Imi Knoebel’s art is born of philosophical discourse and realized with unusual materials and methods. Knoebel was a student of Joseph Beuys, and, accordingly, his work has always involved a search for “freedom” in concept and execution. This exhibition comprised seven mostly large works done in acrylic on aluminum and plastic sheeting.
Two of the pieces (I suspect we’re not to think of them as “paintings”), both consisting of several large vertical panels with a row of smaller panels at the top, were displayed leaning against the wall. Ich Nicht IX (2006) is composed of different shades of yellow but for one slightly recessed panel of an ultramarine-ish blue in the upper right corner. Since 1977, when Knoebel exhibited 24 Colors—for Blinky (an homage to his good friend and colleague Blinky Palermo, who died that year), he has been involved in a quest for a specificity of color that rivals in scope the research of the German Romantic painter Philipp Otto Runge. Ort—Blau Gelb Gelb Rot (Place—Blue Yellow Yellow Red), 2008, a three-walled roomlike structure, riffs on the primary colors, one per wall. Reflections from the blue and red affect one’s perception of the yellow at the interior corners. OOMMMM (2002) and AAMIII (2002) are each made up of two rows of three square panels (placed edge to edge) layered with aluminum 1-by-4s arranged in gridded sections. The grids are not regular and the slight shifts in the Mondrian-esque organization, together with the strident color (deep cadmium yellow plays off blood red, turquoise, fuchsia, blues and grays, all of calibrated values), are fugal in impact, like clarion chords on a baroque organ tuned for minimalist cant. Though each element is executed in a single color and paint application, the varying opacities of the acrylic on aluminum allow for uninflected flat and matte surfaces as well as visible brushstrokes, all of which contribute to the musical effect. The unpainted edges of the 1-by-4s add the occasional glint of industrial aluminum. A smaller, 2008 three-panel piece, Alte Liebe (Old Love), almost waxes poetic, with its colors bouncing and echoing from panel to panel. The contrasts are rich and unexpected.
The thrust of most of this work seems far from the Malevich-via-Beuys rigor that originally inspired Knoebel. Yet it is our privilege to witness a mature artist giving free reign to his intuition and what used to be called taste.