Adolf Luther

Adolph Luther was born in 1912, in Krefeld. The family moved to Essen in 1914 where Luther went to school and then began an apprenticeship at an architecture firm. Yet he eventually continued his education in the municipal administration of Essen. In 1938, Luther received his »Abitur« certificate and enrolled at the Law School of Cologne University. He finished his studies in 1941. As a doctoral student, he was drafted into the German army, but was able to do first drawings and watercolors (Sonnenlicht / Sunlight, 1942). Being an autodidact, Luther was especially interested in light and its various phenomena.

In the drawings done after World War II, Luther initially focused on the surroundings of his workplace and then increasingly turned towards impressionist pictorial approaches (Selbstportrait / Self-Portrait, 1949). Soon, he started to focus on Picasso’s paintings. Still, he wanted to invent his own »style that would make it possible to represent truths lying beyond optical reality« (Luther, 1953). The changed perception of light – grounded in a technology-shaped present – was one of these truths. In the early 1950s, Luther thus turned towards abstract painting and, in 1957, left his position as a civil servant in order to fully devote himself to his artistic work. In the mid-1950s, informal experimental work emerged which Luther did not continue. His search for suitable forms of expression finally led him to color field painting (Farbfeldbild / Color Field Picture, 1958), a basis for his relief-like black pictures done in chalk, oil, and pigment on hardboard (Licht und Materie / Light and Matter, 1960). His work was now shaped by his aesthetic interest in materiality and its relation to light, but increasingly also in the intersections of painting, relief, and sculpture. In the early 1960s, this led to »de-materializations,« but also to assemblages and installations of destroyed materials, works that emerged in Action-like processes (Flaschenzerschlagungsraum / Bottlebreakingroom, 1961). They are linked to Action art as well as to the Group ZERO – to the »visible evidence of the concrete qualities of light« and the »detachment of light from matter which is otherwise needed in order to grasp light« (Honnef 1979).

In the early 1960s, Luther developed his first light objects with light locks made from glass fragments. This was followed by the eyeglass and lens objects, the lenses making it possible to capture light and movement. Luther now especially concentrated on installations that practically materialize light, making physical effects visible and including the surrounding space. In 1966, he experimented with concave and convex mirrors projecting upside down images into the surrounding space.Fokussierender Raum / Focusing Room, for example, shows concave mirrors lit from above with spotlights. Their focal points become visible as soon as smoke is directed into the light cones. Laser projections with radial light projections (Laser-Raum / Laser Room, 1970) or large kinetic sculptures producing light facets (Lichtmaschine / Light Machine 1970) follow, along with plans for large projections of cosmic light into space (Mondprojekt / Moon Project 1976). The installation concepts of expansive light objects or light walls that structure the surrounding space (Sphärisches Hohlspiegelobjekt / Spherical Concave Mirror Object, 1971/72;Olympia, 1972; Sphärische Hohlspiegelwand / Spherical Concave Mirror Wall, 1972) closely relate to the surrounding architecture and space. In this respect, they also prepare the later, mostly square, smaller mirror objects and mirror boxes of the early 1980s (Hohlspiegelobjekt, 1982ff.), as well as the installations in public space. Examples are Luther’s homage to Monet’s late water lily paintings, the Wasser-Linsen / Water Lenses (1982/90) or the Steh-Linsen / Standing Lenses (1990). Again the optical effects rely on mirrors, yet now they are created through the mirrors’ interaction with the changing phenomena of natural light. Aside from paintings, objects, and installations, Luther was also involved with the directing and staging of light on the theater stage. Examples are his designs of stage settings for »Tristan and Isolde« at the Frankfurt Opera, done in 1977.

In 1960, Luther’s pictures were shown at the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld. After that, his works were shown at numerous solo exhibitions, for example, at the Museum Schloss Morsbroich (1969), at the Folkwang Museum, Essen (1971), and at the Städtische Galerie Aschaffenburg. Luther’s works were shown at group exhibitions especially in the context of Group ZERO, but also of concrete tendencies of light art, kinetic art, as well as architecturally related art (Kunsthalle Bern, 1965; Haus am Waldsee, Berlin 1968; Kunsthalle Nürnberg, 1975; Städtisches Museum Gelsenkirchen, 1995; Kunsthalle Baden Baden, 1999; ZKM Karlsruhe, 2005). Recently, solo exhibitions have been dedicated to his work at the Kunsthalle Krems (2006) and at the Museum Herakleidon (2007).


Adolf Luther died in 1990, in Krefeld.

Selected Literature

Adolf Luther, Licht sehen: Ausst.-Kat. Kunst-Museum Ahlen, hg. v. M. Broska u. B. Leismann, Ahlen 1996

Adolf Luther und seine Sammlung. Eine Kunst außerhalb des Bildes: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. M. Broska, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993

Adolf Luther, Licht und Materie, Werke von 1958 — 1990: Ausst.-Kat. Mönchehaus-Museum, Goslar 1992

Broska, M.: Adolf Luther, Sein Werk von 1942 — 1961, Bochum 1991

Adolf Luther, Licht + Materie, Retrospektive aus Anlass des 75. Geburtstages: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen 1987

Luther: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf 1974

Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014

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