Raum 19 (Room 19, 1968), a key work in Imi Knoebel’s oeuvre, was created while he was still a Meisterschüler (master student) under Joseph Beuys.
The work, which takes its title from the room number of his studio at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, explores the fundamentals of painting and sculpture. Common constituents and components of artistic practice—stretchers, picture frames, variously scaled planar surfaces, and simple sculptural volumes—are reduced to the rudiments of form, material, surface, space, and support. Each of the work’s seventy-seven elements is fabricated from wood and fiberboard in a “raw,” untreated state. Knoebel’s use of these ordinary, practical, and humble building materials manifests his belief that the artist’s practice is as pragmatic
as that of a farm laborer, an urban worker, or an architect.
Raum 19 can be variously arranged, depending on the context—the gallery space and the artist’s impulses. Since no fixed set of relationships binds the components, the work can expand to an environmental scale; alternatively, it may be densely compacted as it would be in storage. Because the ensemble is permutable and its particular configuration, dimensions, and internal relations are dependent on the artist’s decisions in situ, form becomes an event: chaotic or ordered, impenetrable or lucid, austere or abundant, confined or boundless. And, since any single installation is only ever one among countless possible composi- tions in this open system, emphasis shifts to presentation per se, to staging.
Knoebel’s preoccupation with questions of presentation and installation betrays a considerable debt to Beuys. Not only were the older artist’s performances— his “actions”—undertaken in relation to the specifics of a situation, but his larger sculptural works, such as Arena—dove sarei arrivato se fossi stato intelligente! (Arena—where would I have got if I had been intelligent!, 1970–72), on view at Dia:Beacon, were also adapted to the context in which they were shown. However, Knoebel in large part eschewed Beuys’s ideology; for works such as Raum 19—in contrast to Beuys’s Fonds—carry no metaphysical meaning. Purging his materials of all metaphor and allusion, Knoebel focuses instead on a strictly pragmatic investigation and revision of the formal properties, syntax, and protocols of the exhibition space.