Charles Biederman spent much of his life in solitude observing the beauty of nature, and striving to understand mankind’s fascination with it. Biederman revolutionized art, introducing the United States to a profoundly new abstract art that captured the harmonious balance of nature.
Table of Contents
Charles Biederman was born on August 23, 1906, in Cleveland, Ohio to Czech immigrant parents. Biederman developed an interest in art at an early age, and as a teenager, he attended classes in figure drawing and watercolor at the Cleveland Art Institute, and later apprenticed at a local ad agency as a draftsman.
In 1926, he persuaded the Art Institute of Chicago to accept him despite the fact that he had no high-school degree, having dropped out to get a job in order to help pay his family’s rent. He moved to Chicago that same year, and worked as a janitor in order to finance his studies and painted signs for local restaurants in exchange for meals. In school, Biederman developed a strong interest and appreciation for Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) that only grew throughout the remainder of his life. Though Biederman was an excellent student, he refused to attend core classes. He considered many of these classes remedial and quickly grew bored. In December of 1929, he finally dropped out.
The early years of the Depression were especially difficult for Biederman. During the day, he painted on old flour sacks and scavenged for food, while at night, he slept on park benches. Salvation for Biederman came upon meeting John Anderson, the brother of a classmate, who took an interest in Biederman’s work and became his sole patron.
In 1934, Biederman moved to New York, yearning to associate with more progressive artists and tired of Chicago. Within that same year, Biederman had become well respected in New York art circles. Albert E. Gallatin, a prominent collector and owner of the first entirely abstract art gallery in the US, included Biederman in the “Five American Constructionists” show featuring the most significant constructivist artists at that time. To top is all off Biederman was also given his first solo exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery.
Due to a growing interest in Cubism and Abstract art, Biederman traveled to Paris in 1936. In Paris, Biederman met a number of major artists such as Joan Miró (1893-1983), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), and Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965) among others. Biederman soon became disappointed with his experience in Paris, and he left Europe ultimately believing that it suffered from an excessively imposing cultural heritage. Back in New York, Biederman lived in self-imposed isolation, Growing tired of New York’s bustling atmosphere, he worked constantly on his highly experimental geometric reliefs.
In 1938, Biederman attended a weeklong seminar on general semantics taught by the movement’s founder, Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950). The seminar opened his eyes to semantics and the scientific method, inspiring Biederman to write his own book on the evolution of Western art called “Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge.”
By 1941, Biederman had grown disillusioned with New York and once again, retreated to Chicago. In an attempt to be closer to nature, he moved into a park side studio, and began exploring new directions in his art. That same year, Biederman re-united with Mary Katherine Moore, sister of John Anderson’s wife Eugenie. The two were married on December 25, 1941 and settled in Red Wing, Minnesota. As the sole breadwinner for many years, Mary made it possible for Biederman to continue working on his art despite his lack of recognition and popularity. She also facilitated Biederman’s extensive writings by editing and assisting him in his research, and by translating correspondences to his French artist friends.
In 1965, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis held Biederman’s break through show, with several pieces being purchased by the Center’s museum trustees. Soon after the show, interest in his work escalated, and for the first time Charles was able to support his family financially. Despite relative financial success, Biederman had gone practically unnoticed in the United States until a large retrospective exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art opened in 1976, with nearly 250 works on display, many of them 3-D constructions.
However, with the death of his wife just a few months prior to the opening of the show, Biederman went into deep seclusion. After the success of the Minneapolis show, many New York galleries began to show an interest in Biederman’s work. Due to his suspicions of their intentions, he invited the galleries’ owners to come visit him in Red Wing. He eventually signed a contract with Grace Borgenicht, the only dealer to make the trip to Minnesota.
In the 1980s, Biederman became connected with the PRO organization, a Dutch Organization committed to the advancement of constructivist art and architecture. In association with the PRO organization, Biederman participated in a “Constructivism: Man vs. Environment” conference, where his book Art-Science-Reality was presented.
In 1991, Biederman agreed to bestow the University of Minnesota with some 1400 works of visual art, a large library, and numerous writings and correspondences. The largest holding of Biederman’s work is now housed in the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota.
Although practically blind, an indomitable Biederman continued to work until his death in 2004. In his last years, he wrote a number of books that drew inspiration from previous journal entries on topics ranging from art, to reality, to mankind’s relationship to nature.
II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK
As the self-proclaimed “best-known unknown artist in America,” Charles Biederman is one of the most innovative and original artists of the twentieth century. Throughout his career Charles Biederman rebuffed the critics, curators and gallery owners who tried to make contemporary artists into celebrities. Preferring privacy, he moved into isolation devoting himself entirely to art. In his early career, Biederman made semi-abstract paintings on canvas that draw upon Cubism, De Stijl and Constructivism for inspiration. Over time, his art transformed into the geometric aluminum sculptures for which he is best known. While having experimented with a number of different media throughout his lifetime, Biederman’s legacy lies in his constant dedication to create non-representational art based on his comprehensive study of nature.
Greatly influenced by the work of Cezanne, Biederman wrote countless theories on art as a vehicle for investigating the hidden qualities and deeper facets of nature. Like Cezanne who once said “Truth is in Nature; I will prove it,” Biederman also found inspiration and motivation in nature. He insisted that nature was not a closed system, but rather a dynamic, open-ended, and supremely creative process, which the artist must strive to reveal.
Upon returning to the United States from Paris in 1937, Biederman set out to create a profoundly “new art.” He preferred living in the United States to Paris, for he believed that European artists relied too heavily on tradition and were being suffocated by their overbearing cultural heritage. According to Biederman, The United States’ lack of history and of culture was a clean slate and the perfect location in which to create his “new art.” Although Biederman believed that Paris was “washed up as an art center,” he did acknowledge its importance and insisted on a debt to European Art. In fact, Biederman himself relied heavily on European art for inspiration and motivation, combining Dutch De Stijl and Russian Constructivism, giving rise to the creation of his groundbreaking geometric sculptures or reliefs. De Stijl offered the proper subject matter of a geometry of pure colors and forms derived from the study of nature, and Russian Constructivism offered the proper medium-– art constructed from industrial material.
The process of creating a relief was long and meticulous, beginning on the hill where Biederman spent much of his time observing nature, taking notes and making sketches. Biederman then worked from these sketches, and made wooden models, ending with detailed mechanical drawings that he provided to a machinist who then created the actual structural pieces. The pieces were tentatively assembled by Biederman, then fine-tuned and adjusted until he felt they expressed the harmonious balance and beauty found in nature. After deciding on the final placement of each of piece, Biederman disassembled the structure and then carefully painted the pieces before it was reassembled, for the final time.
Despite having written more theory than any other twentieth century American artist, Biederman believed that art based on theory was certain to fail. He believed art should be grounded completely in the artist’s direct observations of Nature. Consequently, Biederman’s writings were intended only to re-enforce his beliefs that art always comes before theory, and more importantly the study of nature precedes the art itself. Ranging from semi-abstract paintings on canvas to painted-aluminum constructions of brightly colored geometric forms projecting from monochromatic surfaces, his body of work encapsulates his lifelong journey to understand and express the essence of Nature.
1906 Born August 23, in Cleveland, Ohio.
1926-29 Studied at the Chicago Arts institute.
1934 Left Chicago and moved to New York, for the first time, and lived there off and on till 1941.
1936 Traveled to Europe and met influential modernisms Piet Mondrian and Fernand Leger, Pierre Matisse and others.
1936 Biederman’s first solo exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.
1936 Lived in Paris, France but moved back to New York after only six months.
1941 Left New York for Chicago, reconnected with and married Mary Katherine Moore
1942 Settled in Farmhouse outside Red Wing with wife.
1943 Anna, Biederman’s only daughter, was born in Minnesota.
1948 Published first of many books on art theory, Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge.
1958 Published the book The New Cezanne: From Monet to Mondriaan
1962 Awarded with the Sikkens Award in Amsterdam.
1964 Awarded with the Ford Foundation Award.
1965 Biederman mounted a retrospective exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which he considered his break-through show.
1966 Recognized by the National Council for the Arts for outstanding achievement.
1966 Awarded with the Walker Biennial Donors Award.
1969 Awarded with the Minnesota Arts Council Award.
1975 Death of beloved wife, Mary Katherine.
1979 Published Search for New Arts
1988 Biederman traveled to Europe for his European tour organized by the PRO Foundation, a Dutch organization dedicated to promoting constructivist art and architecture internationally.
1989 Biederman traveled to Europe a second time with the PRO foundation this time to participate in conference "Constructivism: Man vs. Environment."
1999 Published the collection correspondences between himself and physicist David Bohm, Bohn-Biederman Correspondence: Creativity and Science
2004 Died December 26, peacefully, in Red Wing home from declining health, at the age of 98.
Art Institute of Chicago, MN Dallas Art Museum, TX
Forum Gallery, NY
Fredrick R. Weisman Arts Museum, MN
Gary Snyder/ Project Space, NY
High Museum of Art, GA
Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Joan T. Washington Gallery, NY
Margot Gallery, Inc, FL
Meredith Rosenfeld Gallery, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NY
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Museum of Modern Art, NY
Tate Gallery, London
Walker Art Center, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
1936 Pierre Matisse Gallery, NY
1936 Paul Reinhardt Galleries, NYC
1936 Galerie Pierre, Paris
1936 Mayor Gallery, London
1941 Art Club of Chicago, IL
1941 Katherine Kuh Gallery, Chicago
1954 St. Paul Gallery
1962 Kunstgewerbemuseum, Zurich
1962 Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
1963 Columbia University School of Architecture, NY
1963 School of Architecture of the Georgia Institute of Technology, GA
1964 Marlborough-Gerson Gallery Inc. NY
1964 Pittsburgh International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, PA
1965 Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, MN
1966 Marlborough New London Gallery, London
1967 Rochester Art Center
1968 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
1969 Hayward Gallery, London
1970 Dayton's Gallery 12, Minneapolis, MN
1970 Akron Art Institute, Akron, Ohio (September - November)
1971 Illinois State Museum, Springfield
1972 Zabriskie Gallery, New York (June - July)
1972 Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (October - November)
1972 Annely Juda Fine Art, London
1973 Seattle Art Museum, WA
1974 Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN
1979 Chicago Art Institute School, IL
1979 Rutgers University Art Gallery, New Brunswick, NJ
1980 Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County branch, Stamford, Connecticut
1981 Haus der Kunst, Munich
1982 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York
1983 New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
1983 Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA
1985 Museum of Modern Art, NYC
1986 Grace Borgenicht Gallery, NYC
1999 Fredrick R. Weisman Art Museum
2003 McNay Art Musuem, TX
2007 Joan T. Washington Gallery, NYC
2007 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NYC
1980 PRO foundation
1962 Sikkens Award
1964 Ford Foundation
1966 National Council on the Arts
1966 Walker Biennial Donors Award
1969 Minnesota State Arts Council
- 1. Bénézit, Emmanuel, Bénézit Dictionary of Artists, Paris: Grund, 1999.
- 2. Bann, Stephen, trans., The Tradition of Constructivism, New York: Da Capo Press, 1990.
- 3. Biography for Charles Biederman http://www.askart.com/AskART/artists/biography.aspx?artist=33092
- 4. Cash, Stephanie and David Ebony, “Charles Biederman,” Art in America, March, 2005.
- 5. "Charles Biederman: New York, Number 18 (1980.419)". In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/mome/hod_1980.419.htm (October 2006)
- 6. “Charles Joseph Biederman: Biograghy and Links, Exhibtions.” Artnet: Artists, http://www.artnet.com/Artists/ArtistHomePage.aspx?artist_id=590706&page_tab=Bio_and_links
- 7. Larsen, Neil, “Charles Biederman: A Brief History,” Charles Biederman Biography, (December 2000), http://charlesbiederman.net/biography.html
- 8. Smith, Stephen, “Remembering Artist Charles Biederman,” Minnesota Public Radio, (December 28, 2004), http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2004/12/28_ap_biedermanobit/
- 9. “Structurist for a New Age,” Time Magazine, Mon. January 26, 1970, Entertainment section.
IX. WORKS FOR SALE BY THIS ARTIST