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Arts

Martin Luther 'dwarves' installation stirs church ire

An art project devoted to Protestant reformer Martin Luther has caused outrage among some church officials. They don't like the meter-high statues of the theologian that have been installed in a town square.

Child standing in front of plastic Martin Luther figures

The plastic figures are child-sized

An art project that opened over the weekend in the eastern German town of Wittenberg has raised the hackles of some in the church, who say the colorful, plastic statues of Protestant reformer Martin Luther that have been set up in the market square make a mockery of his achievements.

The project by German artist Ottmar Hoerl is called "Martin Luther: Here I Stand," referring to what is thought to have been Luther's closing sentence in a 1521 speech after a legislative assembly had called on him to retract what he had written about reforming the Catholic Church.

Also in reference to the phrase, the art installation features 800 plastic statues of the reformer standing in the Wittenberg market square. The one-meter-high figures, in red, green, blue and black, are based on the 1821 statue by Gottfried Schadow, which normally stands on the square but has been removed for renovation work.

800 plastic Luthers are standing on Witterbergs market square

Some 800 plastic Luthers are standing on Witterberg's market square

The originals, and the plastic copies, show Luther as an older man with a copy of his translated New Testament in his hand.

"Through the serial multiplication of the Luther statue I am emphasizing his role as a translator, who, in his day, could not have been effective without the invention of printing," said Hoerl in a statement on his website.

"My installation aims to make it possible once again to understand and experience the unqualified relevance and significance of the person of Martin Luther. Very much in his own spirit, as a message for all people," added the artist.

Insult to the man

But to some theologians, the plastic statues, which have come to be popularly known as "Luther dwarves," are nothing more than an insult to the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

"This is theological and aesthetic abuse," Wittenberg theologian Friedrich Schorlemmer said in an interview with the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper. He also criticized plans to sell the "Luther messengers," the term artist Hoerl prefers, for 250 euros ($320) a piece after the exhibition closes in order to help Hoerl recoup his costs. The artist financed the project himself.

But Schorlemmer called the sales plans "a tasteless selling of indulgences."

Other critics of the exhibition include Eva Loeber of the Cranach Foundation, a group dedicated to artist Lucas Cranach, who was a close friend of Luther's and another leader of the Protestant Reformation.

"It doesn't communicate anything nor will anyone learn anything about Luther's message," she said.

Talking about him again

Nevertheless, Hoerl has his defenders from the church, such as Prelate Stephan Dorgerloh, who heads the church's "Luther Decade" to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. According to him, the figures are a way for people today to engage with Luther and learn about what he did and what he represents.

Portrait of Martin Luther

Is the art installation an insult to Luther? Some say yes

"Hoerl's modern art brings him straight into the 21st century," said Dorgerloh, adding that he opposed the theological debate that had begun around the artworks.

Hoerl first gained widespread attention with his 2003 installation of 7,000 Duerer hares on a main market square in his hometown of Nuremberg. He then took 10,000 owls to Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games. He's also well known for his gnomes, which are shown either praying or giving viewers the finger.

While the figures have displeased some, they have started debate and put a new spotlight on the religious reformer, who is controversial himself, largely due to the anti-Semitic views he adopted later in life.

The mayor of Wittenberg has called for a public discussion of the art works, asking such questions as: Is it art? Can we do that to Luther? Are we insulting him?

"Luther is coming to us," said Mayor Eckhard Naumann. "He's not staying up there on his pedestal."

The art project, which opened on August 14, runs through September 12.

Author: Kyle James (edp/dpa/kna)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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