Rudolf Belling was sculptor, designer, architect and stage designer. In 1908, he founded a studio for sculpture and got orders for theater productions by Max Reinhardt. The theater was an important catalyst for his later work and his understanding of art across genres. From 1910 he worked in a stage workshop and got to know the expressionist chief stage designer of Max Reinhardt, Ernst Stern, through whom he came into contact with expressionist art and literature. In addition to theatre, also dance influenced the development of his sculptural work. In 1919 he created his famous work "Dreiklang".
He also worked as a character designer for film productions such as Paul Wegener´s iconic movie "Golem". After the end of WWI, which he survived as a soldier, the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in Germany. Rudolf Belling became a member of the newly founded "Arbeitsrat für Kunst" and co-founded the progressive "Novembergruppe", whose members included Max Pechstein and the architects Erich Mendelssohn and Bruno Taut. He sought a synthesis of art and design, integrating the styles of naturalism, expressionism, cubism, constructivism, futurism, new objectivity and abstraction. In 1921 he was commissioned to design costumes and the set design for the skating ballet "Futurist Carnival" in Berlin.
Rudolf Belling was an universal artist who saw no contradiction between visual, performing and applied art. With this view of the world, he was closer to the Renaissance artists than to the avant-gardists of the fragmented classical modern age with its ideological dogmas. One of his achievements as a designer were his stylized faceless fashion mannequins, which he patented in 1921. They replaced the then widespread naturalistic modeled dolls made of wax and are considered the prototype of the modern mannequin. The reduced formal idiom of Belling´s fashion sculptures, as he called them, already hinted at the emerging aesthetics of Art Déco; they not only stood in the KaDeWe department store in Berlin, but were also exported to France and the USA.
Belling's "Triad" was the first cubist abstract sculpture in Germany and, in addition to futuristic and constructivist design principles, was influenced by Alexander Archipenko, a friend of Belling. Belling's vision was to create a total work of art that combined painting, sculpture, architecture, dance and music. The triad is a structure with three arms or figures arranged in a triangle, similar to the mythological motif of the three Graces, which rise like flames and turn towards each other. The key innovation of the Triad was that it was designed as a multi-faceted sculpture that changes with the viewer´s perspective. Matter and its surrounding space, or positive and negative forms, were considered by Belling as equivalent; the design of the empty space became the hallmark of his sculptures. "When I make a sculpture, I organize the forms and let them grow like a tree, or a human", Belling explained. In 1924, Ludwig Justi, the director of the National gallery, dedicated a solo exhibition to Belling in the Kronprinzenpalais.
In the 1920s, Belling turned to the topic of man and technology and receoved numerous design orders industry. For the inauguration of the AVUS route in 1921, he designed a seven meter high advertising plastic for the tire manufacturer Pneumatik Harburg-Wien. In 1923 he designed a radiator figure for the car brand Horch (now Audi), the Horchtier. The body of the fabulous creature picks up on elements from the automobile design, the wide-open ears are a visual implementation of the brand name. However, due to the restructuring and renaming of Horch in Audi, the figure did not go into industrial production.
One of Rudolf Belling´s most important works is the Head of Brass, made 1925. The feminine portrait radiates anticipates the aesthetics of the machine age and of Art Deco. With his android-like, sharply cut facial features, the head in brass could be considered as the direct forerunner of the robot Maria in Fritz Lang´s classic movie Metropolis; the droid C3PO in George Lucas´ Star Wars might also be inspired by this sculpture.
When the Scala Theater in Berlin was converted into an ice and dance palace in 1920, Belling was commissioned to design the interiors together with architect Walter Würzbach. He designed the interior for a dance casino and a wine bar, where he combined sculptural and architectural elements into a spatial synthesis of the arts. An illuminated fountain of crystalline shapes was the highlight of the interior. In 1923, in collaboration with architect Gellhorn and engineer Knauthe, Belling designed a gas station. For a modern villa in the Westend in Berlin, built under the architectural direction of Arthur Korn, Richard Neutra designed the garden and Rudolf Belling a movable fountain sculpture, followed in 1924 by a water feature for the conservatory. Belling used moving spirals interacting with flowing water, making him a forerunner of kinetic art. When the Nazis took over in 1933, the owner of the villa, Ismar Goldstein, was expropriated. After WWII, the building was demolished. Belling also produced portrait sculptures for his gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim and for Joseph von Sternberg. Film director Joseph von Sternberg was portrayed by Belling in 1930, when he came to Germany from the USA to search for a leading actress for his film "The Blue Angel". Belling accompanied Sternberg in his search, and the choice finally fell on Marlene Dietrich, who subsequently gained international fame.
In 1931, Belling was appointed member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. At that time, the global political situation deteriorated as a result of the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929 and the resulting global economic crisis. The rise of fascism in Europe and the advance of the Nazis in Germany ended the era of avant-garde and modernity. After Hitler came to power, Rudolf Belling was increasingly boycotted, a professorship was denied, and he resigned from the Academy of Arts. He spent the year 1935 on a teaching assignment in New York. When he returned in 1936, he was forced to leave Germany and go into exile.
Through the help of architect Hans Poelzig, Belling received a teaching assignment in Istanbul. He had to leave behind his Berlin studio and numerous works. In 1937, when the Nazis presented their defamatory propaganda show "Entartete Kunst" in Munich, Belling was represented by two works, the Triad and the Head of Brass. The day before, the "Great German Art Exhibition" was opened in the newly built "Haus der Kunst", a showcase of Nazi petty-bourgeois aesthetics. Paradoxically, Rudolf Belling was also represented there, with a 1929 bronze figure of the boxer Max Schmeling. The press was banned from reporting the matter, but the audience noticed Belling's presence in both exhibitions. His works were withdrawn from the Degenerate Art Exhibition, while his naturalistic sculpture of Max Schmeling remained in the Haus der Kunst. At that time, Belling was already in exile in Turkey. Secular Turkey under Kemal Atatürk was then a cosmopolitan country where the education system was about to be modernized. Since there was no tradition of figurative sculpture, Belling began teaching sculpture and received several commissions, including in 1943 a statue of the new president Ismet Inönü.
In 1944, Belling's house and studio in Berlin-Lichterfelde were bombed out and numerous designs were destroyed. After the end of the Second World War, Rudolf Belling returned to abstraction, the problem of form in space, spatial dynamics and empty space as a formative element. In 1949 he created the abstract sculpture "49" in memory of the Triad, which he believed was destroyed. However, it had survived the bombing and returned to Berlin National Gallery. Belling remained in Turkey until 1966. He returned to Germany at the age of 80.
After the war, Rudolf Belling´s return to abstraction and his triumph over the cultural policies of the Nazis in the Degenerate Art Exhibition were of little use to him. His naturalistic Max Schmeling sculpture, exhibited by the Nazis, made him suspect, and his pioneering achievements in abstract sculpture were forgotten. His last work for the public space was a symbol of peace, which he created on the occasion of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The six-meter-high sculpture was originally intended to be at the top of the heap of war mines, but after a local political dispute, the bronze sculpture was set up in a tree-covered hollow. Belling could not experience the inauguration of his last sculpture. He died in 1972, at the age of 85 years.