where he graduated in 1981.
In 1985, he founded the group Fomalhaut, which is the design, architectural and art studio comprised of himself, and the architects Gabriela Seifert and Goetz Stoeckmann, who then went on to design impressive pieces such as Living Room – a contemporary residence made of aluminum panels in the medieval center of Gelnhause, Germany.
Hörl was granted a visiting professorship in 1992, at the Graz University of Technology, Austria (in company with Fomalhaut), and earned several awards during this time, the Förderpreis für Baukunst (Grant for Architecture) awarded by the Academy of Arts, Berlin in 1994, the art multiple Award awarded at the International Art Fair (Internationaler Kunstmarkt), Düsseldorf in 1997, and the Wilhelm Loth Award awarded by the City of Darmstadt in 1998.
Ottmar Hörl became professor of fine arts at the Academy of Fine Arts (Akademie der Bildenden Künste), Nuremberg in 1999, and rose to become the President of the Academy in 2005, where he remains holding this position to this day.
He has most recently won the CREO Innovation Award for Creativity, Frankfurt a. M./Mainz, German Society for Creativity in 2015.
Hörl’s career has had an interesting trajectory and is almost unique in its desire to engage the public, rather than the private, consciousness. His works all embody his maxim of “sculpture as an organizational principle,” with prominent examples of this being his Charlemagne (2014) or Martin Luther – Here I stand (2010) installations. Hörl’s aim is to remove the ‘elitist’ elements of art by encouraging public discourse and interaction as well as utilizing mass reproduction. This allows him to create occasions for communication instead of traditional, imposing monuments. As Dr. Carsten D. Siebert explains, “His art has an immediate presence; it becomes an event and an experience that inspires and brings together people from all over the world.”
A prominent, mischievous installation called Flying Change, staged in Selignstadt in 1994, involved the creation and placement of 1000 blue garden gnomes throughout the urban area of the city. The gnomes are themselves quite humorous and depict a fully blue gnome fingering the viewer with a large smile on his face. The intended effect of this installation was for the public to move them around and even take them for themselves, causing a displacement from one spot to the next – creating a Flying Change. Since Hörl decreed that the project belonged to the public, he believed that the change of ownership was nonexistent, since it was a communal gift and not a personal offering.
This delightful lack of permanence and ownership is echoed in a saying from the artist himself:
“This is what interests me as an artist – that my own formulations will raise my own next question. This question that follows becomes possible because I do not offer any permanent solution – because no such solution exists.”
In 2014, Hörl continued this theme of impermanence with his installation of 500 figures of Charlemagne in Aachen. His intent with this installation, not only being a visual feast seeing hundreds of fully-red Charlemagne figures with gold ones interspersed, must be viewed as a refocusing of our images of the great ruler. By dropping the ‘huge’ and ‘mythical’ figure of the emperor to a one-meter tall statue, Hörl already subverts our expectations for reverence and respect. Hörl invites this comparison and asks us to rethink our perspectives and perceptions of, not only Charlemagne but of the upper echelons of society in general. We all have different perspectives of everyone in our lives, not only the huge, leadership figures, and each one of these perspectives informs upon the nature of the entire person. The Father of Europe, the womanizer, the butcher of Saxons, the missionary, the visionary, the promoter of culture – all these and more are simply facets of the whole of Charlemagne.
Ottmar Hörl continues to this day, creating sculptures for public viewing and consumption as well as for furthering his ideology and philosophical aims.
Musart is happy to feature a contemporary artist as notable and as well established as Ottmar Hörl, who remains an impressive and jovial sculptor on the world stage. His free spirit, his desire to spread his message and art to everyone in society and not just high-society elite, and his mischievous nature are all values we love to see in any artist. From his diminutive gnomes to his treatment of prominent historical figures, Hörl will have a relevant message for years to come, and we will be proud to follow him every step of the way.