Biederman lives again

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 1, 2012 - 2:46 PM

The late Minnesota artist emerges in full flower in a show that should burnish his international reputation.

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Artist Charles Biederman.

Though artist Charles Biederman was a virtual hermit in Red Wing, Minn., for much of his long life, he comes across as a world-traveling bon vivant in a handsome, museum-quality show at Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis.

The 30-some drawings, paintings and sculptures in "Charles Biederman, 60 Years of American Modernism" span his career with special emphasis on the 1920s and '30s, when he turned out surrealist-infused imagery in Chicago, Paris and New York. The fourth and final gallery samples the Red Wing years, five decades in which he refined the colorful 3-D aluminum wall sculptures on which his international reputation rests.

When he died at 98 in 2004, Biederman gave the bulk of his estate to the University of Minnesota and its Weisman Art Museum with the proviso that pieces could be sold to support exhibitions and scholarship about his art and ideas. In consultation with university officials, veteran Minneapolis art dealers Martin Weinstein and Thomas Barry are partnering to reintroduce Biederman's lesser-known early work and to place key pieces from all eras into museum and private collections around the country. This is their first dip into the archives, and it's a treat.

The Chicago-Paris years will be a revelation to those who associate Biederman only with the bright structuralist geometries of his last decades. A fabulous draftsman and deft colorist, he struts his talent at age 22 in a traditional "Still Life With Lute" (1928) and hits the mark again in "Paris, January 20, 1937," a little ensemble of rectangles and triangles that advance and recede in syncopated rhythm.

His pigments flow onto other canvases in luxurious, gleaming blacks and lush tones of red, blue and pumpkin. Within a few months in the mid '30s, he shifted from painting rich, voluptuous abstractions to pastel arabesques that suggest jazz dancers or the surrealist costumes of French designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Note especially the playful spirals, dancing ribbons and tender pink-and-mint-green ground of "New York, November 1935."

A similarly lighthearted spirit infuses a half-dozen delightful drawings from 1935 and '36. Composed entirely of cleverly shaded squiggles and blobs that appear to have deep psychological lives, the drawings suggest that, had he wished, Biederman could have had a smashing career as a cartoonist in the Saul Steinberg mode.

In the 1940s he married and rejected the art world's urban hustle for the solitude of his favorite place -- a hill overlooking the Cannon River valley, where he studied the landscape and distilled it into pure geometry. His signature designs from the Red Wing years are scarlet or azure planes from which tiny wafers of color -- lemon, aqua, lilac, lime or orange -- pop like miniature houses of cards exploding into very thin air. Besides prime examples of that work, this elegant show fleshes out his career with more rectilinear sculptures in subtle arrangements of yellow, white and blue -- pure sunlight, sky and water.

Known as a pioneer of three-dimensional painting, Biederman should also be acclaimed as the brilliant colorist this show proves him to be.

Form + Content Gallery

What is it about a particular place that takes hold and won't let go? Is the psychological glue triggered by familiarity, strangeness, beauty, the light, alienation or whatever?

In "Here I Am/Not," six regional artists -- Beth Dow, Meg Ojala, Margaret Pezalla-Granlund, Cameron Zebrun, Jay Isenberg and Pete Sieger -- answer the question with photos or, in the case of Pezalla-Granlund, a futuristic city-model installed in a loft-like niche. Most of the images are coolly minimalist, ranging from Dow's silvery solarized vistas of the Badlands to luminous images of grain elevators and rail lines by Isenberg and Sieger. Zebrun's postcard-sized color images of desert horizons suggest nature's chilly indifference, while Ojala's portraits aestheticize a mud-spattered industrial site. The resulting show is exceedingly handsome but perhaps a bit too hermetic. While the artists were gripped by these remote places, their obsessions pale when overintellectualized.

Noon-6 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Ends Nov. 24. Free. 210 N. 2nd St., Mpls. 612-436-1151 or www.formandcontent.org.

Groveland Gallery

Having long specialized in sweeping St. Croix River vistas, Anne DeCoster's latest oil paintings focus on more intimate views of the river's marshy inlets, where lily pods bob in deep pools amid reflected clouds.

In the adjacent Groveland Annex, Robert Dorlac finds visual poetry in the icebergs and dark waters around Upernavik, an island off the northwestern coast of Greenland where he recently did an artist residency. His iceberg monotypes are amazing in their evocation of craggy, shimmering ice cliffs that gleam like raw, uncut diamonds wrapped in mist and fog.

Noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Ends Nov. 24. Free. 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. 612-377-7800 or www.grovelandgallery.com.

Mary Abbe • mabbe@startribune.com • 612-673-4431

  • CHARLES BIEDERMAN: 60 YEARS OF AMERICAN MODERNISM

    When: Noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Ends Dec. 2. • Where: Weinstein Gallery, 908 W. 46th St., Mpls. • Admission: Free.

    Info: 612-822-1722 or www.weinstein-gallery.com.

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