German-Jewish Conceptual artist and sociologist Charlotte Posenenske is best known for her serial Minimalist works. She began as an abstract painter but in 1964 stopped painting and moved from two dimensional art into the construction of sculptures and three-dimensional objects. She embraced geometry and the use of industrial materials in her works. She was an artist for almost twelve years between 1959 and 1968 before abandoning her art career to study for a Ph.D. in sociology because of her concern with social inequality. “It is difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that art can contribute nothing to solving urgent social problems.”
As a young girl Posenenske suffered great traumas because her Jewish father committed suicide during World War II when she was nine years old. In 1941, when she was eleven years old, she went into hiding to avoid Nazi persecution.
She began her studies in painting in 1951 at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, which introduced her to Mondrian and the principles of Soviet Constructivism. In the 1950s, Posenenske was a set and costume designer for theater and opera productions. She created murals for a community center and for an elementary school near Frankfurt. In 1959, she participated in her first exhibition in Kassel and in 1961 had her first solo show in Frankfurt.
Between 1966 and 1967 she made three series of reliefs, comprised of thin metal sheets – mostly aluminum – that were painted with industrial varnish. They were often folded or curved. Her best-known work, “Vierkantrohre Serie D” (Square Tubes Series D), consisted of rectilinear steel tubes and angled connecting pieces, that could be combined in different ways. The tubes themselves resembled industrial air ducts.
This series has a cardboard counterpart, “Vierkantrohre Serie DW” (Square Tubes Series DW), and both series were designed to be configured in any number of ways to produce various sculptural forms. She intended for this to be collaborative, participatory art with the public engaging with and reconfiguring her pieces into any shapes they wanted. These sheet metal or cardboard modular sculptures were designed to be easily and cheaply reproduced. Posenenske felt that art should be affordable and functional.
In the last two years of art making, she developed five industrially fabricated, mass-produced modular, geometric sculptures. She worked in unlimited editions and considered her designs as prototypes for mass production. She did not want her works to be considered “rarified objects.”
A year before her death she authorized her estate to sell modern reconstructions of her sculptures. While her original pieces are considered “Prototypes” and can only be purchased by public institutions, the works which are in continuous production are not numbered and are still being sold at the cost of production plus overhead. In this way, Posenenske managed to avoid being part of the troubling commercial art market.
Her work has been the subject of many solo exhibitions including ones in Berlin, Tokyo, New York, and various cities in Germany. Her work was featured in the 2011 Istanbul Biennial and in the 2012 Bienal Sao Paulo.
Her first U.S. retrospective contained more than one hundred fabricated elements and modular sculptures as well as drawings and wall reliefs. It was held at Dia: Beacon New York and then traveled to Barcelona, Dusseldorf, and Luxembourg through 2021
Her work is in the permanent collections of many institutions, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Centre Pompidou, and Tate Modern among others.