Norbert Radermacher was born in 1953, in Aachen. From 1973 until 1979, he studied at the Art Academy Düsseldorf where he was also a student of Fritz Schwegler. A one-year stay in Paris proved to be the decisive starting point for his future work. Radermacher decided to explore the architectonic structure of this prototypical big European city by walking its streets. Starting from the city limits, he began his project marking the twelve entries of the city and leaving artistic traces. One example is a photograph of a ship left in an empty info box at the Porte Pantin, an act that changed the object’s intended use. The wall around the Cimetière de Montrouge, near the Porte de Châtillon, was provided with a mirror reflecting the sky and the green of the leaves (L’Image du Ciel, 1980). The casual character of these works emerged not only through their anonymity. They also did or do not attract attention as objects of conservation. By now, most of them have disappeared again. In a poem Radermacher described the basic concepts that motivated his first works: »[…] Twelve months, twelve ports of entry, an annual cycle / Leaving something for those who enter and leave / Or for those who may find without asking« (Radermacher 1980).
Later, Radermacher called these interventions into and additions to urban space Stücke für Städte (Pieces for Cities). In the years to follow, he put special emphasis on the selection of material for his art works, mostly using durable materials such as bronze, concrete, and marble. He created small, object-like sculptures taking up, repeating, and commenting on the various shapes of every day objects in public space. One of these objects is a small polyhedron, installed between two iron girders on a cobbled pedestrian underpass in Düsseldorf, carrying a relief of the Chartres Labyrinth made of concrete (The Labyrinth / Das Labyrinth (Chartres), 1982). The mythical, symbol-laden sign appears strange in this bleak place, polluted by heavy traffic. It is barely discernible for the passers-by. Yet especially Radermacher’s early sculptural objects and installations play with the cultic value these objects can acquire at places that are otherwise neutral passages, barriers or thresholds in the urban flow of movement. Radermacher tends to position his objects exactly at these non-places of contemporary cities that are shaped by frayed and decentralized urban structures: deserted in-between spaces in parking areas, underpasses, and stairs. Chrome-plated brass vases (Die Gefäße (Vessels), 1988), for example, embellish the barrier of a parking garage. Die Truhe (The Chest,1985), a wooden container – it is painted bluish-grey and can be locked – is installed at the Adenauerallee in Bonn. It connects two park benches made of concrete, repeating their cubist repertoire of forms in perfect assimilation. Finally, Das Tor (The Gate), a tiny gate with a round arch that connects two bollards at a parking space, yet at the same time opens the space between them, perfectly takes up the characteristics of concrete as material. In an act of mimicry, it claims to have been designed just for this space which was meant to separate and exclude. The ironic trademark, acts of delusion and imitation, subvert the selfconfidence of public authority in a postmodern gesture. Several of Radermacher’s works suggest an even more direct, critical reading of signs and conventions in public space, referring to historical memory and cultural designation. A patch of tiles demarcated by red and white fences in a predominantly Turkish immigrant neighborhood in Cologne takes up the floor patterns of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Das Ornament (The Ornament), 1983). At the same time, the floor plan of the Hagia Sophia is painted on a wall bordering the street, between smudged posters, using façade paint (Der Grundriss (The Floor Plan), 1983). In another work, on the river Rhine in Ludwigshafen, the fence finally becomes a carrier of meaning. Erected in front of the Ludwig Church, the poles are connected through a grid pattern painted with a white, diagonally offset, transparent formation of lines, reminding of a floor pattern. At its center, the Star of David can be made out, a reference to the synagogue that was destroyed during the reign of National Socialism and was not rebuilt, unlike the highly visible church.
In 1987, Radermacher participated in the Documenta 8 in Kassel. Radermacher’s works do not position themselves as conceptual contributions only. They owe much of their impact to the sensuousness of the materials used and the object-like character of their sculptural presence. »It would never be enough for me to install a plaque in a courtyard saying: Imagine a vase that is on the wall. That is overly intellectual. I do want the piece to be tangibly present and destroyable. I also think that this is a possibility for everybody to understand what I’m doing. But I leave it open whether everybody actually recognizes and absorbs it (in: Conversation between Bernd Schulz and Norbert Radermacher, 1987).
Since 1992, Radermacher has held the chair of Art in Context at the Art Academy Kassel. Moreover, since 1999, he has created sacred spaces and insignia (meditation room at the Canisius Collegium, Berlin, 2000; chapel at the House of the German Conference of Bishops, Berlin, 2000). His latest works were also done in Berlin, for example, the installation of a tiny model of a mountain on a concrete wall in front of the Rote Rathaus, the ›Red City Hall‹ (Der Berg (The Mountain), 2007).
Norbert Radermacher lives and works in Berlin.
Norbert Radermacher – Die Stäbe: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel Museum Hannover, 1995//
Norbert Radermacher: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Wiesbaden u.a., Nürnberg 1993
Norbert Radermacher: Ausst.-Kat. Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, München, hg. v. U. Bischoff, C. Segieth, München 1991
Stücke für Städte: Ausst.-Kat. Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 1985