Imi Knoebel is one of the most celebrated painters working anywhere in the world today. His work has been the subject of major surveys including Works 1966-2014 at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in 2015, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Hamburger Banhof in Berlin and the Neue Nationalgalerie 2009 in Berlin. Large-scale installations are held in the collection of the DIA Foundation, NY and in MoMA, NYC and in many major museums throughout Europe.
In 2011 he was commissioned to make six stained-glass windows for the apse of the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral. This extraordinary work was unveiled in 2011.
Though fundamentally a painter, Knoebel’s work has long resisted a conventional approach to form and material preferring the possibilities that aluminium and wood offer to him for building supports that expand the platform for his chromatic adventures.
In Knoebel’s hometown of Dusseldorf, housed in the collection of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen is Mondrian’s New York City I, 1941 (unfinished). With all its evidence of re-positioning of its lattice and adjustments to colour this magnificent work perhaps points to the possibilities that a more substantial version of collage might offer Knoebel.
Freed from the more essentialist, theosophical weight of de Stijl, Knoebel’s grids are more playful, more happily erratic. Though Knoebel himself has made important works using only red, yellow and blue, most often his palette is anything but restricted, allowing for the most compelling collisions of structure, colour and brushstroke along the multiple edges on offer.
Knoebel’s predilection for ‘heavy-duty’ collage has long been evident in major early works including Genter Raum, 1980, Collection of Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and his ‘fibreboard’ Raum 19, 1968 which was presented in the Beuys, Knoebel, Palermo exhibition at DIA Art Foundation, New York 1987. Raum 19’s only colour is that inherent in the chosen material but the piece has a subtle tonality, both because of the naturally occurring variations in that material and the complex play of light and shadow across its multiple forms.
Despite this relentless urge to encourage painting off the wall, something Knoebel continues to do, he remains committed to the act of painting – colour, material and touch are far from obsolete.
In our recent exhibitions we see a range of exquisite works on paper that show Knoebel’s chromatic and compositional judgements across a number of series – from the reductionist Anima Mundi portraits to the hyper-animated Revolver paintings. In all these series we see Knoebel using colour in the most celebratory manner and using the gently destabilised grid as an organising frame on which to hang and arrange colour. That these grids themselves appear to be in motion only adds further to the volatility of the colours.