Helmut Federle.PETER BLUM
The surprise of Helmut Federle's exhibition was not his exquisite geometrical abstractions but what surrounded them: an icon of the Feast of the Intercession intercession,
n a prayer in which a request is made on behalf of another person. of the Virgin made in Novgorod in the late 15th century, Ferdinand Hodler's Die Bucht von Genf mit dem Mont Blanc Mont Blanc (môN bläN), Alpine massif, on the French-Italian border, SE of Geneva. One of its several peaks, also called Mont Blanc (15,771 ft/4,807 m), is the highest peak in France and the second highest in Europe. vor Sonnenaufgang (The bay of Geneva Geneva, canton and city, Switzerland
Geneva (jənē`və), Fr. Genève, canton (1990 pop. 373,019), 109 sq mi (282 sq km), SW Switzerland, surrounding the southwest tip of the Lake of Geneva. with Mon Blanc before sunrise, 1918) and a 1932 Composition by Piet Mondrian. Federle, who rifled the show "Basics on Composition," clearly wanted to suggest a certai compositional continuity--a similarity in abstract intention--between his works and those he named as their ancestors. More than this is at stake, however: namely, a certain notion of spiritual art, more particularly, of the spiritual power of form as such. Federle's composition--a vertical black bar centered between two horizontal black bars filling the entire frame set in a somewhat atmospheric, even murky yellowish field--has the same emotional effect as the similarly mixed atmospheric and geometrical compositions of the icon and the Hodler, and the purely geometrical composition of the Mondrian. The differences are nominal and local--circumstantial rather than essential--and Federle wants the essential, for only it can alter our consciousness.
Federle is successful both because of the contrast of the geometrical with the conventionally empirical--Sol LeWitt's photographs of manhole covers and simila practical objects show that eternal geometry is conventionally empirical--and because each composition is in effect an unresolved tension of opposites, not only between the horizontal and the vertical, but between the clarity of the compositional construction and the atmospheric space on which it rests, or rather, in which it is embedded. The trick is to achieve an effect of constant oscillation between a variety of opposites, catalyzing as well as representing consciousness moving from empirical observation to transcendental self-awarenes and back again. Indeed, just the way each of Federle's compositions abstractly mirrors all the others, so consciousness is impelled im·pel
tr.v. im·pelled, im·pel·ling, im·pels
1. To urge to action through moral pressure; drive: I was impelled by events to take a stand.
2. To drive forward; propel. by the composition to mirror itself without falling into a narcissistic nar·cis·sism also nar·cism
1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. See Synonyms at conceit.
2. A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in trap. That is, there is no sense of anything personal involved; what is at stake is consciousness recognizing impersonally that it exists, as an absolute given. The esthetic es·thet·ic
Variant of aesthetic. reduction is to irreducible irreducible /ir·re·duc·i·ble/ (ir?i-doo´si-b'l) not susceptible to reduction, as a fracture, hernia, or chemical substance.
Federle's grouping of works also suggests a kind of epigenesis epigenesis /epi·gen·e·sis/ (-jen´e-sis) the development of an organism from an undifferentiated cell, consisting in the successive formation and development of organs and parts that do not preexist in the fertilized egg. of abstraction: each stage offers a greater, more exacting epiphany of the idea of abstraction as such and the essential consciousness--a consciousness that can recognize and deal with essences (in a Husserlian sense)--than the preceding one. Thus chronology matters less than realization (though it may be coordinate with it), and Federle makes a convincing case that his abstractions are more realized--more of the essence of abstract art and abstract consciousness--than the others. Nonetheless, the exhibition and its juxtapositions were haunted by certain post-Modernist historicism his·tor·i·cism
1. A theory that events are determined or influenced by conditions and inherent processes beyond the control of humans.
2. A theory that stresses the significant influence of history as a criterion of value. which, though it did not undermine its spiritual point, demanded a new definition of the spiritual. Federle relies too much on a traditional, even Modernist sense of it. The very fact that the form of the spiritual is quotable quot·a·ble
Suitable for or worthy of quoting: a quotable slogan; a quotable pundit.
quot and codifiable--whatever its transformative effect--suggests that its meaning has changed.
Even the tone of Federle's compositions, which is blunter and more brooding and threatening, and more peculiarly irksome than that of the others, points to thi shift. In Federle's paintings, spirituality has become defensive for it has neither God (the icon), nature (Hodler), nor geometry (Mondrian) to fall back on, only its own faith in itself. Transcendence has become a haunting, dangerou atmosphere in Federle's works, works that reveal both its raw power and its anxiety.