Knoebel’s wide-ranging and rigorous oeuvre incorporates drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, projections and installation. The exhibition comprises of a selection of rarely seen unique works on paper from the 1970s, which were made in preparation of his historic, breakthrough series, 24 Colors for Blinky, a body of work dedicated to his dear friend Blinky Palermo who had tragically passed away at the age of thirty-three.
The oil and graphite works on paper in this exhibition reference the color choice and polygon shapes that eventually formed the series of shaped canvases in variegated monochromes: 24 Colors for Blinky, the quintessential iconic post-modernist work by Knoebel that resides in the Dia: Beacon collection. Knoebel had once refused to work in anything other than black and white. The paper works’ compositions are built though swift, confident dashes of loose graphite borders containing a single built-up color in oil. Presented together, the framed window panes demonstrate the repetitious exercise of Knoebel’s intimate dedication to his friend. Knoebel made this change as special gesture to Palermo – keeping in mind Palermo had often enticed him during the course of their friendship by championing the use of color. Since this foray into this formative series, Knoebel has demonstrated a keen awareness of color in terms of its nuances, variation and rhythm – delineating a clear change in the artist’s work that has now defined his entire oeuvre.
Imi Knoebel’s early career can be understood through his interaction with his many friends, idols and mentors. Born as Klaus Wolf Knoebel in Dessau in 1940, he studied alongside his friend Rainer Giese in Darmstadt, with whom he adopted the common name ‘Imi’, an acronym meaning: Ich mit ihm (I’m with him), in reference to their idol, Kasimir Malevich. The two especially drew influence from Malevich – whose authority evidently informed Knoebel’s notion of “pure perception” through the exploration of form, color and material. In another defining moment, Giese and Knoebel were inspired to hitchhike to Düsseldorf to beseech Joseph Bueys to let them work at the academy. The amused Bueys assigned ‘Imi & Imi’ to the now famous Raum 19 studio space, giving them a year to create works to convince him of their merit. The two created the eponymous work, Raum 19, a complex installation that eventually was acquired by Dia: Beacon.
Other influential students in Düsselfdorf included Jörg Immendorff, Sigmar Polke, Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberg, Gerhard Richter and, of course, Blinky Palermo, all artists Knoebel interacted with at school and at the Rattinger Hof, a pub that brought the German punk music and avant-garde art scenes together. The pub became an important creative hotbed for informal critical discourse, punk performance and various improvised projects, and was run by a woman that would become Knoebel’s wife, Carmen. Those first years in Düsseldorf were formative for Knoebel, a time he looked back upon fondly before tragedy seeped in. Knoebel has stated that he has never recovered from Blinky Palermo’s untimely drug-related death, nor from Imi Giese’s suicide in 1974. Knoebel has kept the shared nickname in tribute to Giese and continues his explorations of color for Palermo.