New York

Imi Knoebel

Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Imi Knoebel’s work is a purposive reinvestigation of geometry as a living tradition for abstraction today, unlike the melancholic and parodic simulations of, say, Peter Halley and Sherrie Levine. Their lineage is Warholian (that is, they are serious about unseriousness), whereas Knoebel’s is Beuysian (very serious indeed). Knoebel was, in fact, one of Beuys’ most illustrious students. This distinction already tips us off that “Germanness” is a large part of Knoebel’s import. As a student of Beuys, Knoebel continues his practice of “social sculpture,” but within an even more dauntingly hermetic realm. To American eyes at least, this can seem rather obscure, even inscrutable.

Knoebel’s art oscillates between a rather dry critique of the media of painting and sculpture and an often overblown mystico-religiosity. (Rosalind Krauss observes in her essay, “Grids,” 1979, that the geometric art of this century readily encodes these two apparently mutually exclusive meanings.) If anything, it is some of Knoebel’s achingly meaningful titles, as well as the slablike monumentality of many of his individual pieces, which broadly hint that the work is really about “history,” in the grandiose, Hegelian, ontotheological sense of the term. Yet the work is also simply another materialist excursus on the now very familiar dialectics of painting/sculpture, surface/volume, chromaticism/achromaticism, and order/disarray.

Knoebel has made some nice-looking things in the past, but his recent installation here was impressive only for the pretension of its heaving, dictatorial dreariness. The largely black and brown monoliths occupied the gallery’s space in an effectively threatening way. Utterly lacking in the dispersive irregularities of form or flourishes of electric color found in his previous work, this installation was dead serious about not having a good time. Knoebel seems to want his art to be hard, conceptually as much as materially. It’s the art-world equivalent of winning through intimidation. The installation as a whole bears the title “dass die Geschichte zusammenbleibt”—literally, ”history stays together.“ Fearing that perhaps we won’t get it otherwise, Knoebel bludgeons us with a title so portentous that no one could miss the work’s ”content." German history is much worse than this lets on, but at least it isn’t so dull.

David Rimanelli