New Design

Oskar Schlemmer

German Painter, Sculptor, Theater Designer, and Choreographer

Oskar Schlemmer Photo
Born: September 4, 1888
Swabia, Germany
Died: April 13, 1943
Baden-Baden, Germany
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I believe that a more profound mysticism can be shaped using objective depiction of nature. The mysticism of painterly means
Oskar Schlemmer Signature

Summary of Oskar Schlemmer

Schlemmer's work in the arena of performance was both experimental and subversive. He purposely broke free from the usual constraints and rules of theater and dance, creating completely new versions of the artforms. He was one of the first artists to modernize the genres and his work formed the basis for many modern performance ideas that followed. He also explored painting and sculpture, winning international acclaim for his work and, as a result of this, he was commissioned to produce a number of high-profile murals including a series for the Folkwang Museum in Essen. During the 1920s, he was one of the Masters at the progressive Bauhaus school, working and teaching across a range of mediums. The Bauhaus revolutionized the way in which art was taught and created and Schlemmer is seen as a key figure in shaping its forward-thinking and collaborative ethos.

Key Ideas

Biography of Oskar Schlemmer

German poster for <i>The Triadic Ballet</i>, at the Leibniz Academy (1924)

Despite the fact that Oskar Schlemmer's Triadic Ballet was first shown in 1922, his multi-media design aesthetic remains avant-garde today. The video to Lady Gaga’s hit Bad Romance reimagined the German artist’s choreography a century on, to critical acclaim.

Important Art by Oskar Schlemmer

Relief H-6 PA (1919)

Relief H-6 PA (1919)

Schlemmer's reliefs mark a half-way point in his exploration of the human body from two-dimensional paintings to three-dimensional sculptures. His negotiations with Cubism are also apparent as he divides the human figure into geometric sections. The viewer sees the figure from the front and the rounded shapes denoting the head, torso, and legs are intersected with horizontal and vertical gridlines. These elements of the body are raised from the surface, but also delineated through the use of metallic paint in black, brown, silver, and bronze. Patterned sections make the figure stand out from the surface and offer more depth to the relief.

Reliefs were a medium that many artists of this time experimented with including Hans Arp, whose wooden reliefs of the 1910s and 1920s raised geometric shapes beyond the confines of the two-dimensional canvas. Schlemmer's relief works also exhibit many similarities to the Wall Pictures of his friend Willi Baumeister. Relief H-6 PA can be seen as Schlemmer's attempt to reinterpret the European avant-garde, and particularly Cubism, along the lines of his own fixation with the human figure. In his move towards sculpture through his experimental reliefs, the artist was able to reconsider the body's relationship to space, and utilize geometry for anthropomorphic rather than abstract ends. This work foreshadows Schlemmer's use of geometry in performative art and theatre, in particular the Triadic Ballet.

Figura Astratta (Abstract Figure) (1921-23)

Figura Astratta (Abstract Figure) (1921-23)

The tubular shapes of Abstract Figure resemble the standing human form with arms outstretched. The streamlined body can be seen as that of the New Man, a fantasy figure in post-war Germany who was thoroughly modern and forward-thinking. The use of bronze and nickel reflect these notions and give the work a machine-like aesthetic, an idea that was explored by staff and students at the Bauhaus, where Schlemmer was teaching at this time. The inter-disciplinary environment of the school meant Schlemmer could easily access the resources and materials of the metal workshop to create this piece.

Abstract Figure was one of Schlemmer's first forays into expressing the human figure in three-dimensions. Following the First World War, Schlemmer increasingly placed an emphasis on the more spatial aspects of his art and how the dynamism of the human body could be displayed through sculpture and theater. Of such experiments, the artist wrote: "Sculpture is three-dimensional. It cannot be taken in at once, but rather in a temporal sequence of different locations and angles of view. As a sculpture is not exhausted by a single direction of view, the visitor is forced to move, and it is only the circumambulation and the sum of impressions that leads to the full experience of the sculpture".

Triadisches Ballett (Triadic Ballet) (1922)

Triadisches Ballett (Triadic Ballet) (1922)

Schlemmer's ballet premiered at the Stuttgart Landestheater in September 1922, with music by the German composer Paul Hindemith. The production went on to tour throughout Europe in the 1920s, to cities including Weimar, Frankfurt, Berlin, and Paris, spreading the Bauhaus ideas of modern art. The ballet didn't have a plot, but rather three acts of different moods and color which Schlemmer described as a "party of form and color". Act One was yellow, Act Two, pink, and the final Act was black. It was performed by three dancers, two female and one male, who wore a total of 18 costumes. The costumes over-emphasized the forms of the human body, turning the dancers into geometrical constructions and they moved both with and against the wearers as they danced the ballet, restricting some movements and highlighting others. The mixed media of their construction variously reflected and absorbed light further emphasizing certain body parts and structural elements.

Schlemmer was not the first to explore the traditional dance form of ballet in a modern way. At this time, the Ballets Russes, founded by the Russian art patron Sergei Diaghilev, was at the height of its popularity. Diaghilev commissioned new music from the composers Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev, accompanying by sets designed by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Schlemmer's Bauhaus colleague Wassily Kandinsky. In the Triadic Ballet, however, Schlemmer was the first artist to fuse dance and modernism through his exploration of abstraction in real space. It also marked a breakaway from classical ballet's focus on the soloist and the duet, instead emphasising a collective approach to dance. Schlemmer described his attempts to explore the relationship between body, shape, color and space as "artistic metaphysical mathematics". As well as the physical movement of the dance, the costumes can be seen as a living embodiment of Schlemmer's previous sculptural and pictorial work. The performers appear machine-like in their faceless costumes, reflecting on the zeitgeist of the New Man.

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by , Kate Stephenson

"Oskar Schlemmer Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Banister
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson
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First published on 25 Mar 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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