A heartfelt farewell to Franz Staehler


Stefano Pirovano  -  May 15, 2018

Franz Staehler passed away last Saturday, in a hospital in Frankfurt. At the end, the illness he had always been living with defeated his body, yet not his soul.

Franz Staehler passed away, but he will certainly keep on living through his artworks, which remain, and endure because they are, like the mind who generated them, strong, absolute, flexible, ambitiously reaching towards the sky.

Staehler however wasn’t the kind of artist you would see at fairs, Biennales, or in the art galleries which pump money in either case. We are not arguing that the art market is evil, but as Wade Guyton reminded us just before the last art speculative bubble popped ‘there is the misconception that art and the market are closer than they actually are.’ And they don’t necessarily go hand in hand would probably add the extraordinary artist that rests next to his brother in the little cemetery of Auvers. Clearly Staehler cared about the former and didn’t chase the latter. Thus, there are no art dealers mentioned in this story, and this is indeed the first important message the artist left to whoever dives into the art sea and tries to swim without a lifebuoy. Artistic expression doesn’t have owners, and doesn’t want to. At the end of the day, our duty is not to posses it, but to recognize and preserve it so that the energy that arises could then generate new energies.

Born in 1956 in Niederzeuzheim, a few hours by car from pivotal cities for German contemporary art such as Düsseldorf and Kassel, since the mid-1970s Staehler has worked mainly in Italy, without however giving up that instinctive need to give shape to human passions which characterises those artists, from Albrecht Dürer to Joseph Beuys, coming from this part of the world (at least on a visual level). It only happened that in Italy German Expressionism – a modern category which over the years has become meta-historical – has acquired that lightness that Italo Calvino has so well explained in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Staehler has rooted in this lightness the huge amphoras which stand out against the sky, like elegant African giraffe, or the vertiginous tulips, which dangerously sway in the wind but never break. Or else, with this lightness he has moulded bricks and rounded their corners, in order to make them fluid and flowing like reeds which are used to shape the space, or to leave mysterious traces. They are traces left by a master who has always preferred examples over teachings, and whose superhuman force lay in his humbleness.

You can find those like Staehler – from Giuliano Mauri to Valeriano Trubbiani, just to mention a few – only if you know how to see them; but once you see them then you discover they were there, close to you, accessible like their artworks. Staehler’s places are the Collezione Rossini in Briosco, which possibly preserves the largest corpus of works available to the public, but also the Fattoria la Loggia in San Casciano Val di Pesa, or Palazzo Taffini in Savigliano (Turin), where Staehler has placed some of his last sculptures. Other works are spread in Germany, but also in France, Switzerland, United States. The precise map of Staehler’s path is yet to be drawn and navigated. It will be tomorrow’s job. As you may have grasped by now, this artist worried more about the work than its storytelling and promotion, hence taking the risk of entrusting historians the task to decide whether and how much to talk about him. This is an extremely significant act in today’s art world, which is in constant need for self-celebration and always keen on writing today, somehow, tomorrow’s history. Yet, selfishness is so weak before the passing time… Right now however let’s remember this man and the message he left us.