Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart German, 1899-1962

Born in Osnabrück, Germany in 1899, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart was an abstract painter, typographer and teacher. In 1919, he moved to Hanover to study architecture and sculpture at the Kunstgewerbeschule and the Technische Hochschule. That same year he began to paint, employing a purely non-objective vocabulary that he continued to use throughout his career. While in Hanover, Vordemberge-Gildewart met El Lissitzky, Kurt Schwitters, Jean Arp, and Theo van Doesburg, who invited him to join the De Stijl group in 1924. In 1925 he participated in the Paris exhibition L’art d’aujourd’hui, which featured a strong De Stijl presentation, and in 1927, Vordemberge-Gildewart, Schwitters, Hans Nitzschke, and Carl Buchheister formed the avant-garde group Die Abstrakten Hannover. 

Vordemberge-Gildewart’s first solo exhibition was held in 1929 at the Galerie Povolozky in Paris. In 1932 Vordemberge-Gildewart joined the Abstraction-Création group, founded to promote abstraction during a resurgence of representational art in the 1920s. He moved from Hanover to Berlin in 1936, seeking refuge from the cultural censure of the Nazi regime, which labelled modern art as “degenerate”. The Nazi Party displayed Vordemberge-Gildewart’s work in its Munich Exhibition of Degenerate Art in 1937, and later confiscated it claiming that it was un-German. Vordemberge-Gildewart fled Germany for Switzerland, and then to Amsterdam.

Committed to a non-objective idiom, Vordemberge-Gildewart referred to his practice as “absolute art,” or art devoid of representation. From 1934 through the 1940s, he used colour, form, and contrast to investigate the possibility of visual equilibrium among geometrically unequal components. Works like Composition No. 96 (1935) demonstrate his dedication to geometric abstraction with an emphasis on diagonal form. Often creating multiple versions of the same work, the artist would reconfigure the primary elements to investigate each component’s role in the composition.

In 1952 he lectured in architecture at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten in Rotterdam and became head of the department of Visual Communication at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany in 1954 at the invitation of Max Bill. During his lifetime, Vordemberge-Gildewart participated in landmark exhibitions including Abstracte Kunst, at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1938; Art of Tomorrow: Collection of Non-Objective Paintings, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1939; De Stijl: 1917–32, at the Venice Biennale, 1952. His work has featured widely in posthumous exhibitions, including: De Stijl: Cercle et Carré, Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, 1974; Vordemberge-Gildewart – Retrospective, 1972 and Paintings, Collages & Drawings 1919- 62 in 2016 both at Annely Juda Fine Art, London; Die Abstrakten Hannover, Internationale Avantgarde 1927–1935, Sprengel Museum, Hanover 1987; and a major 1996 Retrospective at the IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez, Valencia, and Museum Wiesbaden, Germany who in 2002 also presented the exhibition “nichts – und alles“ Der De-Stijl-Künstler Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart. Vordemberge-Gildewart died in Ulm, Germany in 1962.