Senkrechter Auszug aus der Urzelle

Fritz Hartlauer, 1982/84

Fritz Hartlauer was interested in visualising the fundamental principles of organic and inanimate nature. To this purpose, he analysed the human being within its general context and developed what he called the primal cell system. The basic element of this primal cell is the square, whose shape can be clearly identified on this stele. Beyond this, a large number of individual geometric shapes are created by doubling and interlocking them. The smooth, shiny material of the cast aluminium plates emphasises the regularity and mathematical nature of this work, so that it stands in stark contrast to its natural surroundings.

Image Credits


Gudrun Danzer

Location on map


Universalmuseum Joanneum

Artist biography

Fritz Hartlauer

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About the sculpture

Fritz Hartlauer’s work occupies a unique position within modern Austrian art, with very few reference points. While most of the protagonists of modern Austrian art have remained attached to the abstraction of nature – ultimately to figuration – Hartlauer during the 1950s developed a purely abstract geometric system of order. In 1995, Peter Weibel revealed parallels to serial sculpture and the Minimal Art of the 1960s in Hartlauer’s work and pointed out certain scientific discoveries relating to the basic principles of formal growth in nature (chaos theory and fractals) that Hartlauer’s vanguard pieces effectively anticipated. 

Interestingly, Hartlauer came from a completely different background: he was interested in C. G. Jung’s model of archetypes, comparative religious studies and metaphysics. He was searching for a way to make the universal human frame of reference visible, together with the fundamental principles of organic and inanimate nature. The formal analysis and geometrisation of the human head led him to a dynamic-symmetrical system consisting of constructive basic elements, which he referred to as the “primal cell system” and expressed in drawings, reliefs and sculptures. The basic element of the “primal cell” is the square, from which the octagon and the cross derive when another square is placed over a corner.

The stele “Senkrechter Auszug aus der Urzelle“ ("Vertical extract from the primal cell") is composed from four identical reliefs executed on rectangles that rest on their narrow end and together form a square base. An intricate network of lines produces a wealth of individual geometric shapes that derive from doubling and combining the basic elements. Moving upwards, the design disintegrates into smaller and smaller parts and becomes increasingly dense. The smooth, shiny material of the cast aluminium slabs adds to the regular, mathematical nature of this work, which is also emphasised by its natural surroundings.