"The Security of the Pure Square"
Karola Krauss on Imi Knoebel
Starting in May, the Deutsche Guggenheim will be presenting works by Imi Knoebel, one of the most important contemporary German artists. The exhibition is conceived by Deutsche Bank. The first part of the show presents new works by the artist; the second part constitutes a retrospective of Knoebel’s work from 1968 to 2005. Around 200 collages, drawings, photographs, and prints from the Deutsche Bank Collection provide a comprehensive overview of the artist’s oeuvre. Karola Krauss, the director of Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, has dealt with Knoebel’s work for years. In 2002, she showed his early "Linienbilder" (line pictures) at the Kunstverein Braunschweig, and the artist is represented in a current exhibition she curated called "7 x 14". Oliver Koerner von Gustorf talked with Karola Krauss about Knoebel’s light projects, his friendship with Blinky Palermo and his influence on young artists.
||Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: Imi Knoebel is surely one of the most important students of Joseph Beuys, but his reduced works stand in stark contrast to the rather organic, associative formal vocabulary of his teacher.
Karola Krauss: Joseph Beuys' class occupied two rooms at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. The more traditionally oriented painters and sculptors worked in room 18, while Imi Giese and Imi Knoebel manifested their IMI identity in room 19 from 1966 to 1969. In room 19 - which is now legendary - Imi Knoebel executed his minimalist works with a very purist and experimental stance that in many respects was diametrically opposed to Beuys' aesthetics. Imi Knoebel, Blinky Palermo and Katharina Sieverding - artists who developed a reduced or conceptual formal language at the same time as the American representatives of Minimal Art did - worked in that room. Beuys was often dumbfounded by minimalist works. For example, he criticized Katharina Sieverding when she started working in the medium of photography. Although Beuys proclaimed that everyone is an artist and accepted a great deal, there were positions he didn't really understand. But through the openness he exemplified and his students experienced, he laid the foundations for developments that might not have been possible at the Academy without him.
But the work of the American proponents of Minimal Art was very different from that of Imi Knoebel.
True. Between 1966 and 1969 Knoebel worked on a series of Linienbildern, or line paintings, encompassing 90 panels which I first presented in the exhibition Imi gegen groben Schmutz (Imi Against Rough Dirt) at the Kunstverein Braunschweig. The Linienbilder mark the beginning of his artistic career and were shown for the first time at the Düsseldorf Academy's winter exhibition in 1967/68. They are marked primarily by their foreignness within Joseph Beuys' circle. By joining Joseph Beuys' class, Knoebel seems to have strictly separated himself from the Academy artists who worked traditionally, although in formal terms he made use of his training at the Werkkunstschule in Darmstadt. In the Linienbildern Imi Knoebel characterizes himself as someone searching for a beginning, someone who's only security is the pure square. Knoebel dealt with the closest thing at hand, the square, referring his first impression of art, the Black Square by Kazimir Malevich. Within this surface, which embodies the unreachable and the run-of-the-mill at the same time, he investigated black and white and the line. In individual works and series of works, Knoebel experimented with different structures and divisions of white and black image areas. Having performed endless exercises during his time at the Darmstädter Werkkunstschule, Knoebel was able to draw lines extremely accurately. He acquired this skill in that period and now he was investigating it in a new form. He drew a series of lines which ran parallel to one another at a fixed distance, changing this distance in each panel. The width of the lines varied from panel to panel. When the distances between the lines were bigger, the picture approached a white rectangle; when it was smaller, a black rectangle. And there are endless gradations between the two poles of homogenous white and homogenous black.
Knoebel's artistic approach was more pragmatic than that of his American colleagues. He has never been concerned with producing art, but with the question of how it is possible to show true commitment, to make something of fundamental importance. Knoebel dealt with this issue at the very outset, even before the actual creative process, and art emerged automatically.
Knoebel oriented himself to the abstract painting of the Russian avant-garde of the early 20th century, particularly to the Suprematism of Kazimir Malevich.
Malevich's strong influence is especially apparent in Knoebel's consistent reduction to color and form - far from any imitative function of art. Knoebel arrived at his colors through and with Palermo. The series 24 Farben für Blinky (24 Colors for Blinky) which Knoebel executed in 1977 right after Palermo's early death, is devoted to his painter friend. With Palermo, he went from paint store to paint store to find the right shade of green. Before he executed these works, Knoebel had made his Linienbilder and installations, for which he used raw, unprocessed sheets of plywood. It was only later that he used colorfully painted boards for his installations, which were closely related to Color Field painting.
In the late 60s and early 70s, Knoebel started working with light projections, using light like white paint and projecting light shapes on exterior and interior surfaces as though on a canvas. As he had done with his "Linienbildern", he adhered to a strict serial system. What is the importance of these works in your opinion?
With the works in which he projected lines on the walls of interior rooms, it was important for Knoebel that these rooms were not darkened, but that the projection was only visible peripherally. In the project Intermedia carried out in Heidelberg in 1969, the projections could almost be viewed as a performance. Knoebel drove through the city in a camper to which a light cannon was attached projecting a right-angled X shape on the walls of buildings and then photographed it. He uses the same shapes in the projections - distorted squares or crosses - that appear again and again in his other work, for example in 24 Farben für Blinky. The fact that he repeatedly returned to this theme may have to do with his rejection of the imitative function of art, with Malevich's credo that the expressive power of a work should be based solely on its color and form.
Knoebel worked with all kinds of media, continually expanding his work concept.
In doing so, he picked up on the ideas of Beuys. At the end of the 60s, expanding the concept of art was an important issue -like the plea to integrate life into art. That was a central aspect, and his projection works can be viewed against this background.
Works by Knoebel are currently on view at the "7 x 14" show at the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden after the artist was represented in the exhibition series "14 x 14". He realized a work together with Palermo at the Kunsthalle and had a solo exhibition there. So the Kunsthalle has played an important role in his artistic career.
Absolutely. 7 x 14 is an exhibition series we are presenting on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. The project ties into the exhibition series 14 x 14 initiated by Klaus Gallwitz from 1968 to 1973 which at the time enabled young artists to presented a sort of work in progress in the Kunsthalle's exhibition rooms. Some of the participants who had their first solo exhibitions in an institutional framework in 14 x 14 embarked on great careers and today are among the most important artists of our age. At the start of 7 x 14, we are reconstructing rooms from these historic exhibitions. Where a reconstruction is no longer possible, we are showing details or fragments. Of the more than 100 Gerhard Richter paintings shown at 14 x 14, we are presenting two examples: the famous paintings 8 Lernschwestern (8 Student Nurses) and Faltbarer Wäschetrockner (Foldable Clothes Dryer). In the earlier show Georg Baselitz showed 56 paintings, of which two hero paintings are on view at 7 x 14. We are showing Linienbilder by Imi Knoebel and a blue wall painting by Palermo which he hung in 1970 above the stucco frieze in the large hall. We are also showing huge band-iron sculptures by Ulrich Rückriem, paintings by Almut Heise and text images by KRIWET.
We are inviting seven young artists to exhibit works for the 7 x 14 exhibition series. They will construct context-related installations in the presence of the public, providing the latter will a vibrant forum for engaging with contemporary art. The exhibitions will be set up every 14 days from Tuesday to Friday, and will open on Friday evening. As a result, the exhibitions will run for nine days. The Kunsthalle will only be closed when the installations are being set up. With Michael Beutler, the project room Silberkuppe, Kalin Lindena, Friedrich Kunath, Dirk Bell, Alex Müller/Shannon Bool and Henning Bohl we are showing - as was the case in 14 x 14 - the work of many promising artists at the beginning of their careers. Our aim is to enable young artists to engage with the spaces and site of the Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden and to shape the nine rooms. After each exhibition, one room will remain as it is, and the artists to follow will incorporate it into their concept. Thus, at the end of the project visitors can review the variety of the project.
If a connection is drawn between Malevich, whose work you showed recently at the Kunsthalle, and younger positions, where would you put Knoebel? Is he a model for artists of the younger generation?
Imi Knoebel, Imi Giese and Palermo developed a radical, minimalist artistic language in 1960s Germany that many young artists are drawing on. In the exhibition From Surface to Space. Malevich and Early Modern Art I showed the icon of modern art, Malevich's Black Square on a White Ground, which is very important for all later artists working minimally or conceptually. With works such as Raum 19, Imi Knoebel also created a very important artwork to which young artists who work with installations orient themselves. The radical way in which he works with these rooms is important for installation art today. For Michael Beutler, for instance, who conceives expansive installations using the simplest materials and who will open our "7 x 14" exhibition series on April 7.