Imi Knoebel’s Minimalist Approach to Color and Shapes

By | October 26, 2016

In 1964, two aspiring German art students approached renowned conceptual artist Joseph Beuys and requested he provide them a room at the Staatliche Kunstakadamie, the art academy in Dusseldorf. Surprised by their bold request, Beuys provided Rainer Giese and Klaus Wolf Knoebel access to Studio Number 19 and gave them a one-year timeline to see what their creative output would be.

With minimal supervision from Beuys, the two artists set to work, each pursuing their own respective search for freedom in both concept and execution. The two were close friends and decided to call each other ‘Imi’, the word they used to say goodbye to each other.

One year turned into seven and when the two young artists left the Academy in 1971, the room’s contents came with them – parts of which were integrated into a children’s playground. Other parts were ultimately turned into an evolving installation that was appropriately named “Raum 19“.

Sadly, Imi Giesse committed suicide in 1974. But the other Imi carried on, becoming one of Germany’s most renowned minimalists known for his deep appreciation for materials and structure, and his essentialist approach to painting that became a consistent theme throughout his career.

Imi Knoebel, German, born 1940; Messerschnitt, 1977; painted paper collage; 39 3/8 x 27 9/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Partial and promised gift of Betsy Millard, the Earl and Betsy Millard Collection 65:2003 © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bo

Imi Knoebel, German, born 1940; Messerschnitt, 1977; painted paper collage; 39 3/8 x 27 9/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Partial and promised gift of Betsy Millard, the Earl and Betsy Millard Collection 65:2003 © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bo

Knoebel focused on using pure form as a starting point, exploring the interplay of colors as structured forms. The Museum’s collage, which is on view for the first time, is one of a series of eighty collages that Knoebel created in 1977.  Titled, Messerschnitt, or “knife cuts”, the work is composed of colorful, abstractly expressive shapes. In these collages, he has grouped together cut paper painted in bright colors.

The seemingly haphazard coordination of the shapes is but a projection of the artist’s, deliberately relating different parts of the whole in an order that respects their values as defined by their shapes and colors. This results in an exciting and animated surface structure, in a truly modernist exploration of form, color and space.

Messerschnitt is currently on view in the East Building in Gallery 250

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