Lothar Osterburg

A Celebration of the Small
April 13, 2024   -   June 9, 2024

“It was a severe disappointment … when some years ago, looking through some old  papers, he came across an engraving … and was obliged to concede that his  recollected vision of that town in the evening sun was nothing but a copy of that very  engraving.”  

– W.G. Sebald, “Vertigo”

Pamela Salisbury Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Lothar Osterburg’s site-wide solo exhibition, A Celebration of the Small. The exhibition will continue in the Warren Street galleries through May 12, 2024, and in the historic Carriage House through June 9, 2024. Please join us for the artists’ reception on Saturday, April 13, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM.

A Celebration of the Small, Lothar Osterburg’s third solo presentation at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, presents a collection of models, installations, and photogravures from the past twenty-five years. The exhibition continues Osterburg’s reflection on “the artist’s journey”, a theme that began with two earlier shows at PSG,  Winterwunderkammer (2021/22) and The Long Way In (2023). 

In the Warren Street gallery, he remembers his early artist studios with a series of small-scale models  nested inside found structures fitted with fisheye lenses. An integral part of Osterburg’s practice, photogravures of the interiors are shown beside each miniature studio. Throughout the remaining five floors of PSG, photogravures, installations, and models continue his exploration of nautical, historical, architectural, and literary themes: 

Waterline displays an armada of arks at an imaginary waterline suggesting a future sea level. These are paired  with a row of small photogravures featuring many of the same boats, photographed over more than twenty-five  years. Also on view is work from a series of shipwrecks created in Lake Superior’s Isle Royale National Park. In  another series, Caution, Not To Be Used For Navigation, Osterburg staged miniature lighthouses at scenic spots  along the shoreline in Acadia National Park—the title taken from a quote on a coastal map on a napkin at a  lobster pound. 

Osterburg’s fascination with boats and ships dates back to childhood vacations at the North Sea, and he has  revisited the subject regularly throughout his career. He built his first models to photograph for his  photogravures: three-dimensional boats drawn from bent copper wire, and ships carved from potatoes (which  quickly started to dry out). He has greatly expanded his materials since. 

Planets from the series Draw Me a Planet hang from the elevator in the Carriage House. Inspired by those in  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book The Little Prince, these absurd single-purpose planets depict the artist’s own  emigration story. The Divided Planet, the artist’s home planet has three volcanoes (just like The Little Prince’s),  but since Osterburg left Germany before the wall fell in 1989, his is divided by an iron curtain, with watchtowers.  The Discovery Planet symbolizes the artist’s discovery of America, quoting Christopher Columbus’s three ships.  The Interplanetary Bridge and the Water Planet refer to friendship and loneliness, respectively. Babylon reflects  the ongoing development of every neighborhood the artist has lived in and is also his first attempt at building  the tower of Babel. Finally, the Congestion Planet is the artist’s reaction to New York. 

The Tower of Babel sits on the elevator parked midway up the shaft and is visible from the third and fourth  floors. The tower is Osterburg’s idealistic symbol of the immigrant’s dream. Entirely covered in book pages found  on the streets of Brooklyn, in more than twenty-five languages, it interprets the story in Genesis not as God’s  punishment, but as a gift of diversity, scattering people across the world to develop a multitude of languages,  philosophies, and religions. 

The Piranesi series on the third floor is rooted in European architecture, art history, and the old-world tradition of  repurposing and rebuilding rather than tearing down and starting over. Originally conceived as an homage to  the “Carceri” of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (with whom the artist shares a birthday), this project includes the  model and a series of prints as well as a stop-motion animation video of Osterburg’s creative process. In the  video, we see how both the model and the photogravure plate were dramatically reworked, just as Piranesi  reworked his etchings. 

Piranesi and Babel frame Osterburg’s ongoing Yesterday’s Cities of Tomorrow series, looking at the utopian  American dream from the immigrant’s perspective in a delightful amalgam of fact and fiction. Piranesi looks into  the past … but Babel imagines the future. 

Osterburg’s New York is a great city of endless possibilities, as imagined by people from afar. Growing up in  Germany, his idea of New York was shaped by pictures in outdated library books and by his great aunt’s stories;  she’d worked in America in the 1930s. These accounts and images of forgotten or imagined times coincided with  the heyday of photogravure, the 1860s through the 1930s when great waves of immigrants came to Ellis Island. 

At the end of the Piranesi video, playing on a loop on the third floor, the Congestion Planet passes overhead  too close for comfort, Babylon (a high-rise under construction, yanked out with its root ball) rises over a Brooklyn  neighborhood.  

The Little Prince was translated more than 250 times. 

PDF Press Release

Screening, artist’s talk, and Q&A

With live theremin accompaniment composed and performed by Elizabeth Brown and a short film by Walter Hergt

A screening, artist’s talk, and Q&A session with Lothar Osterburg will be hosted at Time & Space Limited in Hudson, NY, on Saturday, May 4, at 6:00. The program will include a film by Walter Hergt offering a window into Osterburg’s creative process. One of the artist’s videos, Bookmobile For Dreamers will be accompanied by a performance on the Theremin by the composer of its score, Elizabeth Brown.

Learn More

Purchase Tickets ($10)

Sneak peek of a short film about the artist by Walter Hergt
Excerpt from Lothar Osterburg and Elizabeth brown’s collaboration, Babel, 2015.