The versatility and range of the post-modern designer is an essential characteristic. The work of Hans Hollein combines and draws from a variety of disciplines. He is not only an architect and a designer but an artist and sculptor as well. His work in each respective discipline benefits from qualities drawn from other disciplines. The concern with color and ornament can be seen in his architecture, design and art. The range of symbolism is a shared quality that is also reflected throughout his work. The transformation of human form and the manipulation of symbolic form are an integral part of his work.
Hollein’s installation designed for the Mönchengladbach City Museum which he designed, is called Die Turnstunde (The Gymnastics Lesson). It is a form of performance art that acts as sculptural symbol drawing on his abilities as architect, designer and artist. The essential arrangement of the sculpted figures of the gymnast in a variety of significant poses, and the gymnastics equipment such as wall bars, wooden horse, ropes, basketball net and rings, is architectural. This mixture of traditional ornate materials such as gold with modern neon lights, and the materials familiar to the gym, show his interest in the symbolic and aesthetic functions of material.
The various poses of the female gymnast are drawn from contemporary aerobics and related to recognizable formal compositions that have a symbolic, aesthetic, architectural and religious resonance. The drawings related to the installation show a variety of sketches of the female form made between 1958 and 1984. These Hollein has described as “representations of the ritual potential of basic postures, the symmetry of the body, and its dissolution into the landscape.”
Hollein’s drawings stand as works in their own right and they are not to be seen as merely preparatory sketches for this installation. They are on the other hand sketches that reveal a concern common to all of his work—the relation of aesthetic form to the erotic. The erotic can be seen, in this context, to include the sexual, emotional, psychological and sensual. Love and hate, yielding and demanding, soft and hard, are the contradictory emotional, sensual and poetic paradigms suggested by the metaphoric quality of the forms, materials and colors of his installation.
The use of gold and silver in the installation shows his interest in the poetic quality of material. The contrast between the warmth of the gold and the severity and purity of the aluminium, neon and white is an intended metaphoric contrast. The metaphoric and decorative use of gold can be related to Klimt’s use of gold in his paintings.
The figure of the gymnast relates an image of physical perfection to that of spiritual perfection, through the manipulation of human form as a potent cultural symbol. Hollein is interested both in the sensual, mystical and ritualistic qualities of his image.
The setting of the installation is also significant. The installation makes particular use of the space and elements of the architectural interior, a unique representation of his concerns as a Post-Modern architect, designer and artist.
Hollein, Hans. "Post-Modern Performance Art." The Post-Modern Object, edited by Dr. Andreas C. Papadakis, The Academy Group, 1987, pp. 78-81.