Review: Hermann Obrist at the Henry Moore Institute

Last week a comprehensive exhibition on Hermann Obrist (1862 – 1927) opened at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Hermann Obrist: Art Nouveau Sculptor is the first UK exhibition of Obrist’s work and it showcases the range of his extraordinary output, bringing together two-dimensional drawings, photos, letters, source illustrations, embroidery and sculpture.

Beginning with a display of his inspirations and personal musings, the exhibition takes you on a journey from Obrist’s inner workings to the realisation of his concepts. A postcard depicting a shell is reflected by a sculpture in plasticine, demonstrating Obrist’s process and highlighting the importance of nature in his work. Both the natural and the spiritual worlds inform Obrist’s work: he studied medicine and was affected from an early age by supernatural visions.

The first room contains Obrist’s studies and embroidery, decorated with his notorious ‘whiplash’ curves, and leads through to the next space. Tall and bright, the second room provides the perfect showcase for Obrist’s fantastical sculptures, which twist and spiral in a style reminiscent of Antoni Gaudi, a contemporary of Obrist’s.

The exhibition contains almost every surviving piece from Obrist’s output and offers a compelling insight into the artist’s vision, revealing him as a man of many skills who produced a significant body of work. The Henry Moore Institute is also involved in a collaborative research exercise, designed to bring Obrist back into the public consciousness as an artist of note.

Hermann Obrist: Art Nouveau Sculptor is accompanied by an exhibition on the Mezzanine Gallery of Alina Szapocznikow’s (1926 – 73) work. ‘Out of My Mouth: The Photosculptures of Alina Szapocznikow’ is a collection of equally improbable sculptures, though in this case they are crafted from chewing gum and captured for posterity in black and white photos.

Hermann Obrist: Art Nouveau Sculptor
runs until 29 August at Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. The Institute is open daily and entry is free. For more information visit

Interested in sculpture? Read our current issue or from our archives, Hybrid Sculpture (2008) at the Henry Moore Institute.

Hermann Obrist
Model for a hill-top church
Plaster cast
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (Museum of Design Zurich) /
Arts and Crafts Collection / Zurich University of Arts
Photo: Heinrich Helfenstein ©ZHdK

Hermann Obrist
Movement (detail)
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Kunstgewerbesammlung.
Photo: Heinrich Helfenstein © ZHdK