Gerhard Dölz and the Saalfeld Group . Early GDR ceramics

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The “Saalfelder Gruppe” was made up of three artists who had made clay and glaze their preferred medium, finding in those materials a seemingly inexhaustible supply of inspiration.

The “Saalfelder Gruppe” was made up of three artists who had made clay and glaze their preferred medium, finding in those materials a seemingly inexhaustible supply of inspiration.

The artists’ group, which included Gerda Körting and Karl Jüttner along Gerhard Dölz, was amongst the main exponents of ceramic art, both in the GDR and in an international context, as demonstrated in the Ceramic Symposium taking place in Römhild starting in 1975. Around the 1960s, together with other artists, they contributed to ceramics’ shift from traditional functional wares to a medium for sculptural, artistic ideas.

Gerhard Dölz was the most productive member of the group: Over his long career he created thousands of unique pieces, a selection of which is now being shown in KVOST.

For the first time since 2006 – as an exhibition in Saalfeld celebrated his 80th birthday – are so many of his works gathered in a single exhibition. The 100 pieces being shown present the viewer with a unique occasion to experience the work of all three artists in a common setting.

The many vases, bottles, plates and other vessels demonstrate the breadth of pottery at the frontier between art and craft. The surfaces of these allegedly mundane objects erupt with abstract landscapes, organic structures and texture, delicate colors or rhythmic patterns, all of which bind our attention and encourage us to meet with the objects head-on.

Gerhard Dölz was born in 1926 in Thuringia and died 2007 in Saalfeld. He originally gravitated towards painting and printmaking, studying as a lithographer and taking part in painting classes as a prisoner of war in the USA. After further studies, he became a member of the National Artists’ Union of the GDR as a painter in 1951. He started working with ceramics around 1956 in Gerda Körting’s (1911-2000) workshop, a contact which resulted in them sharing an atelier. Together with Karl Jüttner (1921-2006), who had also trained as a painter, they founded the “Künstlergruppe Saalfeld”.

Both similarities and differences in the approach of the three artists become visible in the exhibition. They all share a fundamental interest in form, resulting in a distinctive clarity. The traditional potter’s craft is visible, the free throwing on the wheel, reflected in tall, slender vases as well as compact, concentrated vessels.

Dölz’s forms set themselves apart from Körting’ more reserved, delicate approach as well Jüttner’s decisiveness and strength. He experiments with proportions, stretches some lines further, sets some playful accents. His surfaces follow the same pattern. He uses all available techniques: scratching, cutting, carving, modelling and adding, pressing or even deforming. These interventions are never gratuitous, they always serve a clear, well thought-out composition in accord with the basic shape of the vessel.

His glazes are just as varied, employing a wide variety of methods, while they are often applied only sparingly. Bright color accents hide in openings or circle a bottle’s neck, jewel-like dots of glaze glitter among the matte brown unglazed ceramic. Dölz’s surfaces may not have the delicacy, the softness of those of Gerda Körting, which are often reminiscent of traditional Japanese pieces, but his use of color is always self-assured, with a painter’s confidence. The motifs he creates are mostly abstract. Geometric shapes are arranged rhythmically, while organic textures lend many of his vessels a chthonic, timeless aura. Such an approach in painting would have been problematic in the GDR up to the 1980s, due to the ever-shifting demands being placed on the fine arts.

The GDR’s characteristic demand for architectural art led to many large format pieces being created alongside the more usual vessels. Gerhard Dölz created such architectural works for houses of culture and factory refectories, among other places in Schleitz and Jena-Neulobeda, as well as two stelae on the grounds of the 175 International Garden Exhibition in Erfurt, which are made visible in the exhibition through a postcard. Some of these works, which stretched the bounds of craft just as well as his vessels, have already disappeared due to a lack of appreciation of their artistic value.

The exhibition aims to showcase the variety, experimentation and technical competence of the Saalfeld Group. Beyond their simple elegance, these works testify to the lively, still inspiring spirit of this small artistic community, who never tired of creating something new out of the old and familiar.

With works from Sammlung Andreas Sternweiler and the collections of the Studio Galerie Berlin and the Keramik-Museum Berlin.

Edouard Compere, 2021