ARTISTS / Modern art
Willi Baumeister

Horizontal abstract III
© Willi Baumeister / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Willi Baumeister

Horizontal-abstrakt III / Horizontal abstract III, 1937

Oil on canvas
65,5 × 54,2 cm

on the reverse signed and dated on the stretcher: W. Baumeister 3.37
(BAUMEW/M 79)

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Provenance: Irmgard Burchard Tableaux Zurich; private property; Hauswedell & Nolte, Hamburg; Galerie Schlichtenmaier; Sammlung Deyhle, Stuttgart
Literature: Ausst.Kat. Figure and Abstraction in 20th Century German Art, Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum, Gottdorf Castle, Schleswig 1993, no. 96; exhibition cat. Willi Baumeister - Karl Hofer. Begegnung der Bilder, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Bielefeld 2004, fig. p. 109; exhibition cat. Willi Baumeister, Discovery of New Image Worlds, Galerie Schlichtenmaier Grafenau/Stuttgart, Grafenau/Stuttgart, 2008, p. 30, ill. p. 31
Peter Beye/Felicitas Baumeister, Willi Baumeister. Catalog of Paintings, vol. II, Ostfildern 2002, no. 733

One of Baumeister's main painterly concerns crystallizes early on, namely the investigation of the relationship between individual form and surface order. In the transverse black forms of his "Sportbilder" (Sports Pictures) of the 1920s, the first echoes of this formal problematic examination can be recognized. In a time-delayed manner, formal investigations of the same kind emerge increasingly from 1937 and are described by Baumeister as ideograms. In these first abstract figure signs Baumeister expressed his striving for the elementary, original form. In "Horizontal-abstract III" (1937) the colors are clearly outlined, shown frontally and declared to be generally valid ideograms. Intensified in their luminosity on the white-primed canvas, they resemble an enigmatic phenomenon - a state of suspension arrested on the surface, which, due to the color and formal balance, resembles a resting in oneself.
In a compilation of his figure signs for his "Zimmer- und Wand-geister" ("Room and Wall Spirits") Baumeister inserted these most abstract figure signs in such a way that their corporeal character becomes readable. He called them "ideograms". Although the term can be translated into German as "Ideenzeichen," it remains general. This openness of the term was important to the artist, because in the paraphrases of the "Ideograms" he did not want to give an illustration of existing reality, but to create an ambiguous and at the same time generally valid metaphor for life, for the figure that includes man and animal, for history and the present, for nature and its laws. Baumeister himself comments on these compositions: "These forms float, without touching each other, yet strongly related to each other, in the surface. I had originally meant them to be completely abstract, but as I went along I saw figures in them, frontal ones, of course." Therefore, the horizontally composed forms can evoke figural-representational as well as free associations, or even abstract impressions of prehistoric rock paintings or of the gates of Japanese Shinto sanctuaries called Torii.
Peter Beye writes on this: "In the 'Ideograms' of the years 1937/38 the previously predominantly amorphous forms condense into simple pictorial signs, which in their 'graphically' solidified structure are distantly reminiscent of pictures created at the beginning of the thirties, but increasingly detach themselves from figurative abstraction. Baumeister had a strong affinity for the sign anyway. He once described it as the 'archetype of the pictorial', which 'simultaneously contains the elements for later writing and for the picture', thus representing 'the first and perhaps purest position of the optical-visual'. Already the 'Runner-Valtorta' he explicitly calls 'sign', also 'hieroglyph (man)' - a title he also notes on one of his later 'Ideograms'. The 'Ideograms' presuppose the 'Valtorta' figures, but are no longer amorphous, but formed in sharp conciseness."
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