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Helmut Federle

Basics on Composition

Intro

Helmut Federle at the exhibition Helmut Federle - Six Large Paintings, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switerzerland, 2019

 

Peter Blum Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition by Helmut Federle entitled, Basics on Composition at 176 Grand Street, New York. This is the artist’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery. There will be an opening reception on Saturday, January 16, from 10am - 6pm.

Please book online to reserve a gallery viewing time, and click "Inquire" beneath available artworks to contact us for more information.


Helmut Federle has developed a body of work over four decades that is characterized by both painterly and geometric imagery rooted in spirituality, symbolism, and a closeness to nature. He engages in the tradition of geometric abstraction, renewing and expanding it, exploring the relationship between figure and ground, between order and disorder, between movement and stillness. Federle began investigating the “reclining H” in 1979 while living in New York, using the first letter of his first name as its basic, now iconic, form. Subsequently in 1992 and 1993 he primarily created the series entitled, Basics on Composition and he has now resumed the series since 2019. The exhibition will survey works from the series spanning from 1992 to 2020.

Each of the variations in the series measure 15 ¾ x 19 ¾ inches (40 x 50 cm) and emit their own unique, emotional presences. The bars of the “reclining H” and the two squares that result from it as open ends on the left and right become individualized, equivalent geometric surfaces that repeatedly reverse the traditional figure-ground relationship and deny balance and cohesion. Gestural entries, both in the dark bars and in the typically yellow, green, or yellow-green squares, formulate among the defined edges, sometimes lyrically and sometimes defiantly. The surfaces of the resulting squares can be opaque or have visible brushstrokes with delicate variations between each painting’s color. The “reclining H” areas defined sharply, can be matte or glossy, while the color of the form, most often black, is also expressed in gray, red, or a combination further dividing the form. Federle defines his painting as “vegetative” and “climatic,” applying this to the interplay of color and form that are characteristic of his work. Many of the paintings have subtitles that do not reference their content, rather they are associations and stimuli in Federle’s life which accompanies and determines his work.

CV

Studio of Helmut Federle, 19 East 21st Street, New York, NY, 1980

 

Helmut Federle (b. 1944, Solothurn, Switzerland) lives and works in Vienna, Austria and Camaiore, Italy. Federle represented Switzerland in 1997 at the XLVII Venice Biennale. Select solo museum exhibitions include: Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2019); Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland (2012); Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, France (2002); Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany (1999); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (1999); Galerie national du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (1995); Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (1992); and Kunsthalle Zürich, Switzerland (1992). Select museum collections include Tate Modern, London, UK; Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA; Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland; Kunsthaus Zürich, Switerzerland; Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany; Albertina, Vienna, Austria; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, Netherlands; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.
 




“The basic value inherent in every work of art lies in the metaphysical quality of form and not in form per se. Form serves as a vehicle for an immaterial quality which cannot be recognized as such or as a motif.”

— Helmut Federle

 

Video



Watch video of Helmut Federle discussing his practice.

 

Helmut Federle Basics on Composition XXXXII (First Phase Navajo), 1992

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition XXXXII (First Phase Navajo), 1992
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold

Helmut Federle Basics on Composition XXI (For Lee Harvey Oswald), 1992

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition XXI (For Lee Harvey Oswald), 1992
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 5/8 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold

Helmut Federle Basics on Composition C (April at Kamikochi), 2019

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition C (April at Kamikochi), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold

Helmut Federle Basics on Composition E (Dedication: Musashi Miyamoto 1584-1645), 2019

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition E (Dedication: Musashi Miyamoto 1584-1645), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold

Helmut Federle Basics on Composition H (Eight), 2019

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition H (Eight), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold

Helmut Federle Basics on Composition I (The Road/Beau Travail), 2019

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition I (The Road/Beau Travail), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Available

Helmut Federle Basics on Composition K (Spätherbst / Winteranfang) (Polarente) (Man of Nazareth) (Disruptive Elegance) (The Vail), 2019-2020

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition K (Spätherbst / Winteranfang) (Polarente) (Man of Nazareth) (Disruptive Elegance) (The Vail), 2019-2020
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Available

Helmut Federle Die Nacht der Krähe (The Night of the Crow), 2008

Helmut Federle
Die Nacht der Krähe (The Night of the Crow), 2008
Oil and acrylic on canvas
19 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (50 x 35 cm)
Available

Helmut Federle Untitled, 1977

Helmut Federle
Untitled, 1977
Acrylic on cardboard
27 1/2 x 39 3/8 inches (70 x 100 cm)
Available

Helmut Federle Liegendes H, 1979

Helmut Federle
Liegendes H, 1979
Dispersion on paper
8 3/8 x 11 inches (21.4 x 27.8 cm)
Sold

Helmut Federle My Name as a Structural Design, 1979

Helmut Federle
My Name as a Structural Design, 1979
Pencil on paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches (21.7 x 28.0 cm)
Available

Helmut Federle Two Side Drawing (Abstände von Ecke zur Form gleichwertig, 1 + 1/2 + 2/3 + 3), 1979

Helmut Federle
Two Side Drawing (Abstände von Ecke zur Form gleichwertig, 1 + 1/2 + 2/3 + 3), 1979
Pencil and ballpoint pen on paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches (21.7 x 28 cm)
Available

Helmut Federle Untitled, 1986/2020

Helmut Federle
Untitled, 1986/2020
Black and white print on Baryt paper
9 1/2 x 12 1/8 inches (24.1 x 30.6 cm)
Edition of 20
Available



 

BoC XXXXII

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition XXXXII (First Phase Navajo), 1992
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold
 

BoC quote 1

Installation of Basics on Composition, Peter Blum Gallery, New York, NY, 1994

 

“Within every tradition there is a strenuous argument between the forces of repetition and the forces of renewal. In painting, this is particularly true of the geometric tradition which originated in the early decades of this century. Federle is one of the few contemporary artists to renew the geometric tradition. He understands that balance and closure are not ends in themselves, and that self-sufficiency and well-ordered design are not necessarily geometry’s destination. This is something both Mondrian and Malevich understood. For them, geometry was the basis of their investigative vocabulary. It was not only a way to discover further evidence of the tensile relationship between order and disorder, and movement and stillness, but also the most focused means with which to articulate the various relationships that could occur between part and whole."

— John Yau, "The Condition of Music," 1993, Basics on Composition, 2020

 

BoC XXI

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition XXI (For Lee Harvey Oswald), 1992
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 5/8 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold
 

BoC Quote 2

Installation of Helmut Federle: American Songline, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland, 2012

 

“In short, the strict, spare, seemingly depleted formal presence of Federle’s paintings is rich in meanings. Those meanings await any viewer alert to nuances and irregularities in what may initially appear as typical modernist surfaces, a viewer who, like someone walking through the desert, keeps a sharp eye out for the changes in terrain that indicate ruins under hardpacked sand and clay.”

— Robert Storr, “Scratching Away at the Surface,” Helmut Federle: American Songline, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland, 2012


 

BoC C

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition C (April at Kamikochi), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold

 

BoC quote 3

Installation of Helmut Federle, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany, 1995
 

"The visual economy of Federle’s painting has two foundations. On the one hand: clear shapes, well demarcated areas, straightforward structures. On the other: Diffusion, complex transitions, climatic processes. In a mysterious way that is hard to perceive, the one determines the other."

— Gottfried Boehm, "Dark Light," Helmut Federle: XLVII Biennale Venedig, XLVII Venice Biennale, Italy, 1997

 

BoC E

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition E (Dedication: Musashi Miyamoto 1584-1645), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold
 

BoC quote 7

Installation of Armleder, Dissler, Federle, Centre d'art contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland, 1981


 

"A sense of balance pervades Helmut Federle’s work: a masterful push and pull of opposing pictorial means that demands our attention from the outset without ever fully gratifying it."

— David Mistelli, "Helmut Federle: Kunstmuseum Basel," Artforum, October 2019


 

BoC H

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition H (Eight), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Sold
 

BoC quote 5

Verso of Helmut Federle, Basics on Composition H (Eight), 2019
 

"Behind the superficial similiarity of the Basics on Composition, one senses a mutual differentiation — even a strangeness — between the various parts. The smallest discrepancies become increasingly clear and ultimately split the pictorial unity. The differences reinforce one another, while at the same time growing together inseparably."

"The subtitles and dedications Federle provides for many works in Basics on Composition are also of little use. I would even go so far as to say that they are so wonderful and touching because they do not contribute to our understanding. They explain nothing. For the most part, they evoke multilayered memories. They inspire intense perception and enrich our experience of these pictures, but they do not offer a key."

— Erich Franz, "Helmut Federle: Basics on Composition," Basics on Composition, 2020

 

BoC I

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition I (The Road/Beau Travail), 2019
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Available

Inquire
 

BoC quote 4

Installation of Art Since 1950, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland, 2020


 

“I still regard composition as an essential element of painting because the picture in its environment consists of this dialogue, this balance of forces between the picture and the space, between the paint mass and the object quality of the base material. [...] The same applies to the question of content: to my mind, there is no such thing as absolute non-referential painting. There is no painting that does not arouse some climatic associations with something else.”

— Helmut Federle

 

BoC K

Helmut Federle
Basics on Composition K (Spätherbst / Winteranfang) (Polarente) (Man of Nazareth) (Disruptive Elegance) (The Vail), 2019-2020
Oil on canvas
15 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (40 x 50 cm)
Available

Inquire
 

BoC quote 6

Installation of Helmut Federle – Bilder und Zeichnungen 1975–1988, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany, 1989

 

"After painting for 50 years with a palette limited mostly to black, gray, white and yellow, and representing Switzerland at the 1997 Venice Biennale, Mr. Federle has said that he nearly stopped painting in 2005. More recently, he has stressed that painting for him is spiritual: He has called the art world a 'world of religion without the church.'"

— Martha Schwendener, "Helmut Federle: The Ferner Paintings," The New York Times, January 3, 2014




 

Crow

Helmut Federle
Die Nacht der Krähe (The Night of the Crow), 2008
Oil and acrylic on canvas
19 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (50 x 35 cm)
Available

Inquire
 

Crow Quote

Portrait of Helmut Federle, Shirakawa River, Japan, 2019


 

"I've known and admired the paintings of Helmut Federle for twenty five years but did not know that he is one of the few collectors of Japanese chawan, teabowls, in the West. Chawan are complex objects made for one of the most elaborately choreographed ceremonies in the world where aesthetics, literature, objects, architecture and social relationships are brought together for the Japanese Tea Ceremony."

— Edmund de Waal, "I read and walk around," 2009, Abstract Matter [Paintings and Ceramics], Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal, 2017

 

Paper 1

Helmut Federle
Untitled, 1977
Acrylic on cardboard
27 1/2 x 39 3/8 inches (70 x 100 cm)
Available

Inquire
 

1977 Quote

Installation of Helmut Federle, Untitled, 1977


 

“Federle ‘finds’ his proportions in the interplay of feeling and intellect, yet the starting point is always the feeling, never the cool calculation. The rational does have its place within his creative processes, but - as he emphasizes in his notes - it may never predominate and obstruct the view onto ‘the whole.’”

— Eva Badura-Triska, "1/1, 1/2, 1/4 (To Johannes Itten)," Helmut Federle: 5 + 1, 1990


 

Liegendes WoP

Helmut Federle
Liegendes H, 1979
Dispersion on paper
8 3/8 x 11 inches (21.4 x 27.8 cm)
Sold

 

Liegendes WoP quote

Helmut Federle, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1985


 

"In 1969, Helmut Federle travelled from Europe to Kathmandu in Nepal with friends in a Volkswagen bus. Fifty years of travelling and forming a language and position in abstract painting is an effort. It has always been evident in his work that this interest in other cultures and the richness of man-made aesthetics, often with sparse materials, is shared throughout history."

— Erik Steffensen, "Three Owls," Basics on Composition, 2020


 

Name Drawing

Helmut Federle
My Name as a Structural Design, 1979
Pencil on paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches (21.7 x 28.0 cm)
Available

Inquire
 

Name Drawing Quote

Installation of Helmut Federle: American Songline, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland, 2012


 

“The drawings were never meant to be sketches for paintings, they were pieces by themselves. Defined pieces means they were not just studies…I don’t see myself as a painter or the guy who is doing drawings. I see myself as somebody who is expressing his inner experiences and his inner need in different media.”

— Helmut Federle


 

Two Side Drawing

Helmut Federle
Two Side Drawing (Abstände von Ecke zur Form gleichwertig, 1 + 1/2 + 2/3 + 3), 1979
Pencil and ballpoint pen on paper
8 1/2 x 11 inches (21.7 x 28 cm)
Available

Inquire
 

Geometry Drawing Quote

Installation of Helmut Federle - Six Large Paintings, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switerzerland, 2019


 

“At first glance, Federle's geometry seems straightforward, a simple matrix of verticals and horizontals, with an implicit clarity. The geometry seems to do nothing but state and differentiate a surface. But then, on closer, more careful looking, a certain quirkiness and oddness becomes evident. There is a sense of something amiss or disturbed in the geometry, evocative of a sense of depth. It is ingeniously sublime.”

— Donald Kuspit, "Ascent to the Right," Helmut Federle: 5 + 1, 1990


 

Horse Photo

Helmut Federle
Untitled, 1986/2020
Black and white print on Baryt paper
9 1/2 x 12 1/8 inches (24.1 x 30.6 cm)
Edition of 20
Available

Inquire

Photo quote

Installation of Helmut Federle, Untitled, 1986/2020


 

About the Photograph:

During one of Helmut Federle's several stays in the USA, this photograph of a horse was made in 1986 on the Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona, which he had already visited in the early 1970s. Federle is interested in all of American culture, which he approaches in this work with his own distinctive symbolism, spirituality, and closeness to nature. The photograph explores the same type of content found in a photographic series in 1998 whose depictions of animals refer to different geographical places and times.

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