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  Charles Biederman (1906-2004)


Charles Biederman was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1906 to Czech parents. His early training was as a commercial artist, but by 1926 he had enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1934, he moved to New York, where he met some of the most influential figures in the art world, and had the opportunity to see the work of European modernists like Léger and Mondrian first-hand. These were seminal years for Biederman, as he grew out of an earlier, Cézannesque painting style into an abstract vocabulary influenced by European precedents like Cubism, De Stijl, Constructivism, and, to some extent, Surrealism. These strains are apparent in Biederman’s biomorphic shapes, linear forms, and geometric structures. The paintings and works on paper from 1935 and 1936 ultimately led to the three-dimensional wood constructions that preoccupied him exclusively after 1939.

Throughout the mid-1930s, Biederman worked out many of the artistic problems he felt were confronting him, including, as later explained, “the decision absolutely to remove all [subject matter]. It was the ultimate thing once you started making structural opinions about the paramount thing rather than the subject; the subject was simply a means – which I learned later that Cezanne said was a pretext for the painting. … You just had to go on in that direction or else retreat; there was no other choice” (Transcript of interview with Paul Cummings, May 6, 1976, Archives of American Art Oral History Project, p. 22).

In 1936 Biederman opened his first one-man show at Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. It was an auspicious beginning for the 29-year-old artist, and a confirmation of his talent from the legendary dealer, who also showed the work of Miró, Léger, and Mondrian. Matisse had been introduced to Biederman by James Johnson Sweeney, the curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and after visiting Biederman’s studio, offered him a show. The same month, Biederman’s work could also be seen in a group exhibition organized by Albert Gallatin titled Five American Concretionists, with works by Alexander Calder, John Ferren, George L.K. Morris, and Charles Shaw.

A few months after the close of these exhibitions, Biederman made plans to leave for Paris, where he remained until the 1938. From that point on, Biederman devoted himself exclusively to the three-dimensional constructions for which he is known today. He moved to Red Wing, Minnesota in 1942, where he continued to produce innovative work for the rest of his life.

Biederman’s work is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Dallas Art Museum, High Museum of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Museum of Modern Art, Tate Gallery, Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.


Charles Biederman
New York 9/36, 1936




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