The Hercules of Gelsenkirchen A Blue-Haired Giant and His Pet Turtle

German artist Markus Lüpertz's latest work was lifted to the top of a former mine shaft in Gelsenkirchen this week. The statue is part of a program of cultural rejuvenation in the area. But will the huge, blue-haired, one-armed Hercules become a symbol for the region -- or the focus of local protest?


A curious crowd of onlookers turned out to see the artwork being erected, despite the wintry fog and snow. Indeed, as the statue was lifted high above their heads on Wednesday, it almost disappeared into the clouds. The weather, though, has since improved and now, the residents of Gelsenkirchen, a city of a quarter of a million people in western Germany, have an unusual new addition to their skyline: A 23-ton sculpture of a one-armed, blue-haired Hercules -- complete with a pet green turtle.

The 18 meter (60 foot) high statue by controversial German artist Markus Lüpertz now graces an 80 meter high tower in the former Nordstern coal mine complex in the city. The tower was once part of a mine shaft in the complex, which closed in 1993 and has since become a World Heritage Site because of its industrial and architectural history.

Several levels of the tower have already been transformed into gallery spaces. And on Wednesday, an enormous crane crowned the former shaft with Lüpertz' latest artwork, made out of over 240 individual pieces of aluminum. The statue, which is worth an estimated €2 million ($2.67 million), was commissioned by the residential real estate firm THS -- which is headquartered on the site -- and was made over the course of a year by around 15 workers in a Düsseldorf foundry.

Giant With Turtle Reaching For Sky

The erection of the sculpture is one of the final events in a year full of culture in the Ruhr Valley. The area was European Capital of Culture in 2010 and has seen a rich cultural program throughout the year. The Ruhr Valley was once home to a thriving coal mining and steel industry -- and the hope now is that culture can rejuvenate a region that has experienced severe economic decline in recent years.

Combined, the statue and tower reach 100 meters (330 feet) into the sky, the largest sculpture that Lüpertz has ever made. "We need heroes," Lüpertz told journalists at the site. "There is almost no better time for heroes."

But this is no classical statue of a handsome hero from mythology. His face is pitted, his nose bulbous and his body out of proportion. He only has one arm and his hair and beard are bright blue. A green turtle sits at his feet.

Lüpertz, though -- whose work first attracted attention in 1962 and who headed the Düsseldorf art school for over 20 years -- is well known for such depictions of iconic figures.

Controversial Sculptures

A statue of Mozart he made for the Austrian city of Salzburg, the composer's birthplace, was naked and equally knobbly. Residents protested his depiction of the musician and two senior citizens even painted and feathered the offending artwork. An equally unlikely statue of the goddess Aphrodite was created as a fountain decoration for the German city of Augsburg but was so unpopular with locals that the city administration had it removed. Lüpertz has also made sculptures of other mythological figures like Mercury and Apollo in the past.

So far though, his latest work has not drawn much protest. As Lüpertz remarked: "Hercules is a figure who deals with difficult tasks and solves problems. For the new, up and coming Ruhr region, he is the appropriate figure." Whether his Hercules becomes a genuine symbol of the region and its reinvention is, he said, up to the locals. "I would take that as a compliment," he added.

The statue will be officially presented to city officials on Friday. And on Saturday, the Ruhr valley's year as Europe's cultural capital will reach its official end. The ceremony will take place at the misshapen Hercules' feet.

cis, with wires


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