The artist Leon Löwentraut (born 1998) was awarded the Ernst Barlach Prize for Visual Arts 2023 on December 1, 2023. The prize, given by the Ernst Barlach Society Hamburg since 1995, aims to highlight particularly innovative artistic positions. The jury, chaired by Dr. Jürgen Doppelstein, museum director and chairman of the Ernst Barlach Society, unanimously chose 25-year-old Leon Löwentraut.
The ceremonial award ceremony will take place on December 1, 2023, at 7:00 p.m. at the Barlach Art Museum in Wedel. Concurrently with the award, the Ernst Barlach Society Hamburg honors the artist with a retrospective exhibition, providing insight into the visual worlds of Leon Löwentraut until January 28, 2024. The museum showcases a cross-section of his work on three floors, presenting over 70 pieces, including paintings, graphic editions, sculptures, and charcoal drawings.
Dr. Jürgen Doppelstein, museum director and chairman of the Ernst Barlach Society, explains, "Leon Löwentraut's works and his strongly media-based public communication have received little attention from traditional art criticism. We believe it is time for a change in perspective." Regarding the relevance of Löwentraut's work, he emphasizes, "Leon Löwentraut depicts the modern individual in its complete isolation and fragmentation. Simultaneously, he turns this individual into a profound mystery. His depictions of robotic figures feel like messages from a distant, enigmatic world. They are apocalyptic and utopian at the same time, oscillating between gestural, representational, abstract, ornamental, and provocatively explosive in color.
With its contradictory promise of uniqueness, Löwentraut stages his art as part of virtual reality. At the same time, he amplifies the public aspect of the private through live acts and social media campaigns. He plays with the idea that the seemingly unique, authentic, and real is itself a construct, and only his art may be a perhaps final, desirable sanctuary. In this context, the figures often appear distracted and fleeting, grotesque and awkward, fragile and delicate, and not infrequently, fearful.
Löwentraut's figures are trapped in a flood of images, signs, and symbols that restrict their mobility and escape options. They often seem like masked loners in a crowded room. The feeling of loneliness amid overcrowding and incomprehensibility is the starting point for Leon Löwentraut's artistic creation." Doppelstein highlights, "He touches a nerve of the present and particularly captivates younger people with his art."
He continues, "Of course, Löwentraut is also steeped in an artistic and aesthetic heritage that all young artists must confront. There is always a tradition that breaks through; the question is how to not only overcome but reinterpret traditions.
For example, the Abstract Expressionism of Willem de Kooning was particularly characterized by a gestural and expressive handwriting. His works were always a confrontation with abstraction and the constantly changing arrangement of human figures in the process of dissolution. The non-completion of each individual painting became an important principle. Thus, the paintings of Leon Löwentraut also sometimes appear strangely unfinished, often interrupted sketchily in the midst of the painting process, suggesting that the artist might continue working on the piece tomorrow or leave the completion entirely to the viewers themselves."