Belling’s Bot: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re taking a closer look at Rudolf Belling’s Sculpture 23 (1923). Crafted from brass, this radiant, robotic head is a whimsical delight. From its sleek skull to its thick, slightly parted lips, Belling has forged a brassy jumble of shapes and parts to create a brilliant work of art. 

The mismatched eyes, in particular, give this bot a mischievous vibe. Is 23 giving us a wink? Peering deeply into our souls? Dreaming of electric sheep? Or something entirely different? You decide!

Sculpture 23 (closeup eyes; 1923) by Rudolf Belling, Minneapolis Institute of Art
Photo by cjverb (2018)

Born in Berlin, Rudolf Belling (1886-1972) began his career as a commercial artist. In 1911, at age 25, he enrolled in the Kunstakademie (art academy) in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Within seven years, he co-founded the Novembergruppe, a society of German artists and architects that fostered artistic collaboration and promotion of the arts via lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and cinema. During the 1920s, Belling was at the height of his career. He collaborated on a variety of high profile commercial projects, taught art, and continued to create his gorgeous sculptures, including Sculpture 23.

Novembergruppe (possibly Rudolf Belling in hat on right) Preparing for the Great Berlin Art Exhibition (1924), Bundesarchive, Wikimedia Commons

However, in the 1930s his professional career suffered a serious blow when the Nazis rose to power. Belling lost an academic position and art that was once revered was boycotted. In 1937, he fled to Istanbul and was appointed to the faculty at the fine arts academy. Belling was forced to leave many of his works behind in Germany. Later that same year, the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), a Nazi-sponsored exhibition, took place in Munich. Art deemed unhealthy and disgusting was put on display for the public to ridicule and mock. Belling’s once popular, Dreiklang (Triad; 1919) and Kopf in Messing (Head in Brass; 1925) were included in the exhibition.

Less than two blocks away, Belling’s bronze sculpture, Max Schmeling (1929) was also put on display, but in a separate, Nazi-approved exhibition glorifying German art and the “Aryan race”. The press and public took notice. Was Belling to be lauded or maligned? The Nazis quietly withdrew his “degenerative art” from the Entartete Kunst leaving Belling uncertain of its fate. The Nazis had a reputation for destroying art (i.e., melting down, burning) that did not meet their approval. To make matters worse, Belling’s Berlin workshop and home were bombed in 1944. Sometime after the war, Belling learned Dreiklang and Kopf in Messing had been tucked away at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

In 1966, Belling returned to Germany at the age of 80. He settled in Krailling located just outside of Munich. One of his final works was commissioned by the 1972 Olympics, located in Munich. Unfortunately, Belling died before the unveiling of his Blütenmotiv als Friedenssymbol (Flower Motif as a Peace Symbol; 1972). The bronze sculpture was nicknamed Schuttblume (rubble flower) and is located in Olympic Park in Munich.

A sculptor, printmaker, designer, photographer and filmmaker, the essence of Rudolf Belling’s art is “personified” in Sculpture 23…clever, eclectic, and modern. Click on this Rudolf Belling video clip, courtesy of the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for a brief tour of his work.

Fun Art-y Fact:  In the 1920s, the OLEX oil company commissioned Rudolf Belling along with Alfred Gellhorn and Martin Knauthe to design the first gas stations in Germany. Sculpture 23 was the inspiration for this domed service center. Note the similarities?

If you’d like to learn more about other German artists and their art labeled degenerate by the Nazis, click on Museum Bites: Bronzed, Museum Bites: The Avenger, and Museum Bites: Comfort Quick Bite. Finally, I wanted to share an animated short I came across while researching Rudolf Belling. Our good friend Sculpture 23 has the starring role. Click on this Sculpture 23 link and have a look-see.

That’s a wrap! I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind and take care 🙂

Cover photo by Comfreak, courtesy of Pixabay.


Britannica: Novembergruppe

Kröller-Müller Museum: Sculpture 23 (1923) by Rudolf Belling

MOMA: Sculpture 23 (1923) by Rudolf Belling

Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien: Sculpture 23 (1923) by Rudolf Belling


Skulptuur 23 by Sophie Kaars Sijpesteijn

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Rudolf Belling

The Architect’s Newspaper: Rudolf Belling

Thomas Michel Contemporary Art: Rudolf Belling

Wikimedia Commons: Rudolf Belling

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