Imi Knoebel studied at the Werkkunstschule (School of Applied Arts) Darmstadt 1962–1964, after which he was a student in Joseph Beuys’ class at the Kunstakademie (Academy of Art) Düsseldorf.
Imi Knoebel is one of the most well-known abstract artists worldwide. He developed his fundamentally abstract vocabulary of forms already while studying at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. In his room-filling installation Raum 19 (1968), which now stands out as a key work in his oeuvre, he layered pieces of hardboard on top of each other in an investigation of the relationship between forms and planes in space. During the same time, Knoebel was also working on a series of line pictures based on a radical reduction of painting (inspired by Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square from 1915), with the goal of fundamentally redefining the notion of the picture.
In addition to creating light projections, Knoebel worked with the “non” colors black and white and unpainted hardboard panels until 1975, after which he turned to the qualities of pure color, in a reference to Blinky Palermo. He then created a series of plywood panels in free forms that were painted in monochrome colors. For his Mennigebilder (red lead pictures), he also used rust-proofing paint, which (like his hardboard panels) is an industrial product. Since the 1990s, Knoebel has also been using aluminum as a medium for color.
The bright and luminous color pictures and objects in his current phase complement and expand on issues that can already be found in his earlier work. In his continuous reinterpretation of the entire spectrum of his vocabulary of non-representational forms, Knoebel relies on the principle of layering individual elements in constantly new variations, pictures, and spatial compositions.
A retrospective of Imi Knoebel’s work from 1968 to 1996 was shown at the Haus der Kunst, Munich; the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; the IVAM, Valencia; the Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, and the Musée de Grenoble in 1996/1997. The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg also held a Knoebel retrospective in 2014 with works from 1966 to 2014. Further selected solo exhibitions include: 2015 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K21 Ständehaus, Düsseldorf; 2015 Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld; 2014 Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; 2009 Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; 2009 Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin; 2008 Dia:Beacon, New York; 2007 Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen.
Imi Knoebel participated in the documenta in Kassel in 1972, 1977, 1982, and 1987.
In 2006, Imi Knoebel was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Jena. He received the Kythera Award in 2011, the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2016.
In 2008 Knoebel was commissioned to design the glass windows of the Reims cathedral, which were completed in 2011, followed by three more in 2015.
Imi Knoebel’s works can be found in many renowned museum collections all over the world, including the Bayrische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich; Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Dia:Beacon, New York; FNAC, Paris, Fundaçao de Serralves, Porto; Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; Kunstmuseum Basel; MoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York; Reina Sofia, Madrid; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota.