Gerda Frömel, Moon and Hill, 1971, Alabaster. Image courtesy IMMA Collection
An incredibly well regarded artist during her lifetime, her work is no longer well known and has not been on exhibition since a 1976 retrospective at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin the year after her untimely death. This exhibition seeks to bring new work to light and to reinstate Frömel as a modern Irish master. This exhibition will tour to F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studios, Co. Down.
This exhibition will be the first contemporary retrospective of Gerda Frömel, an artist who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1931 as the daughter of German parents but who moved to Ireland in 1956. She first exhibited in the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1957, an association which continued till 1975. She exhibited at several other prestigious exhibitions during her career including the Dawson Gallery and the 1970 Oireachtas Art Exhibition. She took several commissions including the well-known piece for P.J.Carroll and Son, Dundalk, (now Dundalk Institute of Technology) and also worked in stained glass for churches in Ireland and Germany.
About the Artist
While Frömel enjoyed an uneventful childhood in the former Czechoslovakia, her early experiences were marked by the trauma of the Second World War and the German Expulsions in its immediate aftermath. (2015 is the 70th anniversary of these expulsions). These experiences place her within a group of German artists - Joseph Beuys, Frank Auerbach, Eva Hesse and Georg Baselitz – whose work emerged from this post-war environment. In a country trying to come to terms with its recent past, physically, economically and spiritually, in some areas art saw a ‘return to order’. Various artists who had worked in an abstract style before the war, notably Henry Moore for instance, returned to a period of figuration as a means to process their need to reassert the primacy of the human body after years of witnessing its destruction. This political and cultural background marked Frömel’s development as she entered art school in the years immediately after the war. Frömel enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart in 1948 and later went on to study in Darmstadt and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where she studied metalwork and sculpture.
While at art school in Munich, Frömel met the young sculptor Werner Schürmann. They married in 1955 and the couple moved permanently to Ireland the following year where they lived in Woodtown Park, outside Rathfarnham where Schürmann established one of the only foundries in Ireland and began to cast their works in bronze there.
Early works exhibited in the Irish Exhibition of Living Art were cast in bronze and figurative in style and included a portrait of her child entitled Portrait of Johann Jacob Weneslaus (1957) as well as images of animals such as Deer Crossing Bay (1963).
In 1964 she embarked on her biggest project to date: a solo exhibition at the Dawson Gallery in Dublin. The works shown have clear connections to the Post-war aesthetics of phenomenological works in the style of Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) with real-life observations of life and nature. Unusually within these early works, Frömel’s preference is for an uneven surface, and investment (plaster remnants left over from the casting process) can be seen, lending a somewhat unfinished appearance to the sculptures. This variation in surface is characteristic of Frömel’s work in other materials such as metal and stone; works that appear highly finished from a distance, on closer inspection reveal deliberate machining marks and chips.
In the late 1960s Frömel made a transition from cast bronze sculptures to works carved in marble, granite, and her favourite material – alabaster. She made use of simple forms: circles, lines and spirals to communicate her observations from nature, natural phenomena and the celestial, in particular, the moon and its reflection were denoted with the simplest of visual codes.
Between 1967-70 Frömel commenced her most important commission Sails, made for the Carroll’s Factory in Dundalk, Co Louth, designed by Scott Tallon Walker. The successful completion of the sculpture attracted significant positive attention in the press and it became emblematic of the building. At that point it was the largest private sculptural commission in Ireland, and one that would stand up to international comparison.
After her death in 1975 her work continued to be championed by writers like Dorothy Walker, and was included in Rosc 1980 but was exhibited only rarely. Her work remains in the collections of The Arts Council, The Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Bank, ACC Bank, The Crawford Art Gallery, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology [GMIT], Limerick City Gallery, Trinity College Dublin and others. IMMA has has the most substantial holding of Frömel’s work in a public collection largely due to acquisitions from the Carroll’s Collection as well as the Bank of Ireland. They have been included in landmark exhibitions such as The Moderns (2010-2011).
Preview Lecture | Gerda Frömel - Her life and works 1955-1975 Thursday 9 April 2015 Exhibition Curator Seán Kissane (IMMA) presents a lecture on his research for the first contemporary retrospective exhibition of works of Gerda Frömel presented at IMMA, and addresses how this presentation attempts to reinstate Frömel as a modern Irish master.
IMMA Modern Master Series Symposium | Gerda Frömel Friday 17 April 2015 Join a range of scholars, writers and enthusiasts on Gerda Frömel’s work who will critically assess key developments of the artists’ short yet prolific career. Speakers will consider what Frömel’s story can teach us about the broader history, record and practice of sculpture in Ireland. Chaired by Paula Murphy (Senior Lecturer, School of Art History, UCD), papers and contributions will be presented by Riann Coulter (F.E Mac William Gallery, Banbridge), Jason Ellis (Sculptor and Conservator), Sean Kissane (Curator, IMMA), Sarah Kelleher (Lecturer, UCC), Livia Hurley (Lecturer and Director/co-founder of Graph Architects), Killian Schurmann (Gerda Frömel Estate) and Christina Kennedy (Senior Curator, Collection, IMMA). Listen to full recordings of the symposium speakers here
What is Scultpure...? | Sinead Hogan Saturday 9 May 2015 In conjunction with the exhibitions,Karla BlackandGerda Frömelat IMMA, Sinead Hogan (Lecturer, IADT) presentsWhat is Sculpture...?This talk considers new definitions of sculpture throughout art history and explores how contemporary forms of ‘expanded sculpture’ demands that the viewer question the very object-nature of art. Listen to a recording of the event here
Closing Conversation | Frances Morris Post War Art and Existentialism Sunday 5 July 2015 To mark the final day of the Gerda Frömel exhibition at IMMA, renowned art historian and curator Frances Morris (Director of Collection, International Art, Tate Modern, UK) reflects on her extensive research on post war art and examines how this time of vast turmoil and vigorous creativity continues to influence artistic practice of the last decades. Conversation moderated by Seán Kissane (IMMA) Listen to a recording of the talk here
Curator Seán Kissane spoke to John Kelly about the exhibition on the 3 April edition of RTÉ's The Works. The video can be viewed on the RTÉ Player.
Aidan Dunne of The Irish Times wrote a great piece about Gerda Frömel in the 17 April issue, Arts & Ideas section.
A fully-illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with essays by Seán Kissane, Curator: Exhibitions, IMMA; Riann Coulter, Curator, F.E McWilliam Gallery and Studio; Sarah Kelleher, CACSSS Postgraduate Scholar, University College Cork; and Jason Ellis, Sculptor and conservator. Catalogues may be purchased at the museum or from our online shop.