Niall Hobhouse, curator of Josephsohn/Märkli A Conjunction, talks about the complex creative relationship between artist Hans Josephsohn and architect Peter Märkli
Josephsohn/Märkli A Conjunction, which opened at Hauser & Wirth Somerset this week, is curated by Niall Hobhouse of Drawing Matter. It traces the intensive creative relationship and sometime collaboration between the late Swiss sculptor Hans Josephsohn (1920-2012) and the Swiss architect Peter Märkli (born 1953). The exhibition brings together a selection of Josephsohn’s sculptures produced throughout his 60-year artistic career alongside a series of drawings by Märkli. The two men’s relationship was cemented when Märkli designed and built La Congiunta to house Josephsohn’s sculptures in Giornico, Switzerland in 1992. It was a visit by Hobhouse to La Congiunta that provided the original inspiration for the exhibition.
You date the idea for the exhibition to a visit 20 years ago to La Congiunta. What was it about that visit that so affected you?
It was witnessing the intensity of Peter Märkli’s understanding of Josephsohn’s sculptures, revealed through the consideration which he gives to their display. The building is described as a ‘house’ for the reliefs and half figures – a very narrow brief, but one rigorously followed!
The exhibition shows an interplay between their work. Do we know much about their relationship? Have they written or spoken about it in the past?
Remarkably little! That is what became the argument for doing the exhibition in this way – their dialogue can only be explored easily in purely visual terms. Indeed I learnt only yesterday, from Hans’s widow Verena, that in all the years of knowing each other, they always used the formal mode of address with each other.
What insight do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibition?
That it can be productive to understand process, and not look only through its outcomes; that ‘good’ process is often itself indirect and inefficient. Also that architects can learn from other creative disciplines – if they are prepared to acknowledge and look carefully at them. The good ones always have!
Josephsohn’s sculptures maintain some of the directness of a sketch, a quality that is also seen in Märkli’s drawings.
Yes, there is a sense in which even the finished works are understood by both men as only ever provisional in form.
Do you also include preparatory studies in the exhibition?
We have included study drawings by Josephsohn and the Congiunta sketchbooks by Märkli. These are displayed in vitrines as we took the decision to avoid framing material that was intended only for their own use.
The show includes many works from both men that are iterations on the same theme.
This is the key to both of their working methods – establishing a highly specific formal problem and then, with fiendish concentration, experimenting as wildly as they can but within that specific frame: a narrow brief, again, I guess.
What similarities do you see between their bodies of work?
A desire to move past the specific, whether people or building types, which are only ever points of departure.
Niall Hobhouse is a writer, critic and collector, and principal of Drawing Matter