Salzburg, Austria

Imi Knoebel

Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Halle

What financial crisis? Thaddaeus Ropac has shown his bullish attitude by expanding his gallery empire with a “multiuse hall” in Salzburg, measuring some twenty-eight thousand square feet. This functional building doesn’t look like much on the outside, but its interior is all Chelsea flair and seems to exemplify the spirit of cool. Some two thousand square feet of exhibition space now await the planned four yearly shows, and as much space again serves as a viewing room for large-format works, such as Anselm Kiefer’s twenty-five-foot-long work The Fertile Crescent, 2009.

The opening show in the new hall features gallery veteran Imi Knoebel, whose work—owing to his attention to site-specificity and the formal relationships among architecture, images, and sculpture—neatly fits this huge, spare space. After Knoebel’s colorful, carefree “Pure Freude” (Pure Joy) pictures, 2000–2002, and the large-format three-dimensional room pieces from his 2009 Berlin doubleheader, “Zu Hilfe, zu Hilfe” (Help, Help) at the Neue Nationalgalerie and “Ich nicht” (Not Me) at the Deutsche Guggenheim, the grand master of German Minimal art is now thinking back, for instance, to his immaterial luminous projections of the late 1960s and ’70s, when he projected bright shapes on exterior and interior spaces as if on a screen. With “Weiss-Schwarz” (White-Black), 2009–10, he presented a suite of ten large-format black-and-white paintings that, in their reduction to the elementary repertoire of constructivist-Minimalist painting, also allude to Knoebel’s own “Weisse Bilder” (White Paintings), 1966–75, and “Schattenräume” (Shade Rooms) from the ’80s, and to his great precursor Kazimir Malevich.

Ever since Knoebel became a legend at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie, following his joint show with the other Imi (Giese) in the fabled “Room 19,” 1968, few artists have been able to trump his grasp of the relationship between space, form, and color. And no one has shown a more persistent drive to keep reflecting on his own history and work. He negotiates maximal and minimal contrasts in the place where painting and sculpture meet: On the surfaces of these works, black squares, triangles, and rectangles encounter a gentle progression of various shades of white. The white wall plays a role in them, too, activating the viewer’s perceptual abilities inside the white cube. Knoebel placed some of the pictures on the floor, folded panels and aluminum frames out into the space and used arrangement, composition, and proportion to underscore not only the object quality of the works but above all their relation to real space. And if you looked more closely, you could see that Knoebel’s calm reductions result from an extremely exciting, animated, and vibrant surface structure, a gleeful brushstroke that announces the pleasure taken in a controlled gesture: nonrepresentational art as a sensual adventure, even within the most rigorous of structures.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.