Artists & Designers

Charles Biederman (1906-2004)

Opinionated, driven, and always intellectually engaged, Charles Biederman was an artist acclaimed at his debut as one of America's most promising Modernists, whose relocation to rural Minnesota after 1942 took him out of the mainstream of critical discourse in this country, even while his refinements of style (and voluminous self-published theoretical opinions) brought acclaim from European Modernists—and now, belatedly, from his compatriots.

Initially trained as a painter at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Biederman developed an early interest in the grid through several years' work as a graphic design assistant. Originally attracted by Cubist artworks in the Birch Bartlett collection at the Art Institute, Biederman began to dismantle the picture plane in his own work.

Throughout his studies in Chicago and in particular a residency in Paris (1936-1937), Biederman worked his way from Cubism through biomorphic Surrealism and Constructivism, his work growing ever more three-dimensional until it arrived at the union of reliefs with painted, assembled parts. As he ceased painting in favor of creating three-dimensional constructions, he became acquainted with artists including: Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Hans Arp, Fernand Léger, Constantin Brancusi, and Antoine Pevsner.

Biederman maintained his allegiance to machine-age materials throughout his career, utilizing aircraft and automobile paint on aluminum in his mature constructions. While works such as Work No. 3, 1939 (2007.23) can be interpreted as an interrogation of Mondrian's geometric abstraction and Pevsner's string constructions, Biederman's works also pay homage to Paul Cézanne. In his experimentation with transparency and insistence on the flatness and materiality of an artwork's support, Biedermann pursued some of the same avenues of formal examination as the iconic Post-Impressionist. As Biederman described the influence of the older artist, Cézanne was "a sort of center from which I operated." [1]

[1] Quoted in Leif Sjöberg, "Charles Biederman's Search for a New Art," Charles Biederman: A Retrospective, exh. cat. [Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1976], 13.

Adapted from

William Keyse Rudolph, DMA Acquisition proposal (2007.23), January 2007

Fun Facts

  • Charles Biederman dropped out of high school so that he could work full-time to help support his parents. He convinced the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to admit him despite never having graduated high school and paid his tuition by working as a janitor and sign painter.
  • Biederman described himself as the "best-known unknown artist in America."