Exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
17 June – 26 November 2023
- This display re-examines the work of German artist Egon Altdorf (1922-2008).
- Celebrating his contribution to post-war art and architecture.
- Marking seventy years since the artist’s pivotal visit to the UK.
- Showing many rarely seen works from the 1950s, none of which have been shown in the UK before.
Henry Moore Institute is delighted to present a display of work by German artist Egon Altdorf (1922-2008), programmed to mark seventy years since the international sculpture competition to design a Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner was organised by the Institute for Contemporary Arts, London.
The competition promoted world-wide interest in contemporary sculpture and commemorated all who had ‘given their liberty in the cause of human freedom’. It attracted 3,500 entries by artists from fifty-seven countries and Egon Altdorf was one of three prize-winners in the German preliminary competition. Altdorf’s work was shown in the final exhibition at Tate, London in 1953. This display focuses on Altdorf’s work immediately following his competition entry.
Rarely exhibited, believed to be lost or destroyed, Altdorf’s work was rediscovered after his death by his son, prompting a reassessment of his achievements and contribution to post-war art and architecture. This will be the first time that his work has been shown in the UK since it was produced during the 1950s.
“We are so pleased to be able to shine a light on this little-known artist and give his work the attention it deserves. His multi-disciplinary practice is an inspiring example of interfaith cooperation and the internationalism of the 1950s, and very much resonates today.”
Dr Clare O’Dowd, Research Curator at the Henry Moore Institute
Following the competition, Altdorf went on to achieve success as a printmaker, stained-glass artist and poet as well as a sculptor. He visited the UK as part of his competition prize in 1953, which he described as the most important event in his creative development.
The display will include three of Altdorf’s steel sculptures, which have never been seen in the UK before, along with a selection of his woodcuts, etchings and drawings.
These show both the strength of Altdorf’s design and printmaking skills along with the clear influence of the British artists he met during his time in the UK, including Henry Moore (1898-1986), Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) and Reg Butler (1913-81), who won the grand prize in the Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner competition.
Altdorf grew up as a Catholic and often made work with religious or spiritual symbolism. One of his most significant projects was designing the interior scheme for the new synagogue in Wiesbaden, Germany, built to replace the synagogue destroyed in Kristallnacht in 1938 and now widely regarded as an important example of post-war religious architecture. A film will be on display in the Institute celebrating this project.
“Egon Altdorf was for many years Wiesbaden’s best kept secret. This will be the first time his work has been seen outside Germany since the 1950s. What a wonderful opportunity to celebrate his art and poetry and revisit the inspiration of meeting Henry Moore.”
Dorian Crone, Egon Altdorf’s son
A selection of poetry by Altdorf will also be on display, aligning with the Institute’s The Weight of Words exhibition, which will be in the main galleries from 7 July to 6 November 2023.
About the artist
Egon Altdorf was born in Pomerania in 1922 and moved to Berlin as a child. His initial artistic inspiration came via his grandfathers, one a potter and the other a blacksmith. Altdorf was drafted into the army in 1941 and was later captured in Tunisia and interned as a prisoner of war in Camp Mexia, Texas.
Altdorf was among the few prisoners who completed the intensive Getty-Wetherill education programme at Rhode Island, intended to create administrators to assist US military government personnel to reconstruct post-war Germany. On his release he chose Wiesbaden as a destination, knowing that he had lost his parents and home in Berlin.
In addition to his woodcuts and a small body of sculpture, Altdorf’s outstanding achievement was to design the interior, including sculptural fittings and several stained-glass windows, of the new synagogue in Wiesbaden, 1966. Although not a member of the Jewish community, Altdorf was chosen in 1953 to make a stone monument, which he inscribed ‘The world’s conscience is love’, commemorating Wiesbaden’s old synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938. The new synagogue is now recognised as a highly significant example of post-war synagogue architecture in Germany.
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Henry Moore Institute
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Henry Moore Foundation
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About the Henry Moore Institute
The Henry Moore Institute is situated on The Headrow, next to Leeds Art Gallery, in Leeds city centre’s cultural hub, just a five-minute walk from Leeds Station.
We welcome everyone to visit our Galleries, Research Library and Archive of Sculptors’ Papers to experience, study and enjoy sculpture from around the world.
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The Institute turned thirty in April 2023 and is celebrating by shining a light on the past and the future of sculpture in the city.
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The Henry Moore Foundation was founded by the artist and his family in 1977 to encourage public appreciation of the visual arts.
Today we support innovative sculpture projects, devise an imaginative programme of exhibitions and research worldwide, and preserve the legacy of Moore himself: one of the great sculptors of the 20th century, who did so much to bring the art form to a wider audience.
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