Josef Pillhofer

Hammurabi, 1970

Made up of irregular geometric elements, this abstract bronze figure — the cast of a sandstone sculpture — towers high above a transverse cuboid. The individual shapes are interlocked in an intricate structure, creating a vivid interplay of light and shadow. Pillhofer’s works were not based on a fixed or preconceived theme; instead, the theme would emerge gradually during the design process. This sculpture’s title refers to the famous ancient Babylonian relief of the Code of Hammurabi, which contains a depiction of the king standing before the throne of the sun god.


Josef Pillhofer, formerly a student of Wotruba’s, received the crucial impulses for his work during a one-year stay in Paris between 1950/51. He was particularly influenced by the artists who conceived and developed Cubism and the radical innovations that manifested themselves at the beginning of the century. Pillhofer worked in Ossip Zadkine’s studio, where he also met Constantin Brâncuşi and Henri Laurens.


Besides reduced or abstract figures, Pillhofer’s oeuvre also contains largely realistic works, which he created in parallel. Pillhofer explains this apparent contradiction with his close attachment to nature and his constant, intensive engagement with the latter. According to the artist, this stylistic dichotomy results from the way he approaches the fundamental problem of spatiality and tectonics, which he views from different perspectives. In his realistic works, he approaches natural forms from their external appearance; in his abstract creations, he starts out from their inside, their structure. His search for general design principles is not based on a preconceived topic – the topic rather develops during the creative act and then determines the title of the sculpture through an associative process.


The bronze figure of Hammurabi – the cast of a sandstone sculpture – consists of irregular geometrical elements that are stacked on top of a rectangular stone block placed lengthwise on the ground. The individual forms are not simply strung together according to an additive principle, but are fitted together and interlinked within a complicated ordered structure. The result is a carefully obtained balance of volumes, outer lines that alternately project or are set back in a highly differentiated pattern, and a vivid interplay of light and shadow. The title refers to the famous relief of the Codex Hammurabi from ancient Babylon, today on display at the Louvre in Paris, showing the king before the throne of the sun god.


Author: Gudrun Danzer

Plan & Overview: Position 7

Owner: [Neue Galerie at the Universalmuseum Joanneum]

Biography:Josef Pillhofer

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