Hans Josephsohn (1920–2012) was a Swiss artist and one of Europe’s great modern post-War sculptors. His extensive oeuvre centred around the human figure. This exhibition brings together more than 70 sculptures and reliefs, some of them in large formats, covering the period from his early pieces in the 1950s to his splendid late work as of late 1990s. Additionally, plaster models and drawings from all phases of his oeuvre cast light on his method of working.
Over several decades Josephsohn’s work focused on few basic shapes representing the human figure – a head, a half figure, standing, lying. Yet for Josephsohn, naturalistic portrayal was not important. In some pieces such as the late half figures the shapes of the body are barely recognizable. In his reliefs portraying the dynamic quality of human relationships and conflicts, he also forgoes detailed representation. This is, no doubt, one of the reasons why the tension between the figures with their rough bronze surfaces is literally tangible.
Josephsohn commented tersely: “Sculpture can’t do much.” And yet he strived to convey human existence using the tools of his trade. A search for the right shape determined his work, with plaster being his preferred material. With plaster, that “soft stone,” he was in a position to revise his works repeatedly and, by adding and removing material, to develop them. “Art is simply when the relationships are right.” Nevertheless it was these relationships that provided him with the impetus to constantly review his work and continue to develop it. For Josephsohn a surface that was sometimes rough was a result of the process of searching for the right shape and thus a necessary element in his sculptures.
Josephsohn was born in what was at the time Königsberg, East Prussia. After his school-leaving exam in 1937 he was barred from studying sculpture, his preferred course of studies, in Nazi Germany, because of his Jewish background. For a short time he was enrolled at the Academy in Florence but was soon forced to flee from there to Switzerland. Josephsohn settled in Zurich, becoming a Swiss citizen in 1964. Initially he only received recognition in his new home country; it was not until the 1990s that his work was acknowledged internationally. Until his death in Zurich in 2012 Josephsohn shunned the contemporary art scene, creating an oeuvre of impressive coherence.
In cooperation with the Kesselhaus, St Gallen