Fifteen years of sculpture network - Lone Warriors, Declarations of Love, and the Mathematics of the Network

2019 was a special year for the association and its founder - sculpture network celebrated its 15th birthday and Ralf Kirberg his 80th birthday. On this special double anniversary, we traveled in seven-league boots through the history of the network and collected individual highlights, personal memories, and important statements of the years together.

2004 to 2009 - from zero to 500 members in the first five years

The network officially began at the founding ceremony at the UdK Berlin in 2004. The year before, the sculptor Hartmut Stielow and the art lover Ralf Kirberg had met rather accidentally in the USA. The artist quickly inspired the collector with an idea to connect the various circles of three-dimensional art in a network - galleries and museums, collectors and art lovers, sculptors and sculptors. 

"From that moment on, we had a common goal: cross-border support for the idea of three-dimensional art.‚ÄĚ -Ralf Kirberg in his declaration of love to sculpture

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sculpture network connects across borders (Dialogue in Strömstad 2016)


Initially, the network was founded as the European representation of the US organization, International Sculpture Center. In 2005, the members decided to become independent and rename the association sculpture network. The first website went online and within 12 months the network had gained 100 members all over Europe. 

In 2006, a valuable partnership began with the Waldemar Bonsels Foundation. This partnership has lasted to this day and provided the association with a financial, personal, and spatial basis in Pöcking near Munich. Therefore the network, for its organisational interests that were then based on purely honourary work, could bring the cultural manager, Isabelle Henn, on board. The newsletter was sent out in three languages for the first time, and at the association's fourth international meeting in Warsaw, visitors could listen to the moving lecture by the internationally renowned Polish artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017).

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Ralf Kirberg and Isabelle Henn at artmuc 2016. Photo: Timian Hopf


Another highlight the following year was the International Forum in Barcelona. In buildup to the meeting, the first art journey of the association took place. The largest event of the network to date, enabled 200 participants from 14 countries to exchange ideas across borders. Among the participants was the Spanish sculptor and cultural manager Beatriz Blanch, who from then on played a prominent role in shaping sculpture network on many levels- in her role as coordinator, board member, and employee. In addition to the international meetings, six national Dialogues took place in individual regions. 

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Beatriz Blanch at a coordinators' and board meeting 2015


The database of international invitations to tender went online in 2008, not only to facilitate local networking, but above all to make it easier for artists to expand their professional contacts. The Opportunities page, researched worldwide and specializing in three-dimensional art, remains one of the key points of our website. In the same year we welcomed the 500th member and value our contacts in 27 countries.

"sculpture network is one of the most important lone fighter support organizations." 
-Professor Robert Kudielka, Director of the Visual Arts Department of the Akademie der K√ľnste Berlin in his speech on the occasion of the association's fifth anniversary

The five-year anniversary was celebrated in 2009 with a glittering celebration. Over 300 guests attended the sculpture workshops of the Berufsverband Bildender K√ľnstler*innen in Berlin and the new, and still existing, logo was unveiled. The art historian, Prof. Robert Kudielka, heralded the coming years with a very fitting description of the network as a lone fighter support organisation.

Art network with nodes - the years 2010 to 2014

Networking lone fighters also flourished in 2010 with the first official start (at that time still new year's brunch). More than 600 participants celebrated this special sculpture festival on the same day in 19 different locations. In Autumn, 30 artists from all over Europe showed their works at a joint exhibition in Turin and a remarkable catalogue captured the event in words and images. We owe the exhibition to Prof. Rob Ward, sculptor and head of the Sculpture Department at the University of Leeds, a board member from 2008 to 2011 who opened important doors in the international art scene and did valuable work on the development of the network's content.

In 2011, sculpture network reached another important milestone: for the first time, the association had more than 1000 members. In addition to two sculpture symposia, the International Forum in Bilbao also took place. Isabelle Henn raves about this experience with glowing eyes, "The Guggenheim Museum was simply amazingly impressive as a backdrop. As I walked through the Richard Serra exhibition, for the first time I really felt physically what kind of power three-dimensional art can develop. The Spanish joie de vivre, the hospitality and the special, personal encounters with the people of the network made the Forum such a bubbling event." Language barriers were easily overcome with hands and feet, because they had a common theme. In this case, the son of the sculptor Eduardo Chillida shared personal thoughts and experiences in his garden and told exciting stories from everyday life as an artist.

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Jeff Koons, Puppy, 1992 in Bilbao, where the 2011 International Forum took place. Photo: Timian Hopf


In 2012, two more member exhibitions followed in Sweden and Germany. These exhibitions included more than 650 sculpture-specific dates in the website's calendar and sculpture network, once again, demonstrated the diversity and reach of three-dimensional art.

At the first 2013 meeting of the coordinators in Munich, the regional representatives of the network had the opportunity to exchange and share ideas, as well as finding common goals around the appreciation of three-dimensional art. In their respective regions, they organised 14 Dialogues this year. Sculpture network also spread increasingly on the web including a relaunch of the website, attracting more than 10,000 visitors per month, and expanding the editorial work in the newsletter and on social media channels.

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Experience Scandinavia 2014 Pilane Sculpture Park. Photo: Oskar Henn


In addition to networking in 2014, the program also included artistic education: sculpture network Teaching Sculpture. Nine lecturers worked with their students at their respective universities in seven countries on a common theme and exchanged ideas in a video conference at the end. Conclusion: knowledge creates art. In the same year, sculpture network published ten texts on contemporary sculpture to mark its tenth anniversary. In one of the essays, the Dutchman, Adri A.C. de Fluiter, described the interplay between three-dimensional art and nature.

"Where does art begin and where does nature end? The interplay of art and nature creates experiences that are far more than just the sum of their parts" -Adri A.C. de Fluiter in the jubilee publication on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the museum

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Art and nature (Johannes von Stumm, Disk V, 2012)


This year the sculpture network office is moving from idyllic Pöcking to Munich's city centre and we are pleased to welcome a new member to the board. Judith Collins, a British Art Historian and former Chief Curator of London's Tate Gallery, will accompany the association for four years and provide valuable insight for further growth of the network.

Europe's largest platform for three-dimensional art continues to grow - the years 2015 to 2019 

The European Dialogue Series was launched on the 11th year. The regional meetings took place for the first time on a common theme and the co-ordinators organised interviews with collectors. The idea of an overarching theme was further developed and every sculpture-network year since then has had a specific motto. 

In 2016, we devoted ourselves to the field of Sculpting Nature: Landart, Ecoart and Bioart. At the International Forum in Belgium; 130 collectors, gallery owners, curators, and artists discussed and together experienced the fascination of art and nature. The Forum was curated by the Dutch art critic Anne Berk, who for many years has been a great contributor to the network and continues to shape it with great commitment, unbridled passion for the mediation of art and sound knowledge. In the same year, 10 members exhibited their works at the Artmuc Art Fair in Munich and our Instagram account went online.

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Networking at the Biennale di Venezia 2017


These special travel experiences culminated in the Super Art Year 2017 with visits to Skulptur Projekte M√ľnster, Documenta in Kassel, and the Biennale di Venezia. Personnel changes in the board of directors and in the office brought a new wind into the network. The former publishing director, Gerhard Feigl, took over the management of the association and the sculptor, Cornelia Hammans, was elected to the board. In a letter to the members she summarizes her work in the network in a concise sentence.

"Who works alone, adds. Who works together, multiplies.‚ÄĚ - Cornelia Hammans in her letter to the members

This multiplication became clearly visible at the start of the following year, and in 2018 the event broke all records. At the same time across more than 20 countries, artists opened their studios at over 90 venues, museums invited visitors to special exhibitions, and workshops provided a glimpse behind the scenes. In the same year, the website was given a new look, the editorial work in the newsletter increased, and the sculpture network magazine was launched. Informative and entertaining articles about the network's activities and the international art scene complete the online content of the association. Offline, a new series of events took place: Sculpture Network Lab opened up the possibility of taking the topic of sculpture a little further at international events and discussing it in a relaxed atmosphere with experts from business, politics, and philosophy.

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Art and climate change in the sculpture network Magazine (Ilka Raupach, snövit vaknar, 2005)


Now what? We are in the jubilee year 2019 and the network is still in rapid motion. New connections are emerging, old paths are being expanded and refreshed, and strong partners are accompanying the work. This year we welcome the Dutch sculptor, Yke Prins, and the Munich economic expert, Sabine Schaedle, to the board. After more than 15 years of incomparable commitment, Ralf Kirberg said goodbye as Chairman and Member of the Board. The cross-border support of the idea of three-dimensional art, which he created together with Hartmut Stielow through the founding of sculpture network, is now carried on and expanded with passion and commitment by the board, team in the Munich office, coordinators, and each individual member throughout Europe and beyond. 

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sculpture network moves forward! (Experience Berlin 2018. Photo: André Kirberg)


We would like to say THANK YOU for an impressive network of great people and look forward to the next moving, exciting, and eventful 15 years of sculpture network!

The list of highlights is long, not everything has found a place in this article - your personal favorite event is not in our list of highlights? Do you associate a very special story with sculpture network that you would like to tell us? Let us share it with you and send us an e-mail to

Authors: Isabelle Henn, Elisabeth Pilhofer and Ilaria Specos


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