Dr. Ralf Beil: The energy of the utopian

In my opinion, the term “Jugendstil” seems to fall short of describing what the Darmstadt artist colony really represents. As director of Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, what fascinates me about that extraordinary art initiative of around 1900 is the still palpable artistic energy of the Mathildenhöhe, emerged from the will to create a new world – and not in miniature, but at full scale.

Here in Darmstadt, it was and is about something bigger than the design of a saucer or a bookmark, no matter how much admiration the artisan finesse and stylized lines of such individual objects may generate. Olbrich’s statement quoted above expresses this unmistakably: the goal was an equally aesthetic and effective, complete urban artwork. The artist colony, initiated by the Hessian Grand Duke Ernest Louis, aimed for something that today is more important than ever: the valorization of the living environment as a whole, the attempt to create a more-than-just-routine world to live in.

140606-P6

We want to build a city, an entire city! Everything else is nothing! The government should provide us with (…) a field, where we will then create a world.” Those words of the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, who was one of the driving forces of the Darmstadt artist colony on the Mathildenhöhe around 1900, described that very spirit of emergence, of virtually unhindered vitality, which seized a youth longing for progress in view of the new century. Youth? Indeed. Olbrich’s youngest fellow campaigners, Paul Bürck and Patriz Huber, were 21 when they came to the Mathildenhöhe – the oldest one, Hans Christiansen, was just about 33 years old. Style? Indeed. The first seven universal talents, those architects, painters, sculptors and artisans who were going to shape the Darmstadt artist colony from 1899, undoubtedly possessed a style and form awareness. Nevertheless: was it really “just” Jugendstil which finally emerged? The label clings tightly – but is it appropriate?

In my opinion, the term “Jugendstil” seems to fall short of describing what the Darmstadt artist colony really represents. As director of Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, what fascinates me about that extraordinary art initiative of around 1900 is the still palpable artistic energy of the Mathildenhöhe, emerged from the will to create a new world – and not in miniature, but at full scale.

Here in Darmstadt, it was and is about something bigger than the design of a saucer or a bookmark, no matter how much admiration the artisan finesse and stylized lines of such individual objects may generate. Olbrich’s statement quoted above expresses this unmistakably: the goal was an equally aesthetic and effective, complete urban artwork. The artist colony, initiated by the Hessian Grand Duke Ernest Louis, aimed for something that today is more important than ever: the valorization of the living environment as a whole, the attempt to create a more-than-just-routine world to live in.

Here on the Mathildenhöhe, there were no exhibitions of random, premade works; instead, it was downright aesthetic artists’homes that emerged, built for the occasion, worked out to the last detail, just like the ground-breaking exhibition “A Document of German Art” of 1901. Olbrich again: “What good are three, five, ten pretty houses if the chairs or plates inside of them are not pretty? No, we need a field – it cannot be done in any other way. A wide, empty field, where we will show what we can do: with the entire project, down to the last detail …”

 


MKK_innen_fenster_daniele_iezzi

That was the novelty, that was the purpose of the innovative artist colony: to gather world designs in an extremely aesthetic concentration. The challenge is to remain aware of that eminent creative energy – and to transfer it, time and again, into our present.

Ralf-Beil-vor-dem-Ausstellungsgebäude-MathildenhöheDr. Ralf Beil was born in Kobe (Japan) in 1965. He studied art history, German philology and philolsophy in Freiburg im Breisgau and in Paris, where he obtained a “Maîtrise d’histoire de l’art et d’archéologie” at the Université Paris-Sorbonne. The author obtained a doctorate at the comprehensive university of Essen. From 1990 to 1998, he was active as independent exhibition curator and art critic for Artefactum, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Kunst-Bulletin, and Kunstforum International. From 1999 to 2003, he worked as exhibition curator and conservator for the painting and sculpture collection of the Bern art museum. In 2004/2005, he was conservator and exhibition curator for the 20th and 21st centuries at the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts Lausanne. Since January 2006, Dr. Ralf Beil has been director of the Darmstadt Mathildenhöhe Institute.