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Pia Stadtbäumer

Pia Stadtbäumer, Professor of Sculpture

As a student in the 1980s, Pia Stadtbäumer decided that her artwork should connect with something that is available to everyone - the human body - rather than with abstract shapes, objects or ideas. In a clear contrast with the foregoing neo-avant-gardes, postmodernism recognised the value of figurative sculpture. One only has to think of somewhat older artists such as Stefan Balkenhol, Katharina Fritsch, Juan Muñoz, Charles Ray and Thomas Schütte. This artist, however, is not interested in simply reconnecting with the classical / naturalistic tradition. Nor is she concerned with the neo-expressionist model so popular during her epoch. Her first figures, which are somewhat less than life-size, are calm and are entirely realistically shaped in terms of their physical properties. This impression, however, is disrupted - sometimes by the use of unfamiliar materials, but most especially by the way her figures are positioned in space. A female figure ‘lies’ headlong beneath - rather than upon - a console. Upright figures ‘stand’ on their heads in the corner. Sleeping children ‘rest’ on the ceiling of the space. Although these bodies appear familiar, they exist in a curiously indeterminate state between empathy and autonomy. Stadtbäumer combines pre-modern methods with modernistic methods.

Soon, however, the element of disruption is taken a step further - the physical qualities of the sculptures themselves are disrupted. She shows us fragments in the form of oversized, hanging arms, and fragile figures standing within the space are revealed in unspectacular fashion as hermaphrodites. Portrait-like heads are given ‘injuries’ that appear mechanical. In the 1990s, the artist’s interests expanded to include the symbolic, the fantastical and the baroque. All of this, however, is only a commonplace way of describing a far more complex artistic attitude. The addition of curious objects to child figures causes them to mutate into strange figures with little in common with a peaceful childhood world: it produces mysterious and threatening images of a lack of restraint, and of the concealed autonomy of these figures as people. The young ‘cowboy’ at the edge of the city, sitting on a horse loaded down with shopping bags, looks like an absurd monument to the actuality of a young person’s existence in a consumer society, riding through the brave new world. Later in her career, the figures and types from the present day are joined by a historical escapism, with chivalrous scenes and with a rococo-like love of sensual detail – this is due not so much to the borrowing of a style as to the attempt to pursue the attitude of self-love so typical of the age.

In Pia Stadtbäumer’s artworks, the human body and traditional sculpture techniques are coupled with a relish for invention, with a disregard for taboos. They come together to provide a complex set of instruments for addressing the human condition in our age. In the 1990s, an exhibition rather prematurely declared the dawn of the “Post Human” age. The artworks of Pia Stadtbäumer show that far more complex and less unambiguous images of the human being are possible – and yet these images still have a link with the body as a concrete thing.

Julian Heynen

(from: Die Bildhauer. Kunstakademie Düsseldorf 1945 bis heute. Exhibition catalogue Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf 2013, p. 262)