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Photo: Michael Hofmann


Group exhibition "Die riesige Welt der Zwerge. Zwerge in Kunst und Literatur" ["The Gigantic World of Gnomes. Gnomes in Art and Literature"], Hofheim

Friendly little helpers or narrow-minded allotment garden ornaments? "Opinions differ on the garden gnome," says Dr Inga Remmers, director of the Stadtmuseum Hofheim city museum. The new exhibition from 12 March to 18 June at the Stadtmuseum Hofheim city museum, entitled "Die riesige Welt der Zwerge. Zwerge in Kunst und Literatur" ["The Gigantic World of Gnomes. Gnomes in Art and Literature"], explores how the figure of the gnome became an ironised personification of the German citizen.

On the museum's entrance steps, 125 colourful gnomes created by Ottmar Hörl cheerfully invite you to come inside.

As early as in 13th century Norse mythology, dwarves or gnomes are said to have superhuman strength, they are depicted as skilled blacksmiths and craftsmen, and have both positive and negative qualities. At European aristocratic courts, dwarfs had a prominent position in the Baroque era. They were positively perceived as "enigmas of nature", held important offices at court, and often enjoyed the unreserved trust of a ruler. Thus, stone gnomes can be found as sculptures in Baroque gardens and parks throughout Europe.

Many an intellectual today still considers the garden gnome, the epitome of narrow-mindedness and bad taste, a crime against aesthetics. In the 1980s, when it all began, no-one would have been able to say that, in the guise of Hörl's global success model, the garden gnome was one day to conquer art.

"The garden gnome is the one figure most discredited in Germany. Does it have the potential to double as material for art? This was the question I was interested in," says Ottmar Hörl.

How it all began – Ottmar Hörl's first garden gnome installations
As early as in the 1970s and 1980s, Ottmar Hörl worked with industrial products and industrially manufactured materials. He developed radical, innovative sculpture and photo concepts. No other artist has dealt with the figure of the garden gnome in so much depth and consistency as has Ottmar Hörl, using it as material for art. And even before the trend towards the more modern "anti-garden gnomes" took hold, he created his first works of art featuring serially produced garden gnome figures in a monochrome colour scheme to form installations and use in performances.

Development of original garden gnome sculptures
In 1998, Ottmar Hörl introduced his signature stamp which has been embossed on every one of his gnomes ever since. At the time, he also decided to develop the shape and appearance of his specific garden gnome models himself, creating original prototypes and commissioning manufacturers based in Germany with the production of the figures required for his art installations. This approach is yet another testimony to Hörl's consistent way of thinking as an artist, deriving every part of his activities from social structures, the material employed, and the resultant findings. Furthermore, Germany is the cradle of garden gnome serial production. Unlike all other garden gnomes, however, Hörl's gnomes are notable for their reduction to the essentials. Characteristic elements such as the beard, jacket, trousers, and footwear are deliberately rendered in a clear-cut shape. This gives the figures a fresh look that is both timeless and universal at the same time. By developing his own models for the gnomes, Ottmar Hörl has succeeded in capturing the essence of the garden gnome as an iconic archetype in cultural history. It comes as no surprise then that the figures have achieved cult status.

More information on the exhibition running at the Stadtmuseum Hofheim city museum between 12 March and 18 June, and the accompanying programme, is available on the internet at www.hofheim.de/stadtmuseum

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Texts: Stadtmuseum Hofheim and Eva Schickler

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