Chaos controlled in Luginbühl's sculpture garden

Sculptor Bernhard Luginbühl, one of Switzerland's most famous artists, opens his garden to the public on Sunday. Visitors can see many of his best-known sculptures and could meet the artist himself.

This content was published on August 11, 2000 - 12:28
Kim Hays,

Fifty-nine pieces are exhibited in the Mötschwil sculpture park near Bern. Almost as intriguing as these sculptures are the enormous quantities of scrap metal on display - including 150 ploughs, an entire airplane wing, and piles of rusty chain. These are the bones of future sculptures.

Hans Christoph von Tavel, former director of Bern's fine arts museum, once described Luginbühl's work as a "constant battle against chaos" and in the park that process of transforming junk into sculpture is partially revealed.

Even the garden's concrete walkway, patterned with inlaid wrenches, keys, horseshoes and other bits of scrap iron, is a work of art.

Following this walkway, visitors encounter colossal pieces such as "Atlas" with its moving ball, which stood in front of Berlin's National Gallery during Luginbühl's one-man show there in 1972.

Less well known, but no less fascinating, are his "portraits" of a butcher and a forester assembled from knives and saws. These two statues, and the materials they are made of, show why Luginbühl scholar, Jochen Hesse, calls the sculptor "an archaeologist of work".

Open eight Sundays this year, the sculpture garden surrounds the house where the Luginbühls have lived since the 1960s. The artworks are Luginbühl's gift to the trust he set up in 1998 to ensure that his work would always be shown as he wished. "My family and I made the whole park ourselves," he told "We put the sculptures just where I want them to be."

Luginbühl was born in Bern in 1929, the only son in a family of butchers. Although he worked in the slaughterhouse as a youngster, his family allowed him to be apprenticed to a gravestone maker. He was also accepted into Bern's School of Applied Arts. At 19 he exhibited his first sculpture - in stone - at Bern's Kunsthalle.

It wasn't long before he turned from stone to iron, first forging pieces himself and then assembling them from junk. By 27 he was exhibiting at the Venice Biennale. In 1963 he had a one-man show in New York, and four years later his work was displayed at the Montreal World's Fair.

One of the first things visitors to Switzerland see is a Luginbühl sculpture - his work "Sisyphus" is in Terminal B of Zurich's Kloten airport. But his sculptures can also be found all over the world, from Tokyo to Tel Aviv.

Now, thanks to the Swiss Australian Cultural Foundation, Sydney is about to acquire Luginbühl's "Australian Angel". The winged metal figure, six metres high, will be assembled under Sydney's Harbour Bridge by Luginbühl's sons, Basil and Iwan.

Along with their brother Brutus, the younger Luginbühls are themselves well-known sculptors, as is their mother Ursula. The work of all five Luginbühls will be shown in Sydney from September 1 to October 29.

Luginbühl's sons, who among them combine the skills of filmmaker, carpenter, electrician, smith and welder, have been his assistants for decades, while daughter Eva helps her mother to assemble catalogues and organise openings. "It's a family business, like a farm," says Basil. "We all share the work."

Part of the family's approach to business is informal hospitality. At Mötschwil, Luginbühl's three daughters-in-law serve coffee, lead tours and answer questions, while his wife Ursula circulates with a Luginbühl baby - a future sculptor? - in her arms.

In their midst stands "The Big Boss" - one of his largest pieces is called that - radiating the power that he has transferred to his sculptures. Bernhard Luginbühl, the head of the family business, still has things well under control.

For more information about the sculpture park, contact the Luginbühlstiftung at (034) 423 12 08.

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