Imi and Carmen Knoebel “That’s What I’ll Do For the Rest of My life!”

Ratinger Hof (1981)
Ratinger Hof (1981) | Photo: Richard Gleim aka ar/gee gleim

On the occasion of the 75th birthday of the artist Imi Knoebel the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg presents a retrospective with works from the years 1966 to 2014. His wife Carmen, as head of the legendary Ratinger Hof, influenced the punk and art scene in Düsseldorf for many years. A double portrait.

When Imi Knoebel designs an exhibition he does it in the same way that he composes pictures. He goes back to existing works, changes them and reinterprets them. For his retrospective in Wolfsburg, honouring his 75th birthday, just the beginnings are presented chronologically. Everything else is mixed up along three walls that run diagonally through the space. “This enables me to open up new paths”, the artist explains, and the exhibition can even be interpreted as a new picture in itself.

IMI + IMI – the beginnings in plural

Klaus Wolf Knoebel, who was born in Dessau in 1940, originally started his training at the Werkkunstschule in Darmstadt. In the preliminary class he made friends with the painter and sculptor Rainer Giese (1942–1974). The two of them soon decided to change their first names for the letters IMI. IMI could stand for “Ich Mit Ihm” (me and him), the letters can be mirrored from the middle, and a famous scouring powder was also called IMI. It was very common at that time for art to use everyday consumer objects and ways – in a pop art gesture. The two artists, who by then were known as IMI + IMI, switched to study commercial art at the Art Academy Düsseldorf where they soon enrolled in the legendary class of Joseph Beuys. It was Beuys who gave them the classroom 19 to work in. In 1968 the young Imi Knoebel used this name as the title for his first major work – Raum 19, an installation of stretcher frames, boards and sculptural elements of untempered hardboard, all of which carry in themselves at least the option of being used as picture supports or surfaces.

Finding new ways to investigate form and colour in space

It takes years before Knoebel, in his search for the perfect green, is able to incorporate colour in his work. Up until then, his palette has to make do with black, white and the warm brown tone of hardboard. Knoebel worked with light projections, fills cabinets with 250,000 bundled drawings, each revealing a few drawn lines if they had not been removed from view.

In the period from 1976 until 1992 colour first made its way into the oeuvre with the Mennige-paintings, named after an orange anti-rust agent. Whereas in the early series one had just the vague notion that the zigzag shape came from overlapping rectangles, the artist went on to actually layer coloured boards or narrow strips on top of each other, sometimes revealing only a little of their colour. The series Ich Nicht (Not Me) finally formulates a confident and strong, colour-rich response to Barnett Newman’s Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow & Blue?

Knoebel sees the groups of works, like the Mennige-paintings or the series Grace Kelly or Pure Freude from the nineteen nineties as an infatuation: “Whenever I discover something new, I say to Carmen: that’s what I’ll do for the rest of my life.”
 
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, „Eigentum Himmelreich“ (1983) Photo: Marek Kruszewski © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, „Eigentum Himmelreich“ (1983)
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Photo: Marek Kruszewski © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Photo: Marek Kruszewski © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Photo: Marek Kruszewski © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Photo: Marek Kruszewski © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Photo: Marek Kruszewski, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Photo: Marek Kruszewski, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
  • View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg Photo: Marek Kruszewski, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
    View of the exhibition “Imi Knoebel. Works 1966 – 2014“ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
  • Ratinger Hof (1985) Photo: Richard Gleim aka ar/gee gleim
    Ratinger Hof (1985)

Der Ratinger Hof, Pure Freude & Düsseldorf’s punk scene

Carmen is married to Imi Knoebel and has been his manager for many years. She co-founded the record label Pure Freude in Düsseldorf and ran the legendary Ratinger Hof, that went on to become the centre of Düsseldorf’s punk scene. In 1974 she took over the former pub in the old part of the city together with Ingrid Kohlhöfer. They turned it into a meeting place for artists that played good music and had a cultural programme. It was frequented by artists like Blinky Palermo, Sigmar Polke, Katharina Sieverding, sometimes also Joseph Beuys, and, of course, Imi Knoebel. It was also Knoebel who played a key role in the redesign of the establishment in 1977. With its bare walls and cold neon lighting it became “a hangout for self-confident people”, as Carmen Knoebel puts it. It was not a place for hiding in dimly lit niches, you had to make your presence felt. Gradually it changed from being just a pub for artists and students, and became a hotspot for punks as well. The music shifted from the background to the forefront, it was more deliberate and the titles played were with a purpose. Carmen Knoebel brought young punk bands out of their practicing cellars and put them on stage to perform. Soon the Ratinger Hof started to draw in well known musicians from abroad, and in addition to being a meeting place for artists it became one of the first punk concert venues.

Carmen Knoebel gave up her activities in the Ratinger Hof in 1979. But she remained active and did not just dedicate herself to bringing up her own children. Besides working as her husband’s manager and the support she gave to a generation of young musicians, Carmen has been active in the Kinderstern society since 1988, an organisation that stands up for children’s rights.
 

Imi Knoebel. Werke 1966–2014
Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 25.10.2014–15.02.2015