Imi Giese

In all the histories of post-war German art, there is hardly more than a mention of Imi Giese. This exhibition, organized by the Kunstverein in Munich together with the Kunsthalle Zurich and the Neue Galerie, provided an opportunity to look back on this almost-forgotten artist whose death in 1974 tore him away from one of the most productive periods of German sculpture. Rainer Giese and Wolf Knoebel went to the academy in Düsseldorf in 1964; in 1965 Blinky Palermo brought them into Joseph Beuys’ class where they participated in a redefinition of sculpture. Imi (Giese) and Imi (Knoebel)—so named after a well-known detergent—collaborated and produced a film in 1969, at the end of their close relationship, a film that was seldom shown.

In contrast to Palermo, who always remained a painter, to Reiner Ruthenbeck’s surreal arte povera, and to Knoebel’s playful constructivism, Giese offered the most orthodox reception of American Minimalism and Conceptual art. Because of his unorganized estate and his practice of revising earlier works after many years, one cannot always date his works exactly. Still, his greatest productive period runs from the minimalist sculptures to the conceptual graphics and photoworks. As early as 1966, his light sculptures reveal his fundamental intentions: the construction of elementary plastic forms to create perceptual situations with the goal of questioning the relationship between object and space, viewer and object, including the conditioning of perception. In a darkened space yellow- or orange-colored geometric shapes seem to float. They are made from wood pieces that have been painted with a reflective paint. Perception is also a game of the body’s movements in its search for spatial orientation and a temporally structured act of producing a relationship between the subject and his surroundings. If one is reminded of Dan Flavin’s works here, Giese’s European attitudes become apparent; he did not use industrial products but, rather, produced the individual pieces himself.

This is true for the Skulptur aus 25 Fiementen (Sculpture of 25 elements, 1969) which consists of plywood panels painted with graphite. From the center, Giese develops two progressive series of bodies in two directions. One remains at the same height throughout, the other at the same depth. This work deals with the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the room and forces the viewer to examine the spatial dimensions of the duplication of the progressions.

Giese’s conceptual art was of two types: in various forms on paper and as markings in a room. One of his last works took place at the Art & Project gallery in Amsterdam. From one corner of the room, Giese drew an imaginary line on the floor, and when it met a wall, it was refracted into the room at a 90 degree angle. In contrast to the invisible lines, which form a dense network, these intersections are marked by numbers. These numbers seem incomprehensible to the viewer, but they follow a strict system. Almost all of Giese’s conceptual works are structured similarly—as an obsessive devotion to an independent rationality. This fetishized rationalism is paired with a positivistic reflection of facts in the works using the time message of the telephone (1973) or the photographic series of TV broadcasts of soccer games (1972). Whether there is a concealed criticism of instrumental rationality contained in these works, or an existentially motivated, manic attempt to understand the world is difficult to say. Giese’s work always stands on the border that separates radical rationality from extreme irrationality.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the Gentian by Charles V. Miller.