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Georg Herold Sculpture

By Alastair Sooke

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany, Saatchi Gallery: review

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany at the Saatchi Gallery is an exciting showcase of what is happening in German art today

Watch out: the Germans are coming. Politicians worry that Angela Merkel would like to curtail the power of the City of London - and on the front line of culture, German artists have been storming the British capital for weeks. The contemporary German master Gerhard Richter is still top billing at Tate Modern. Anselm Kiefer, his celebrated compatriot, has a new exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey in east London. And across town, 24 artists who were either born in Germany or live there today are occupying the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea.

As land grabs go, it's a decisive blitzkrieg - yet I'm thrilled. In the past, I have been sniffy about Charles Saatchi's grandiose gallery on the King's Road: the big, bright spaces tend to reward flashy, splashy art that makes a loud noise. The title of the gallery's new exhibition, Gesamtkunstwerk (a term with Wagnerian associations that loosely translates as "total artwork"), suggests that we are in for more of the same (until April 30). Strangely, it bears little relation to the works on display, which are recognisably paintings and sculptures (rather than hybrids of different art forms, which the word Gesamtkunstwerk implies).

With a show of this nature, which features two dozen artists of different ages and nationalities who happen to live and work in Germany, it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the direction in which contemporary German art is heading. As a rule, though, sculpture is in ruder health than painting. The young Scandinavian artist Ida Ekblad, who lives in Oslo and Berlin, embodies this. Ekblad drifts around cities scavenging discarded bits and bobs for her sculptures and reliefs. The latter consist of found objects embedded in cast concrete, and appear almost like paintings. These more two-dimensional works, though, feel blunt and uninspired compared with her beautiful abstract sculptures, which allude to the welded-metal tradition that stretches back through Anthony Caro and David Smith to Picasso (who also combed rubbish dumps for items that he could transform into art).

Figurine With Horns (2010), a few sticks of painted scrap metal stuck into a cube of concrete, is a concise poetic proposition - if I had the money, I would offer to buy this piece off Saatchi in a trice. In Tennessee Hills (2010), Ekblad hangs a stained purple towel off a large chunk of welded steel. It might not sound like much, but I'm not sure I've ever encountered a towel used in a sculpture at all, let alone in such a surprising and effective way. Forlorn and soft, it offers a curious counterbalance to the dark and jagged metal.

Not everyone engages with the art of the past so elegantly. Elsewhere, Thomas Kiesewetter's colourful sheet-metal sculptures are too obviously indebted to Caro and Smith. The rough-hewn, faux-primitive sculpture-cum-fetishes and tropical-fantastical paintings of Markus Selg also liberally channel the work of another artist - in his case, Gauguin.

Nor are all of Saatchi's so-called "new" artists emerging. Isa Genzken represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 2007 (and had a show at the Whitechapel two years later). Her raucous sculptures - bizarre contemporary totem poles made out of brash plastic junk - occupy a prominent gallery on the ground floor. Bouquet (2004) is a camp hoot: a bunch of artificial flowers surrounded by cheap plastic toys, on top of an elongated plinth wrapped in bubble-gum-pink tinsel and partially spray-painted silver. An anarchic distillation of bad taste (which, in the whitewashed Saatchi Gallery, can only be a good thing), it yet stands tall and proud, visually coherent and festive, like a deranged Christmas tree.

Georg Herold, who belongs to the same generation as Sigmar Polke, offers two enormous colourful nudes (one purple, the other an eye-scorching coral), like voluptuous paper cut-outs by Matisse given volume and then stretched almost to snapping point. In the manner of Expressionist art, the effect is strained, tense and somewhat unsettling - but in a good way.

Alexandra Bircken is another inventive sculptor: her Units - free-standing aluminium frames in which tiny painted organic objects such as apple cores, tangerine peel and plant roots are attached to wires and suspended in beguiling patterns - are utterly charming. They made me think of Alexander Calder's mobiles with added Teutonic discipline.

Josephine Meckseper adopts a similar approach of gathering together disparate objects (inside glass cabinets, in her case) - but with a more political slant, satirising the market's transformation of art into a commodity (something, incidentally, that Saatchi has been accused of abetting in the past).

Elsewhere, inevitably, there is some strong two-dimensional work. The mural-like woodcut-paintings of Romanian brothers Gert and Uwe Tobias have the creepy power of Mittel-European fairytales, with touches of Miro and Picasso. I also admired Julian Rosefeldt's Soap Samples: grids of screen-grabs of actors from television soap operas around the world (including a familiar old face from Corrie), adopting almost identical gestures and facial expressions. Like the best Pop art, Rosefeldt's work is double-edged: a witty diatribe against the formulaic padding of popular culture, perhaps, or a touching reflection of our common humanity.

Generally, though, I felt that Saatchi's German sculptors won the day, and I left the gallery feeling invigorated - happy to have made the acquaintance of many artists I didn't know, and excited by the experimentation and invention on show in almost every single room.

Spatial Thoughts on Sculpture by Bill West
First off, I feel this is a great read/review from Alastair Sooke. In the last paragraph of the review/article, when he said "I left the gallery feeling invogorated" That is something that creative well done sculpture can do or I should say does do. The relaxed almost Audi (Auto Union) type feeling that is exuded by Georg Herold's sculpture of an elongated nude. Much like old steel being brought to life in an abstract way. I so enjoy it!

Georg Herold Sculpture
Bright stuff: an elongated nude by Georg Herold at the Saatchi Gallery's exhibition Gesamtkunstwerk:
New Art from Germany Photo: Jochen Littkemann