Imi Knoebel

Galerie Rudolf Zwirner

Upon entering the gallery, one instantly sensed that the five pieces on display here were created specifically for this environment; they related directly to the multilevel space, scattered as they were over the three levels of the gallery. Four of the paintings—Arbeit Stahl (Labor steel, 1988), O mein Schatz (Oh my darling, 1988), Mama, Look at the Sea, 1988, and Die Töchter (The daughters, 1988)—could be viewed from the entrance, as if they occupied a simultaneous stage. The emphasis of the presentation was on an order that the viewer could experience and understand intuitively, an arrangement that Imi Knoebel staged without external intrusions. Walking through the gallery, the viewer found that just as one painting disappeared from sight, another appeared; each individual work could be assigned both a tectonic and a sculptural value.

Corresponding to Knoebel’s established practice, all of these pieces undermine traditional notions of the pictorial image. As frugal spatial ensembles, they occupy the wall, the floor, and the room in the same way. The paintinglike arrangement concentrates on precisely crafted crate-shapes made of fiberboard, as in Arbeit Stahl, or heat-galvanized steel plate, as in Mama, Look at the Sea. It also spotlights raw aluminum, or iron, rods of various lengths, as well as bonded plywood sheets that are painted (without any painterly gesture) pink, pale green, turquoise, white, or black. The way these elements come together is crucial to the discovery of the individual image. Differences between the images derive fundamentally from their placement within the space. The connections between the paintings are underpinned by alternations, correspondences, and cross-references. These works were devised not for the wall surface, but for the room.

Knoebel’s five paintings evince an ascetic structure. They develop into works that purge our experiences, our knowledge, our feelings, by leading us to their minimal content, to material, size, and internal dimension, to their simple interrelationships. Since the artist had freely chosen the orientation of each painting within the surrounding space, the internal spatial relationships within the show contained the seed of what has become fairly characteristic of Knoebel’s art: the development toward an awareness of the esthetic totality.

By implementing shifts inside the pictorial space; by allowing, say, the painted and multiply bonded plywood sheets to imitate the wall or the shape of a crate; by maintaining or altering distances and gradations; by sticking consistently to logic, rationality, and perception, Knoebel dismantles any pictorial illusion in the traditional sense. The heightening of the corporeal character of his works dictates a simultaneous shrinking of any metaphoric or referential content. However, along with the continuous inner changeability of the painting as spatial energy, what Knoebel creates and what remains of these works is what Kasimir Malevich tersely called “pure sensation.”

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.