Viele Schichten

Jan 01 — Jan 02, 2023

The 81-year-old Dessau-born Imi Knoebel, whose real name is Klaus Wolf Knoebel, has for many years been considered one of the most important contemporary artists in the world, known for his consistently minimalist-abstract formal language. Although his works defy limiting theoretical constructs and the artist himself “voluntarily […] doesn’t want to say anything” about them anyway, he reveals details in rare interviews that make you prick up your ears.

The Beuys student Imi Knoebel describes himself as a painter. He mentioned his prominent teacher several times and dedicated a homage to him entitled “Joseph Beuys – 24.01.1986”. In doing so, Knoebel indirectly expresses his artistic ‘ancestry’. Almost as often, the painter emphasizes the formative role of Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square”. In art history, the theory persists that Knoebel developed new approaches and interpretations in abstract art based on this model. According to this theory, the young art student, inspired by Malevich’s “Icon of Modernism” (K.M.) and Beuys’ change in the concept of art, endeavored to create “a kind of conceptual minimalist current”, similar to his fellow students Imi Giese (Rainer Giese) and Blinky Palermo (Peter Heisterkamp).

Seemingly ‘minimalistically’, Knoebel presents a whole arsenal of creative means, which can primarily be divided into color, brushstroke and image carrier. The “aesthetic presence” of the works – whether small, large or in combination – never fails to impress. Even at first glance, the “combination of visual radiance and formal sharpness” is striking. Franz-Joachim Verspohl mentions another special feature. In his opinion, “the work of art claims its own existence […] and is not created solely for the viewer”.

The artworks in Knoebel’s oeuvre have many ‘faces’: paintings, sculptures, drawings, projections, installations, found objects and image variations. Recurring patterns can be recognized in this diversity. Nevertheless, the painter refuses to commit himself to one message. Knoebel formulates it as follows in conversation with Johannes Stüttgen:

“I can’t say anything about it, in fact I don’t want to say anything about it. I only know that it’s a never-ending story, this wanting, this expressing oneself, this placing oneself in the world, this re-positioning without having tested it […] I didn’t solve any arithmetic problems […] I simply made experiments, almost like the alchemists in the Middle Ages.”

For all his openness and self-stylization as an alchemist, Knoebel mentions “precursors” in further conversation. However, the reference is not concretized, but dissolves into the abstract:
“I make things that call themselves art. […] Yes, they have predecessors – and that was called art, and that is called art, all the art before that, these thousand years and even longer.”

The painter sees his works as part of a millennia-old network of relationships. Even in the highly abstract medium of art, it is possible and legitimate to refer to predecessors. However, observation is subject to the paradoxical condition of not being able to see what one sees in terms of an object. This paradox can, as Knoebel suggests, be a realization from the encounter with his works: “Besides, most people don’t even know what it is that they see. It only reveals itself much later, for some not at all.”

With the exhibition “Many Layers” from March 5 to April 30, 2022, AOA;87 invites you to approach Imi Knoebel’s expressive will. The gallery’s exhibition makes it particularly clear that decisive changes in the development of Imi Knoebel’s artistic personality cannot be forced into a linear progression. Parallel existence, revisiting and expanding characterize the work.

The AOA;8 gallery presents a selection from the artist’s heterogeneous oeuvre without chronological order.

The large-format work “Sandwich 2004-06”, 2004, refers with its choice of materials to earlier stages in his oeuvre, for example to “Room 19”, an object in which Imi Knoebel worked with hard fibers using design principles such as layering, sequencing and stacking. To describe it in the words of Henning Schaper:

“The expansion of the image into space takes place via the doubled volume. In Knoebel’s work, it is worth looking at the edges and sides of the picture, because sometimes such subtle layering and staggering can only be recognized at the edges. An “aura” is generated by the layer of paint that is only visible from the side.”

This work is followed by further highlights. They reveal the expansion of materials that Imi Knoebel has carried out since the 1990s – from then on, he increasingly used aluminum as a painting surface.

In the pictures from the “Anima Mundi” series, the use of plastic film strips creates a division of the picture into geometric color fields. They are related to the Grace Kelly paintings about which Crone and Moss write:

“Knoebel’s paintings lack any representational elements, they are a void filled with color.”
The works “Gartenbild”, 2015 and “Münchner Bilder”, 2017/18, on the other hand, make associations with geometric shapes impossible. “Gartenbild” ties in with the knife-cut phase and once again illustrates the variety of artistic approaches in Knoebel’s oeuvre.

Knoebel’s beginnings are characterized by a limitation to black and white. The multi-part work “Nummer 1B.8B”, 2011, can be interpreted as a link to a rhythmic, frieze-like progressive series from 1972 in the Baden-Baden Kunsthalle. The path to color resulted from the collaboration with Blinky Palermo and began in 1975 with the first works (in green). It was only with the death of his artist friend, whom Knoebel called a “master of color”, and the homage “24 Colors – for Blinky” that “the first personal appropriation came, which was to open up the systematic investigation of the overall theme of ‘color’ […] not only the colors are free, but also the forms and formats”. There are many references to this and other art historical references in this context, including the assumption, often discussed in the literature, that Knobel was responding to Barnett Newman’s “Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”. The AOA;87 gallery invites visitors to engage in a free aesthetic perception.

Imi Knoebel, Nummer 1-8 ; 2011, acrylic on aluminium, 8 piece, 38,4 x 338,2 x 1 cm
Imi Knoebel, Big Girl K.3, 2019, acrylic on aluminium, 41,3 x 43 x 3 cm
Imi Knoebel, Sandwich 2004-06, 2004, acrylic on plywood, 121 x 242 x 2 cm
Imi Knoebel, Anima Mundi 76-3 Ed. III, 2009/2019, acrylic on plastic film, 39 x 33 cm, Edition 3