Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tweevenings October: A Deeper Look at Charles Biederman and the Tweed's Redwing #29

Tuesday night the Tweed Museum of Art in Duluth kicked off its new program to help the public gain a greater sense of art appreciation. Bill Shipley, who spent his career in the midst of the New York arts scene from 1974 to the 21st century, was the presenter. Mr. Shipley discussed a sculptural aluminum relief by abstract artist Charles Biederman called “Redwing #29” which is now in the Tweed collection.

The presentation and subsequent discussion was rich and rewarding. My only criticism is that the event coincided with a lecture just down the hall by Michael Duffy, a former conservator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York who had the privilege of working on Picasso’s "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." Just one more incident in which I wish I could clone myself. Fortunately I did not know what I was missing till I missed it, which means that I was fully absorbed in Biill Shipley’s discussion of Mr. Biederman and his work.

Charles Biederman was an unusual man who had the good fortune to have had a patron who provided the artist with a monthly stipend. Biederman has been variously described as a revolutionary, a rascal and a recluse. Shipley calls him “the reformer of Redwing.”

Biederman was born in August 1906 and lived through one of the most amazing epochs in art history. His primary influences were the early works of Piet Mondrian (not the Broadway Boogie Woogie of Mondrian’s later years) and the later works of Paul Cezanne. Like myself he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and took his first art classes at the Cleveland Art Institute (he as a teen, myself as a five year old.) Because of his commitment to art, when he moved to Chicago at age twenty he chose not to pursue a more lucrative career but, rather, pursued his art and supported himself with odd jobs along the way.

Redwing #29 by Charles Biederman
Shipley shared that Biederman was also a writer, having penned an elaborate 800-word manuscript called Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge. His ideas were progressive and at often incomprehensibly on the bleeding edge of what modernism was doing to the art scene. His book of ideas and theories laid the foundation for the abstract explorations that followed.

The piece that we examined Tuesday evening was a three-dimensional piece which exhibited a measured energy, almost musical in its chord-like construction. Redwing #29, created in March, 1950, was gifted to the Tweed by M. Ghia in the year 2000. At the time it was valued at $30,000, but worth considerably more now as now Biederman’s works are included in collections at the Whitney, the MOMA, the Metropolitan and the Tate.

Charles Biederman might not have been a man most of us would like to have been close to. He drank heavily and stank of Cuban cigars. The headstrong, socially frustrating Czechoslovakian tended to insult and alienate people and, to use today’s vernacular, “didn’t play well with friends.” Nevertheless, as an artist he had uncompromising high standards. He was extremely rigorous about craftsmanship.

Mr. Shipley shared how Biederman returned to Redwing, MN and softened with age. Ultimately he ended his life away from the world’s art centers on the bluffs of the Mississippi.Due to failing eyesight Biederman abruptly quit making art on January 7, 1995.

A simple Google search will show you the range and beauty of Biederman’s abstract, romantic constructions and designs. He called his work structuralism. Shipley called it a symphony of colors.

Art dealer and collector Betty Parsons once famously said, “Never confuse the artist with the art.” Biederman, like the famously difficult Jackson Pollock, exemplified this matter. Interestingly enough, when he died in 2004 he received more recognition in Europe than in America.

Minimalists noticed the work he was doing in the post-war New York scene. Donald Judd was especially aware and influenced.

The thing I took away from this discussion more than anything was Shipley encouragement to join the “slow art movement.” That is, take five minutes to study a single piece before moving on. Usually there is far more in each than meets the eye, or the soul. As I have frequently stated here in this blog over the past several years, engage. Engage the piece fully. Take your time and take it in. Don’t go to a museum and try to see everything. The faster you move through the corridors the less you see. Take your time.

Thank you, Bill, for this presentation, and especially your reminder that to fully appreciate a work of art we should take it slow.

Reminder: Artist Kamikaze V tonight from 7-9 at Pizza Luce, Downtown Duluth.

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