Hans Uhlmann was born in 1900, in Berlin. In 1919, he enrolled at the Technische Hochschule Berlin (now: Technical University Berlin) in electrical and mechanical engineering and received his engineering diploma in 1924. For two years, he practiced his profession in Kiel and, during that time, already started to produce drafts of sculptures. From 1926 to 1933, he taught at the Technische Hochschule Berlin, and his sculptures were shown for the first time at the Gallery Gurlitt in Berlin, in 1930. From 1933 to 1935, he was imprisoned by the National Socialists at Berlin-Tegel, a rupture that proved to be decisive for his art. After his release from prison, he remained in Berlin and worked as an engineer until 1945. As to his art, he was almost entirely isolated.
After the war, he finally exhibited the wire and sheet iron sculptures he had concentrated on since 1935. His works were especially influenced by the sculptures of Naum Gabo and Alexander Calders. In similar ways, the works of these artists strive towards the dematerialization of sculpture, its reduction to silhouette-like or abstract lines of metal bars. Yet Uhlmann’s focus on iron and steel – the materials he had already worked with as an engineer – starts with the human figure. This approach was prepared in the drawings done during his imprisonment. In the two albums: Kleines Verbrecher-Album, Ganoven und Schwerenöter, Hundert Tegeler(Little Album of Criminals, Crooks, and Lady-killers, One Hundred Tegel Inmates) and Köpfe, Zöpfe, Bärte, Locken und Büsten aus Draht (Heads, Braids, Beards, Locks, and Busts of Wire) from 1934/35, he devoted himself to the portrait and its constructive analysis in metal wire. The drawings served as drafts for a series of wire sculptures, shaped as heads and busts (Kopf (Drahtfigur) (Head (Wire Figure)), 1934). Soon Uhlmann also did figural busts, using geometrical sheet iron plates whose spatial mounting suggests physical volume, especially through the effects of light and shadow (Kopf (Head),1937).
Uhlmann then started to slowly move away from this figural orientation. Using bent iron wire, he created »sculptural signs« (Roters 1989) whose floating appearance was at first still explained through the motif, as in Vogel (Bird) from 1947. Eventually, however, abstract geometrical forms emerged (Zeichen (Signs), 1948). In 1950, Uhlmann was awarded a professorship at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin (now: Berlin University of the Arts). In 1951, he participated in the Biennale São Paulo and, in 1954, in the Venice Biennale and Milan Triennale. His work was also shown at the Documenta in 1955, 1959, and 1964.
With the significantly improved working equipment at the Hochschule der Künste, Uhlmann was now able to face the task of creating memorial sculptures. He accepted publicly commissioned work which he considered to be among the most important projects he realized (Uhlmann, in: Haftmann, 1975). One of these works is Concerto, done in 1954 for the entrance area of the concert hall of the Music Academy (now: Academy of Music, Hans Eisler) Berlin. With Concerto, Uhlmann could focus on translating musical modulation into the artistic structure of a metal sculpture. This theme was also prevalent in further works, for example, in the sculptures installed in front of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin (1960/61) and at the Philharmonie Berlin. With the fashioning of rotating narrow brass bands in Concerto, a basic formal motif of Uhlmann’s monumental and expansive works emerged, later complemented through the folding of large iron sheets. The latter evoke associations of unfolded wings of a plane or a bird and create the impression of purposeful movement. In his Mahnmal zum Gedächtnis des Widerstandes im Dritten Reich(Monument to the Memory of Resistance in the Third Reich), erected in 1960, in the city of Leverkusen, this form became a dominating motif. Yet further works also approached plant-like shapes (Wachstum (Growth), 1962).
Another group of works which Uhlmann called Fetische (Fetishes) is especially remarkable. The works were done between 1958 and 1966, are of a smaller format, and return to the theme of the bust. Formalized heads are assembled from geometrical elements; cylindrical eye sockets, and horizontal mouth crevices complete the alienating appearance. On narrow metal pipes, or square, cylindrical elements, these objects appear to be skewered and evoke associations of exotic or technoid masks (Fetisch (Fetish), 1958; Kopf-Fetisch I (Head-Fetish I) 1967).
Finally, architectonically oriented sculptures, focusing on questions of organizing space in towers and columns, became preferred motifs of Uhlmann’s later career. Again, an anthropomorphic orientation expressed in verticality, the desire for complete visibility, and the differentiation between body-like interior and outer shell remained highly significant. Moreover, renouncing body mass again becomes important. The transparency and seeming lightness that is achieved through the specific means employed, rather produce the impression of a moving body (Großer Turm (Big Tower), 1961; Viereck-Säule (Square Column), 1970; Turm allseitiger Ausstrahlung (Tower of All-Around Radiation), 1972).
During his life-time, Uhlmann’s works were shown at numerous exhibitions, for example, at the World Fair in Montreal (1967), at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin (1968), at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts Lausanne (1968 — 69), at the Hamburg Kunsthalle (1973 — 74), and at the Nationalgallerie Berlin (1974).
Hans Uhlmann died in 1975, in Berlin. Because of permanent loans, his sculptural work and his drawings are concentrated in two major public collections: the Foundation Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Dusiburg, and the Berlinische Galerie. At the Duisburg museum, Uhlmann’s work is presented in a special room.
Hans Uhlmann (1900 — 1975), die Aquarelle und Zeichnungen (mit Werkverzeichnis): Ausst.-Kat. Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum, Duisburg, bearb. von Carmela Thiele, hg. v. C. Brockhaus und J. Merkert, Berlin 1990
Momentaufnahme: Ausst.-Kat. Staatliche Kunsthalle Berlin, hg. v. W. Schmied und W. Haftmann, Berlin1987
Hans Uhlmann, 1900 — 1975. Plastik und Zeichnungen: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim 1978