Rudolf Bott and Johannes Nagel

“Asymptote” is the name that Rosemarie Jäger has given to her outstanding exhibition on the subject of the vessel.

“Asymptote”: the Rosemarie Jäger Gallery has chosen an unusual title for its presentation of works by two artists who could hardly be more different from each other. In mathematics, an asymptote is a line toward which a curve comes infinitely closer yet never reaches. In layman’s terms, we are talking about two lines that may meet perhaps at an infinitely distant time or place, but never in the here and now.

Galerie Rosemarie Jäger, Rudolf Bott

Works by Rudolf Bott in the exhibition “Asymptote” in the Galerie Rosemarie Jäger, photo Johannes Nagel.

This is exactly the case with Rudolf Bott and Johannes Nagel. Both men share a profound intellectual involvement with the subject of the vessel, so in this respect they are very close. But they approach the realization of their vessels very differently.

On the one hand, there is Johannes Nagel (*1979), who neither turns nor builds his ceramic vessels. Instead, he “digs” them. With his bare hands, Nagel digs cavities in boxes filled with sand, which he then fills with porcelain.

Over the years, the hollows in the sand have evolved into complex tunnel systems. The artist cannot see these tunnels while he creates them because his hands grope in the darkness below the sand’s surface. The examining eye, which is so important in this craft, can evaluate the porcelain artifact only after it has been uncovered. The resulting shapes seem to have grown organically. At the same time, Nagel plays with the loss of control: he cannot know in advance exactly how and where the individual parts will ultimately meet.

Johannes Nagel, Galerie Rosemarie Jäger

Ceramic sculpture by Johannes Nagel. Photo Johannes Nagel.

Nagel’s approach reverses the usual way of making ceramics. Rather than building up, he takes away. This is similar to the work of a printmaker, who begins by cutting into the blank printing block, excising the lines that will later comprise the image. Nagel doesn’t touch his vases during their creation, but one can immediately sense the hand that dug the hollow form.

Traces of fingers may remain in a few places, but never too obviously. The fingermarks seem more like frozen movements or burned-in gestures that capture the creative act. Nagel’s vessels are to be understood as commentaries on the history of ceramics. Archetypal elements such as silhouettes or flower-shaped openings assure that they are always immediately recognizable as vases. Nevertheless, they literally “intervene” (i.e., “come between”), rethinking the tradition and materializing the concept of “it can also be done differently.”

Rudolf Bott (*1956) pursues a very different approach. He, too, is a thinker whose vessels prompt us – or rather compel us – to think deeply about their use. Bott says that actions must never be allowed to become lapidary, i.e., overly concise. His vessels stand entirely for themselves; their creator recedes behind them to the point of invisibility, which is expressed in mirrored, polished surfaces that reveal no traces of how they were crafted, but are enveloped by an aura of sublimity. Some objects appear to be nonutilitarian sculptures, but they always conceal a mysterious mechanism that leads to a hidden interior and transforms the seemingly functionless sculpture into a usable canister. Thus, all of Rudolf Bott’s objects are definitely meant to be used, yet at the same time they embody constructed, thought-provoking impulses inviting us to reconsider how we deal with physical objects.

Rudolf Bott und Johannes Nagel

Vessel sculptures by Rudolf Bott and Johannes Nagel. Photo Johannes Nagel.

Rudolf Bott understands silversmithing as “placing a detail in space,” but this placing has little to do with silver per se: he also works, for example, with aluminum, wood, hematite or rock crystal. His chalice of rock crystal is substantial, yet simultaneously transcendent, a massive and heavy nothingness atop a surprisingly strong base. The goblet seems to have been cut from a solid block of ice. Light penetrates it from all sides. When a beverage is poured in, the fluid seems to float inside the container.

The vessel itself tells nothing about its origin or its creators. Rather than trying to radiate a personal story or any specific character, Rudolf Bott intends to create something universal that points beyond the individual person.

  • Rudolf Bott and Johannes Nagel:
    Galerie Rosemarie Jäger
    Wintergasse 13
    65239 Hochheim
  • The exhibition runs until October 16, 2021, at the Galerie Rosemarie Jäger,
    The gallery will be represented at Cologne Fine Art & Design in Cologne from November 17 to 21.
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