Elke Härtel

Elke Härtel, Ferdinand, Kloster Beuerberg, 2019

Ferdinand, Kloster Beuerberg, 2019

Usually female, Elke Härtel’s figures come from the depths of dreams and from literary worlds of imagination. The artist draws on the inner imagery of her own self-exploration as well as that of fairy tales, myths and religious ideas. She takes up traditional models and transports them into the present: Maria Immaculata, Heloise, Rapunzel. Through transformation and defamiliarisation she develops a visual language of her own. They are girls or young women, rather small-scale, always white and those created before Rapunzel carry the artist’s face. No matter how ’realistically‘ modelled they may be, they invariably have something surreal, bizarre or absurd about them. They invite manifold associations, while failing to offer specific meanings. The self-portrait suggests that they are an expression of the experiences and memories of the artist herself and of her dreams and fears. They are ’individual mythologies‘ whose appeal lies precisely in their subjective rather than general readability. Peculiarities, riddles, cyphers; time and again a trove of themes appears, such as the imperfection of the female body or metamorphoses that occur when encountering animals — a transfer between man and nature.

Untitled, 2005

While still a student Elke Härtel was inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s short story The Empty Birdhouse, and created a key work for the annual exhibition of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich. Untitled, 2004, features the figure of a girl standing up straight in an open box and carrying a kangaroo on her shoulders; made of polyurethane casting resin and painted white, its height does not exceed thirty-six centimetres. The girl and the animal are chosen as core subjects, as in the work Untitled created the following year, 2005. A girl is depicted in a dress with her slender arms flanking her body and the antlers of a stag on her head. Standing opposite her is the stag itself, without antlers, licking the girl’s neck with its tongue. Untitled, 2008: here a girl is lying naked on the ground, her arms slightly propped up, and three anteaters suck on the sole of her right foot with their snouts. Another curious configuration is portrayed in Untitled, 2005: the girl bites into the trunk of a tree which, without leaves and fruit, seems to float. Looking at the girl — she is always the same: delicate, hair in a bun, wearing a long dress in another work, her gaze lowered — the viewer notes with surprise that her feet are those of an elephant. The words tanz mit mir (Dance with me), the title of this 2006 work — indeed only few of her works have one — reinforce the trepidation it exudes. While seemingly realistic in their depiction and conventional in their presentation on a pedestal or table top, as in the Favoriten (Favourites) exhibition 2008 at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich, in the solo exhibition entitled Verwandlungen (Metamorphoses) 2012 at the Diözesanmuseum Freising, or Ferdinand at the Pavillon of Kloster Beuerberg, Elke Härtel’s figures remain unfathomably cryptic.

Elke Härtel, Verwandlungen, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, München, 2012

Verwandlungen, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, München, 2012

Tree woman, elephant woman, deer woman: Härtel’s drawings, which represent a self- contained medium within her oeuvre, similarly visualise such symbioses and hybrid creatures. In a meditative process, plant, animal and girl are delicately and subtly drawn in pencil on large sheets of paper. One drawing shows a deer sitting in a nest with apples. Another features a girl who holds a snail shell in her lap which is open at the front. Plant-like tendrils connect her to a deer and to the bushes and leaves (Untitled, 2008). A strange community of deer come upon snail shells scattered on the ground ... Is this “a kind of ahistorical natural environment”, “some phantasmal natural mythology indebted not least to the romantic tradition”, or do those oneiric images belong in a political, social and cultural context? Does the animal, a male symbol, appear as a metaphor for affliction and danger, destruction and devastation und wo sie herkommen wächst kein gras mehr (and where they come from grass no longer grows), 2009, or for the desire to merge? Are the conceptions of femininity a contribution to the discourse of gender roles, of power relations? Is the female body a projection surface for political and social ideologies? Is it a play on religious symbolism? All of this remains speculation. An otherness, a mystery, a beauty and a presence enfold these figures and constellations.

This is similarly epitomised by Heloise (2013): a life-size girl made of white plaster which has seized the wolf by the neck like hunted prey. Its eyes are open and its body hangs limply and defeated in her small hands. What a dramatic reinterpretation of the story! Here Elke Härtel visualises female self-confidence and strength as well as female creative power. In her untitled bronze sculpture from 2013 she places a young girl on a stylised, two-and-a-half-metre high tree trunk and has her model something with her hands — the tree itself or its branches?! This work appears like a manifesto of aesthetic education in public space: being in the world creating and bringing something into being.

Rapunzel, 2017 (Foundry)



»Ferdinand«, Kloster Beuerberg,
»Elke Härtel / Stephan Huber«, Charim Galerie, Wien »Zwischenräume«, Edition 2018 – Verein für Christliche Kunst München, Maurer Zilioli – Contemporary Arts München
»Papierarbeiten III« Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich, München


»Rapunzel & Eloise, Elke Härtel, Stephan Huber
Lo & Behold 1-20«, Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich, München
»Edition 2018«, Verein für Christliche Kunst München, Kunstraum VAN TREECK, München (Ausstellungskatalog) »Offene Ateliers«, whiteBox Kultur gGmbH, Werksviertel am Ostbahnhof, München


»Rapunzel«, Skulpturenprojekt in Zusammenarbeit mit Petra Giloy-Hirtz
»stand by me«, Galerie der Künstler/BBK, München »Lebenslinien. Autobiografisches Erinnern«, Städtische Galerie, Traunstein


»Die 7 Todsünden«, Verpackerei Gö, Kulturraum Allgäu, Görisried (Ausstellungskatalog)
»Der Tod und seine Geheimnisse«, Jahresausstellung der GEDOK München e. V., Pasinger Fabrik, München


»13 Künstler | 13 Räume«,
Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich, München


»P 79«, Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich, München
»Elke Härtel, Korbinian Jaud, Alexi Tsioris. 3 junge bildhauerische Positionen«, ARTS-Akzente-Ausstellung, Städtische Galerie, Traunstein
»Offene Ateliers«, Atelierhaus Baumstraße, München


»Es war einmal ...«, 12. RischART_PROJEKT, Alter Botanischer Garten, München (Ausstellungskatalog) »Papierarbeiten II – 70er Jahre bis heute«, Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich, München


»Verwandlungen«, Diözesanmuseum Freising,
Reihe Junge Kunst im Diözesanmuseum Freising (Einzelausstellung, Ausstellungskatalog)
»Ästhetik der Natur«, ALTANA Kulturstiftung gGmbH im Sinclair-Haus, Bad Homburg, in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Museum Wiesbaden (Ausstellungskatalog) »Tod – 22 Kunstwerke«, Deutsche Gesellschaft für christliche Kunst, München (Ausstellungskatalog)


»im zimmer der prinzessin«, Debütantin der GEDOK München e. V., Katalogpräsentation, galerieGEDOKmuc, München (Einzelausstellung, Ausstellungskatalog)


»SHIVERING TUNES«, Kunstsommer 2010 – 2. Zyklus, Meisterschüler der Akademie der Bildenden Künste München, Kunstverein Oberhausen »Eitner-Härtel-Märkl-Egger«,
Galerie MaxWeberSixFriedrich, München
»An die Natur«, ALTANA Kulturstiftung gGmbH, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig (Ausstellungskatalog)
»An die Natur«, zeitgenössische Kunst aus der ALTANA Kunstsammlung, Langen Foundation, Neuss (Ausstellungskatalog)


»Natur und Schöpfung«, ALTANA Kulturstiftung gGmbH im Sinclair-Haus, Bad Homburg (Ausstellungskatalog)
»Jahresgaben«, Tanzschule, München »Wunderkammer«, Die Färberei, München


»FAVORITEN 08 – Neue Kunst in München«, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, München (Ausstellungskatalog) »Traumbilder«, Ovalsaal der Residenz, Bayerische Akade- mie der Schönen Künste, München (Einzelausstellung)


»modern06 – Zeitgenössische Tendenzen«, Max-Joseph-Saal, Residenz München
»tanz mit mir«, AkademieGalerie der Akademie der Bildenden Künste, München (Einzelausstellung) »Eremiten. Studenten der Klasse Stephan Huber«,
Reihe Junge Kunst im Diözesanmuseum Freising, Freising »Im Dunkeln erlebt man von Neuem einen kostbaren Schrecken«, Galerie SixFriedrichLisaUngar, München »Hermann-Götz-Preis 2006«, Künstlerhaus Marktoberdorf, Museum für zeitgenössische Kunst


»1067 KM«, Klasse Stephan Huber, Kreuzherrnsaal, Memmingen


»ausflug«, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) Oberpfaffenhofen, Weßlin


»Ausstellung zum 12. Kunstpreis der Stadt Aichach 2003«, Kreuzgratgewölbe, Kunstverein Aichach e. V.


Rapunzel, 2017 (Foundry)

Photograph: Thomas Dashuber