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Minimalism Germany 1960s

Daimler Contemporary, Berlin

The exhibition shows important trends in 1960s abstract art in Germany from the Daimler Art Collection: Constructivism, Zero, Minimal Art, Concept und Seriality. Starting from predecessors in the 1950s, the show looks at developments in abstract art in the cities of Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Krefeld, Stuttgart, Berlin, Munich the also considers neighbouring Swiss approaches. On display 60 works by 25 artists from the period 1954 to 1974.

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This exhibition shows important trends in 1960s abstract art in Germany from the Daimler Art Collection: Constructivism, Zero, Minimal Art, Concept und Seriality. Starting from predecessors in the 1950s – such as Josef Albers, Norbert Kricke, Herbert Zangs, Siegfried Cremer – the show looks at developments in abstract art in the cities of Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Krefeld, Stuttgart, Berlin, Munich the also considers neighbouring Swiss approaches. We are presenting about 60 works by 25 artists from the period 1954 to 1974.

Josef Albers, Karl Heinz Adler, Peter Benkert, Siegfried Cremer, Hanne Darboven, Karl Gerstner, Imi Giese, Mathias Goeritz, Gerhard von Graevenitz, Hajo Hangen, Erwin Heerich, Arthur Honegger, Norbert Kricke, Thomas Lenk, Heinz Mack, Karl Georg Pfahler, Verena Pfisterer, Charlotte Posenenske, Christian Roeckenschuss, Peter Roehr, Ulrich Rückriem, Eckhard Schene, Klaus Staudt, Franz Erhard Walther, Herbert Zangs One of the key areas of the Daimler Art Collection, founded in 1977, is 20 century abstract

art, from the Stuttgart circle around Adolf Hölzel in 1910 via Bauhaus, Constructivism, Concrete Art, Minimalism, conceptual tendencies, Neo Geo to the most recent contemporary art. Groups of works by German artists have been acquired on this basis over the last ten years, representing pioneering abstract trends in the 1950s and 1960s.

Given the acute discontinuity brought about by restorative art policies in Nazi Germany, a young generation of artists in post-war Germany had to seek reconnection with the abstract avant-gardes of the 1910s to the 1930s. At the same time a formal language had to be developed to reflect what had been achieved artistically on to the current cultural and political scene, and to look for successive responses to trends in American art as they emerged. The first major bridges to abstraction were the approaches made in the theoretical writings of Willi Baumeister (‘Das Unbekannte in der Kunst’, 1947) and Paul Klee (his writings on formal and creative theory were published in 1956 as ‘Das bildnerische Denken), and also the reappraisal conducted from the early 1950s onwards of the German Bauhaus tradition.

In the early sixties in Germany, a new kind of Minimalism developed that was initially largely independent from the developments in America at the time. This German Minimalism was in many cases stimulated by, but also in conflict with, Concrete Art and the European Zero avant-garde, which drew attention to itself from 1957 on, starting in Düsseldorf, with unusually staged exhibitions and spectacular projects for public space. The steles, cubes, and picture objects produced by the Zero artists, which lay in the space or stood in front of the wall, represent a significant new step for German art in terms of quality around 1959/60.

The Düsseldorf Kunstakademie played an important role in the transition to a specifically German Minimalism from 1962 until around 1970. Joseph Beuys took over the chair of monumental sculpture here in 1961; his sculptural vocabulary of reduced everyday forms—crates, felt and iron panels, angle iron, display cases, simple shelves, fabric objects, metal cubes—was interpreted from 1957 in the context of his work with actions, among other things. In the sixties, it provided many of his students with a basis for examining minimalized sculpture. As a student of Karl Otto Götz, the young Franz Erhard Walther developed his first proto- Minimalist objects starting in 1962, followed in 1964/65 by Imi Knoebel, Imi Giese, and Blinky Palermo, students with Beuys in Düsseldorf. At the same time, Hanne Darboven in Hamburg, a student of the Zero artist Almir Mavignier, Posenenske in Offenbach (she studied with Willi Baumeister in Stuttgart 1951/52), and, outside academic contexts, Peter Roehr in Frankfurt conceived their first attempts at Minimalist works.

In the sixties, the German artist Charlotte Posenenske (1930–1985) produced groundbreaking sculptures and reliefs: they are in part accessible, arbitrarily reproducible, freely positionable in space, and made from industrial paints as well as ‘needy’ materials, such as pressboard, corrugated cardboard, or sheet metal. The work group acquired and exhibited by the Daimler Art Collection since 2002 was a crucial step to rediscover her minimalist works of art, before only circles of experts were familiar with the artist. Charlotte Posenenske began producing abstract paintings in primary colors in the late fifties. She later bent sheet aluminum or produced ojects made out of square tubing for public spaces and performances.

These extremely reduced threedimensional works, with which her name is closely associated today, were all created in the brief period between 1966 and 1968. Deeply impressed and affected by American Minimalism, the artist Konrad Lueg, then under the name of Konrad Fischer, opened his legendary gallery in 1967 in Düsseldorf. As early as 1967, Posenenske, together with Hanne Darboven, exhibited her work here alongside that by American protagonists such as Carl Andre and Donald Judd. In 1968, Posenenske completely ceased all of her sculptural activities “for political reasons,” as it was generally put— but which was also artistically consistent.

In 1965 Posenenske travelled to New York for the first time and came in contact with American Minimal Art, her journey came at the beginning of a wave that in the second half of the sixties took the most important artists working within a specifically European Minimalism to New York, along with pioneering German art critics, curators, gallery owners, and collectors. In 1966, Hanne Darboven arrived in New York and developed one of the essential constants within her oeuvre in her encounter with Minimal Art, above all with the work of Sol LeWitt. Her serial sequences of numbers and geometrical figures—along with Posenenske’s sculptures, Franz Erhard Walther’s action-oriented work forms, and sculptures by Eckhard Schene, Imi Giese, or Ulrich Rückriem—are among the most significant European contributions to a Minimalism with a Conceptual quality.

For the Konstruktion (Construction) series, developed in New York, Hanne Darboven worked with punctures and perforations on graph paper, they can be seen as variations on the dot grid in pictures and reliefs of her teacher at the Hamburg academy, Almir Mavignier, who was part of the Zero group. Darboven first showed the Konstruktionen at the ‘Normal Art’ exhibition organized by Joseph Kosuth, beside Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, On Kawara LeWitt arranged for Darboven’s first solo exhibition—together with Charlotte Posenenske—at Konrad Fisher’s newly opened gallery in Düsseldorf, which was a crucial step in terms of the German response to her work after she returned from New York.

Franz Erhard Walther lived in New York from 1967 to 1973 and entered into an intense exchange with American exponents of Minimal Art. Walther gained important early impressions from encounters with the work of the European Zero artists, above all Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana. It was during this period that Walther discovered the material process as a work form and developed paper works and picture objects that were conceptually and formally close to contemporary works by New York Minimal artists.

Walther, who worked between Düsseldorf and Fulda around 1960, started experimenting with processual structures and temporary production and treatment forms such as folding, separating, dividing, pasting, packing up, piling, gluing, cutting, and laying out, using materials that were not considered artistic at the time, such as hardboard, primer, paste, untreated cotton, packing paper, or felt. Around 1962/63, Walther developed his series of Stapel- Auslege-Arbeiten (Piling–Laying-Out Works) with two different states: the pile as storage and at the same time work form, and the various ways in which they can be laid out on the floor, defined individually by the viewer. The act of laying out the work is considered one of its components, which means that the temporary element, the period of time it serves as sculptural material, becomes part of the work.

In two exhibitions in Fulda in 1963, Walther tested the relationship between material, serial sequences, space, and imaginative ‘use’—these can in fact be regarded as prototypical pronouncements of a specifically German Minimalism. In the summer of 1963, he presented a Braune Matrazenform (Brown Mattress Form) and two pillow works, each consisting of sixteen parts out of colorful pages taken from illustrated magazines, at the Galerie Junge Kunst. The following December, he exhibited a space-related installation of various sculptural objects: the works were encircled by a hemp string; there was a yellow cardboard box and a vertical, five-part row of pillows on the front wall, a pillow made of muslin on a chair, and on the floor a large air-filled paper pillow.

At around the same time, Peter Roehr, then twenty years old, was working on his typographic and photographic montages in Frankfurt. The latter type of montage involved a fixed base pattern of quadratic or crosswise rectangular cut-outs from newspaper advertisement photos, mounted using a simple principle of uniform rows with no gaps. Up until 1965, the artist continued with sound and film montages, all this with hardly any contact with the Frankfurt art scene, but enjoying a deep friendship with Charlotte Posenenske. Roehr decided to create up to five copies of each montage rather than treat them as one-of-a-kind works of art. Roehr exchanged letters with Jan Dibbets in 1966 on the concept of an “association of mass art producers.” The Frankfurt gallerist Adam Seide helped Roehr to stage a radical show entitled ‘Ausstellungs-Ausstellung’ (Exhibition-Exhibition)—ten wholly identical works in black paper on cardboard, 119 by 119 centimeters, the so-called ‘Schwarze Tafeln’ (Black Panels).

The lean group of sculptures created between 1966 and 1968 by Imi Giese bears the greatest formal resemblance to Posenenske’s work at this time. Giese had also initially allowed himself to be guided by the material purism of the Zero artists in the early sixties, but then developed modular, multipartite sculptures from it using basic geometrical forms. These were set up temporarily, indoors or outdoors, forming variable constellations. In 1966, Erwin Heerich began work on his plans drawn on lined paper and his cardboard sculptures—groups of works whose groundwork had been laid in the fifties and involving an austere concept, precise regularity, and economic serial reproducibility (Heerich, however, refused any association with Minimalist exhibitions, such as René Block’s Minimal Art exhibition in 1968).

Eckhard Schene and Peter Benkert created their reduced three-dimensional picture objects and sculptures amid the vigorous figurative painting scene of sixties Berlin. Between 1968 and 1971, Schene created a group of sculptures, mostly varnished black, dealing with illusory spatial penetrations and perspectives. Benkert exhibited his Minimal Luschen (Minimal Wimps), which leaned against the wall, with the Berlin Grossgörschen group. In the summer of 1968, René Block included art from the German scene in two Minimal Art exhibitions in his Berlin gallery, featuring Giese, Palermo, Posenenske, et al. besides Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt.

As for other active forces at work in this context, which are not represented in our actual exhibition—Eva Hesse spent 1964 working in Cologne after finishing her studies in the United States, creating her first picture object in the summer she spent there by threading strings through the holes in a piece of wire mesh she had found and covering it with plaster. In 1964/65, Blinky Palermo created his first structural paintings, which grew out of an interest in Constructivism and Suprematism.

These were followed in 1967 by a series of uniform- format picture objects created by laying fabric over stretcher frames and Minimalist wall objects. In 1966, Reiner Ruthenbek, working in the Düsseldorf context, also began to minimize his formal vocabulary. He created the Leitern, Löffel und Schirme (Ladder, Spoon, and Umbrella) groups. It is no coincidence that Franz Erhard Walther organized an exhibition of this early work in Fulda in 1966. If we regard Walther’s Fulda space of 1963 as the beginning of a specifically German Minimalism, then the hardboard space Raum 19 by Imi Knoebel und Imi Giese marked a preliminary high point in 1969: this consisted of “plastic- constructive basic forms such as cubes, rectangular plates, and arch segments stacked on the floor and around the walls, turning the space that surrounds them into a structure for viewers to enter.

The Daimler Art Collection was founded in 1977 and is now considered to be one of the key European corporate collections, enjoying international acclaim. The collection comprises about 1800 works by over 600 artists. It focuses on abstract art in the 20 century, from the Stuttgart circle around Adolf Hölzel in 1910 via the Bauhaus, Constructivism, Concrete Art, Minimal Art, conceptual movements and Neo Geo to the most recent contemporary art. Further large areas of the collection are devoted to the themes of the car in art and to international photography and video art, and then comes the complex of large public sculptures in Stuttgart and Berlin. Exhibitions on company premises, at Daimler Contemporary in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin and in international museums, and also prizes promoting young art make it possible to address the collection on a broad basis.

After Daimler Art Collection exhibitions in distinguished museums all over the world – New York, Karlsruhe, Detroit, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Singapore, São Paulo – main parts of the Collection are presented in Vienna in spring 2010. The Museum Albertina exhibits until end of April ›CARS. Andy Warhol, Robert Longo, Sylvie Fleury, Vincent Szarek. Commissioned works fort he Daimler Art Collection from 1986 bis 2005‹. The Museum Moderner Kunst (Mumok) in Vienna presents from March 25 to June 27, 2010 a second major selection from the Daimler Art Collection, titled ‘Pictures about Pictures. Discourses in Paintings with works from Josef Albers to Heimo Zobernig.

Image: Charlotte Posenenske, square-type tube Serie D, 1967 (Rekonstruction 2009) steel plate

Opening on 11 March 2010, at 7pm

Daimler Art Collection
Haus Huth Alte Potsdamer Strasse 5 - Berlin
Open daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission free

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