Franz Bernhard is born in 1934 in Neuhäuser, Bohemia. Following his training as a carpenter, which he had begun in 1949, he studies at the Kunstakademie in Karlsruhe with Fritz Klemm and Wilhelm Loth. Here his first works take the classic theme of the nude and the torso as their point of departure. Soon he works on first assemblages out of wooden slats and their rough and compact materiality, which he puts together with corroded iron parts in right-angled and hinge-like compositions. He refers to these material collages respectively with titles that reveal multiple layers of meaning. Thus the Figur nach Gerda I was created in 1965, in 1967 the Große Liegende I. The physical determinations of the works point to phenomenological forms of being, and are reduced to standing, lying and sitting.
From 1969 on Bernhard uses cast iron as fundamentally equivalent material for his work; wood and iron are given different construction tasks in the shaping of what he calls »anthropomorphic signs«. The same year he presents his works in a large one-man show in the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. In 1977 Franz Bernhard participates in the Documenta 6.
From the end of the 1970s his figures become increasingly block-like and gain in heaviness. The more fragile assemblages are replaced by voluminous works with decided physical balance (Sitzende Wandfigur, 1979; Stille Figur, 1982). Both works show metal and wood constructions leaning against the wall, whose torso and body parts are distinguished by differing materials, creating the impression of a shovel-like instrument with wooden handle and metallic working part. The spatial extension of the figures, no longer isolated on the floor, rather supported through the museum wall presents the viewer with a new anchoring of the sculpture in the exhibition room.
In the 1980s exhibitions follow in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, the Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (1980), and in the Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum Duisburg (1985).
Now works evolve in public spaces that are more plastic with larger dimensions, whose monumentality supersedes the impressions of the earlier object-like or tool-like constructions. The Konstanzer Liegende from 1983 can be seen as a transitional figure. But then the free moving abstract steel sculptures emerge like prefabricated geometric forms that only share the instability the supports and the balancing with the previous smaller works (Große Braunschweiger Figur, 1987;Große Aachener, 1989). These late works are reminiscent of the works of Richard Serra, who – even though he radically turns away from figural representation – also treats the phenomena of instability and spatial extension in his sculptures.
From 1990 — 1992 Franz Bernhard is a member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin.
Today he lives and works in Jockgrim / Pfalz.
Franz Bernhard, Der Morat-Block, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, Radierungen: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. Andreas Pfeiffer, Heidelberg 2001
Weber, Andrea: Figur und Abstraktion im Werk Franz Bernhards, Frankfurt, Berlin u.a. 2001
Franz Bernhard: Ausst.-Kat. Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe 1990
Franz Bernhard, Köpfe und Figuren: Ausst.-Kat. Heidelberger Kunstverein, hg. v. Erich Thies, Ostfildern-Ruit 1994