Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 > 2014
Wolfsburg > Germany
Until 15th February 2015
Prolific, having produced well over 1000 works between 1966 and 2014, 75-year-old German artist Imi Knoebel has had 40 one man shows, but not a single one at a major venue in London, or in New York City.
A good deal of his exhibitions have, however, been held in Germany’s top museums and galleries. In 2009, concurrent with his Zu Hilfe, Zu Hilfe show at Berlin’s prestigious New National Gallery, his exhibition ICH NICHT / ENDUROS was being shown at the city’s Deutsche Guggenheim – a phenomenal achievement. Many other Knoebel exhibitions have taken place in prominent venues across the globe from Rome to Osaka, Istanbul to Montreal, Sao Paulo and San Francisco. To date, his work has appeared in over 100 group shows, and the Deutsche Bank has more than 200 of his pieces in their collection. Knoebel’s works are also held in numerous public collections, including Dia in Beacon, New York State, the Fonds Regional d’Art Contemporain in France, the Kunstmuseum St Gallen in Switzerland, the Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany and the Malmö Konsthall in Sweden. In 2008, he created the stained glass windows in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Reims, France. So why have I, and – if you are resident in the UK – probably you, never heard of him?
Aside from exhibiting in a group show, The Indiscipline of Painting, at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, and Tate St Ives, and taking part in the Homage to Beuys event at The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1987, and in another Unbound: Possibilities in Painting, at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 1994, he would seem to have been largely ignored by us Brits. But it’s not only us; while he has been invited as a solo exhibitor to other US cities, Knoebel hasn’t had a single one-man show at any of the big venues in New York.
Perhaps the anomaly can be put down to timing. While Knoebel was a child growing up in Dessau – home from 1919 >1933 to the Bauhaus school – the non-representational abstract art that had been developed early in the 20th century via cubism and such artists as Robert Delaunay, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian had reached its apotheosis in the 1950s New York-led abstract expressionist movement. Minimalism, sometimes described as a reaction against abstract expression emerged, also in New York, in the early 1960s when Knoebel would have been an undergraduate. From 1962 > 1964 he attended classes based on the ideas of the Bauhaus foundation course taught by Johannes Itten and László Moholy-Nagy. His final years of art education were spent under influential German performance and installation artist, sculptor and printmaker Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he produced his first key work, Raum 19 / Room 19. An arrangement of seventy-two separate geometric, hand-crafted, bare wood parts; it was a summation of, and trumpeted every influence he was under at the time. But already the art world had moved on and British and American pop art was the new vogue that emerging German artists such as Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter were flirting with, whose work from this period would form the basis of their future international fame.
Significantly, for artists like Knoedel, pop tore up and painted over the accepted rules of reverence that had previously been applied to the art that paid homage to the early 20th century European art movements. From then on, and into the 21st century, New York and London continue to dominate an art market in which abstract art was considered, for the most part, as anachronistic. Meanwhile, Imi Knoebel, born Klaus Wolf Knoebel, who it is said: created the sobriquet ‘Imi’, to explore an artistic identity from a purist, experimental stance – famous everywhere else – continued, and continues, to produce remarkable and relevant work, like his latest pieces that might be made up of the freshly-unpacked elements of flat-packed furniture, or perhaps left over bits and pieces from a construction site, using simple form and basic colour as the sole contents of his palette.
For Knoedel, from the outset, each item of his work was part of an expanding whole. His pieces are never fixed in position or in time. He thinks nothing of returning to earlier works, adjusting, altering them, or indeed adding to them as the mood takes him. Therefore, the completion dates cannot be fixed and are amended each time he revisits a work.
All Images © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
Courtesy Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
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