New York

Friedrich Vordemerge-Gildewart

La Boetie Gallery

One of the Constructivists represented in the Denise René exhibition is shown at La Boetie—Friedrich Vordemerge-Gildewart (1899–1963). Vordemberge was a German Constructivist painter who started his career as a cabinetmaker, and it is no joke to say that his pictures are as firm and smooth as good woodwork. The circle and the square are favorite motifs of this artist, who joined the group called Cercle et Carré in 1930, although in the major painting here, Constructed Red (1924), they were essential elements six years before. In its actual “construction” this work is remarkably close to the standing metal geometrical reliefs of Barbara Hepworth (both joined “Abstraction-Création” in Paris in 1932), but it is considerably earlier than those Hepworths which it most resembles. It is perhaps a demonstration of Constructivist idealism in the assembly of what are primarily conceptual patterns (of relations and qualities) that neither the pictorial nor the sculptural embodiment of the fundamentally identical idea seems subordinate or responsible to the other. In fact, one can almost imagine the same patterns of abstract relations transposed into architecture or even music.

Vordemberge, like many of the other artists over at Denise René, is no towering master. His paintings sometimes seem like heartless exercises or like fruitless, though interesting, propositions, where those of Mondrian—once again—look necessary and inevitable. Composition 87 (1934–45) compares with the Heurtaux I have just discussed in its relation to the “Van Doesburg dilemma.” Here a square is bisected diagonally into a flat black (upper right) half and a flat brown one. Then the flat black side is invaded by a right triangle of red. Two bands of glossy black, arranged in a right angle (the only linear elements in the painting), serve to stabilize the whole and to compensate for the intrusion of the red area. The result is closer to Mondrian than to Van Doesburg in its dynamic unity. As in the Constructivist painting show, it is interesting to note that somebody who could be as compositionally tough as Vordemberge also had a fully operant taste for color. It is a fair generalization to say that the usual monochrome textbook photographs of Constructivist paintings do not prepare us for the fact that a work like Vordernberge’s Composition 14 (1925) should be made with hot earth tones and juxtaposed blocks of cream yellow and pink.

One painting is noteworthy for a sort of proto-Poonsean, regulated distribution of unit forms—like plucks on a stringed instrument—suspended in an active surface tension. A tiny but appealing compositional sketch in pencil, from 1920, shows that relative tonal weight was as primary a concern for the painter as the orchestration of diagrammatic shapes. The fecundity and inventiveness of Vordemberge’s work is obvious if we compare his work with that of such better known artists as Moholy-Nagy, who was more like the chairman of the academic department of Constructivism.

Joseph Masheck