Inge Mahn

Selected Works


plaster over wood
230 x 600 x 120 cm.; 90 1/2 x 236 1/4 x 47 1/4 in.
Installation view: Akademie-Galerie - Die Neue Sammlung, Düsseldorf, 2015
Photo: Hye-Mi Kim

"The sculptress' participation in documenta 5, conceived by Harald Szeemann, showed that Inge Mahn's work belonged in this „Societal Anti-Form“ common to Concept Art and Arte Povera. In the sculpture shown then in Kassel - Classroom: eight benches with desks and a rostrum - perhaps the most important of the above-named categories was missing: the work was not set in relation to any element of its architectonic environs, but was transportable for varied exhibition situations. It altered and alienated, not the spatial surroundings themselves, but a societal institution: the hierarchical structure of learning became, in its plaster summation even more archaic: the individual mythology showed here, in biographical exegesis, a mythos of the everyday. In a certain way, the architectonic environment was taken into account: a school situation within the 'documenta' was an indication of the problematics of 'teaching' and 'learning' art, and offered itself ironically as an absurd 'visitors' school' in the attic."

S. von Wiese, 'Poetic Interventions: Inge Mahn's sculptural installations', in Inge Mahn: Gegenstände/Objects, Berlin: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 1985, p. 152

1m3 Nachbarschaft

plaster, metal, tape

"In 1976, Inge Mahn placed a 1-cubic-meter block of white plaster bricks in the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle. This was the maximal size allowed for a sculpture in the exhibition Nachbarnschaft (Neighbourhood), to which all the city's artists were invited. Fenced off by fluttering construction ribbons, the work was not just about the prescribed size parameter. The artist also brought her own working principle into the picture: Inge Mahn's artistic work is a permanent construction site. This applies equally on the material, intellectual and aesthetic levels. The work also cannot be subsumed under any one style: it is diametrically opposed to the rules of the game and the rules of art."

S. von Wiese, 'Construction Sites. On the sculptural oeuvre of Inge Mahn', in Inge Mahn: Baustellen/Construction Sites, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2011, p. 5


plaster, chain, bowls, in four parts
each: 52 x 41 x 51 cm.; 20 1/2 x 16 1/8 x 20 1/8 in.
Photo: def image

"The arc of Inge Mahn's work from 1979 to 1986 curves elliptically and dialectically around two artistic foundations: addition and imitation in the context of a social ambient thereby reflected and commented upon. That can be a petrol station as easily as a factory hall or museum. If Duchamp put the readymade in the museum, making the museal aura a visible constituent of the artwork, now, in reverse, the readymade character of a given situation was cracked by an artistic act."

S. von Wiese, 'Poetic Interventions: Inge Mahn's sculptural installations', in Inge Mahn: Gegenstände/Objects, Berlin: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 1985, p. 152


plaster over wood
overall: 206 x 742 x 450 cm.; 81 1/8 x 292 1/8 x 177 1/8 in.
columns: each ca. 206 x 50 x 50 cm.; 81 1/8 x 19 3/4 x 19 3/4 in.
table: 82 x 535 x 146 cm.; 32 1/4 x 210 5/8 x 57 1/2 in.
Photo: def image

The large scale installation Mahnmahl-Mahnmal consists of seven man-high columns that surround a table set with a tablecloth and three cakes. Each element is coated in plaster, conveying a raw and fragile quality to the entire installation, while covering it with white tones. The scene presents an official banquet where columns – alluding to soldiers due to their steel helmet shaped-hats – seemingly guard the solid-looking delicacies. Although lacking facial expression, the "soldiers" are characterised by a stern attitude that emphasises the ridiculous seriousness of performing their task, more broadly denouncing the ambient absurdity within authoritarian systems. This technique of anthropomorphising lifeless items, blurring the distinction between object and subject, recurs in Mahn’s work.

Mahnmahl-Mahnmal refers to the German expression for the term "memorial" as well as "memorial dinner", underlining an inherent historic statement, while simultaneously playing with the evident affinity with the artist’s surname. With narrative and subjective references, the installation contradicts the strict minimalism of its time and prefigures the social and historical concerns that have come to characterise Mahn’s practice.

Roter Teppich

plaster, red coconut fiber carpet
width: 67 cm.; 26 3/8 in.

"Roter Teppich, 1980 is a spatial sculpture, an energetic line running through the exhibition halls – first at Mahn's solo exhibition at Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, then at Art Basel.
For reasons of content alone, Mahn's otherwise consistently white color spectrum was broadened: the color „red“ was a constant, unchanging emblem of sovereignty spanning the humble ground, a color-symbol whose colorful identity had to be maintained. The fact that the carpet here climbs the walls makes an imaginary walk along it into an ascension of potentates. The red carpet line becomes independent, loses its function, turns into a piece of art, a sculpture in space. The putative solemnity of the unfurled carpet is presented as a comedy number."

S. von Wiese, 'Red Carpet', in Inge Mahn: Baustellen/Construction Sites, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2011, p. 33

Pfeiler und Boote

mixed media
pillar, each: 25 x 40 x 450 cm.; 9 7/8 x 15 3/4 x 177 1/8 in.
boat, each: 230 x 80 x 70 cm.; 90 1/2 x 31 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.

"The things which I express are things which I have noticed. You can call them 'assertions'. They are formulations, observations, but can also be questions. My assertion is not dogmatic, it is an intermediate storage place, and it can be dismantled again. It is made, made by hand and easily destroyed. You have an idea, you place it there and you are amazed at how independently and uniquely such a fomulation behaves, although it is only one of many. There are assertions which are unsuitable, some are unsure of themselves, some are silly, and they are all possible, like qualities that are constantly present, but never so exclusively. If your thoughts are right, then the form for the thing is also right, like words that you put together to form a sentence with contents. The contents can be read by a person who wants to do so; if s/he does not care to do so, emotions are transmitted and that is enough, too."

I. Mahn, 'Questions to Inge Mahn from Harald Szeemann (1990)', in Inge Mahn: Baustellen/Construction Sites, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2011, p. 55


each: 25 x 400 cm.; 9 7/8 x 157 1/2 in.

"For example, the pillars, before they became supporting elements of construction, were a tree, plant. If five pillars, interlocked and leaning against each other, hold each other up, then they are no longer props, they are plants, a weft, a bouquet. Architectural elements, out of context, lose their function and are given new co-ordinates in space, new content, new form, and become autonomous sculpture."

I. Mahn quoted by S. von Wiese, 'Poetic Interventions: Inge Mahn's sculptural installations', in Inge Mahn: Gegenstände/Objects, Berlin: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, 1985, p. 152

Gewendelte Treppe

plaster over metal
490 x 120 cm.; 192 7/8 x 47 1/4 in.

"Inge Mahn's sculptures – whether placed as things in a room or installed as an attack on same – are subversive. They tackle and intervene with givens and always bring opposites to play. They take the not-said, the excluded, the anxiety-provoking, the subjective, the lunatic, and turn them inside out, bring them to light – to the space on the surface. Fundamental certainties become questionable in both a material-sculptural and a metaphorical sense. To be robbed of certainties is not at all "nice". The moment of balance is charged with tension and can be maintained only with tenacity. The power of objectivity is crazy. [...] The matter at hand deepens into a poetic sojourn that actually promises just one certainty: that it could be repeated, that nothing is lost. Plaster in the cast keeps its shape longer than consciousness keeps its balance in a provisional state. Supple thought must continually rediscover itself anew, in a new form."

A. Stepken, 'Solution without End (1994)', in Inge Mahn: Baustellen/Construction Sites, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2011, p. 75


mixed media
41 x 27 x 23 cm.; 16 1/8 x 10 5/8 x 9 in.

"I am looking for things I have either lost or misplaced, and I do that often. I try to keep track of my thoughts and to understand. Once I have understood something, I can express it and hope that someone can get something out of the observation, and if this has a positive effect, then that is not bad."

I. Mahn, 'Questions to Inge Mahn from Harald Szeemann (1990)', in Inge Mahn: Baustellen/Construction Sites, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2011, p. 57


mixed media
98 x 81 cm.; 38 5/8 x 31 7/8 in.

"In general, kinetics – motion – plays a large role in a body of work in constant transformation; stasis is the exception here. In these sculptures, the forms slide, tip, spin or climb up and down. Often the particular mode of construction is responsible for the drive and motion, but often there are also built-in motors. Along with material kinetics, spiritual motion appears repeatedly in the work. Sometimes sculptures are conceptually, and actually, involved in actions and processes."

S. von Wiese, 'Construction Sites. On the sculptural oeuvre of Inge Mahn', in Inge Mahn: Baustellen/Construction Sites, Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2011, p. 5

Fallende Kreuze

plaster over wood, in fourteen parts
max. 210 x 195 x 15 cm.; 82 5/8 x 76 3/4 x 5 7/8 in.
Photo: Charles Duprat

The installation Fallende Kreuze (Falling Crosses), initially created in 1991, consists of an arrangement of white crosses floating weightlessly in the room. Some lean on the ground and seem to have tumbled while others almost reach the ceiling, in a bold balancing act over the abyss. Their instability is unsettling, yet a more playful impression emanates from the confusion of forms. The shape of the cross, a highly connoted symbol in sacral culture, immediately brings a broad imagery to mind. But it is rather the human scale of the crosses that Mahn sets into focus. Like bodies, the crosses spread their arms and dash through the gallery, liberating a sense of dynamic and gravitational autonomy.

Newly constructed for each exhibition space and thus emphasising Mahn's site specific approach, Fallende Kreuze dominates its surrounding and demands a direct interaction with the visitor. Mahn follows an open practice that relies on dialogues with specific environments as well as the viewer – momentarily activating her works through a spatial encounter.