Concrete Art present with Ina von Jan

An astute observer of Concrete Art, which, in various guises, has been evolving over a period of roughly one hundred years, recently claimed that the degree of its renown may be exemplified by the figure of two circles: by an inner circle, the full vitality and intellectual curiosity of which is shared by numerous artists and art enthusiasts throughout the world, and by an outer circle for which even the term “Concrete Art” is a rarity and of which, at best, it possesses only a vague idea with respect to content. Whoever belongs to the inner circle cannot rest content with such a scission within the art word. Is it this ignored existence and failure to accept one hundred years development which is out of touch with reality, or is one rather culpable of unrealism when unaware of Concrete Art as made manifest by hundreds of artists and galleries? One could see it like this. And yet it repeatedly strikes one as astonishing that this present-day art, which, like no other phenomena examines human perception directly under the crucial principle of rest and motion, and which carries out exemplary experiments often in visual accordance with natural scientific knowledge, clearly remains unacknowledged by the majority of observers.

There has not always been such difference, and Concrete Art – albeit that there are conflicting dates with respect to the emergence of this art form, the Manifesto of 1930 explicitly deals with its founding – would have never come about were it not for closer ties to authentic social developments, or had the ideas of the latter been less virulent than they were. One ought to note that the development of this art by no means took a single course, that there were repeated deviations from the norm (as suggested by a similar sounding title of an exhibition), that the concept “concrete” merged with other, more contemporary concepts, and that philosophical-ethical justification was increasingly perceived as being obsolete.

In spite of this, when observing all artistic processes, their effects and their side effects, one cannot fail to notice that here a multiple reality of concrete pictorial worlds has been preserved and continued, and put to the test by successive generations. Here we may observe a professional differentiation in the fields of colour, colour field, line and space – but, also quite often in their combination. In artistic production itself, this professionalism of creation and construction is given particular attention.

The very fact that it seems necessary to point out this troubled acceptance of Concrete Art at all is something that speaks strongly in favour of Ina von Jan’s pictures. It stands in patent contrast to the unswerving continuity with which the artist has worked on the development of Concrete Art for the past twenty years. What is at once appealing and convincing is the unique ethos that pervades the artist’s work – something which bodes well for the future potential of a movement currently undergoing renewal and further development. When, a good few years ago, an evaluation seemed necessary, not only did various predecessors come to mind such as Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse along with their erstwhile gallery back in the 1940s, but also Rudolf Ortner, that exemplary figure, architect and painter, together with his influential doctrines that were to later become especially discernable in the art of Ina von Jan. Ortner, in turn, drew on his studies at the Bauhaus and his acquaintance with Kandinsky and Mies van der Rohe. Hence, it was here that one of the most far-reaching directions in Concrete Art was foreordained. Initially, it was the architect’s stylistic devices, such as right-angled linear structures and their relationships to surfaces that were recognisable. And the colour blue took precedence over red and incidental yellow. This resulted in the emergence of a school of art with concrete structures and rules.

However, what art means for Ina von Jan today, is something which could already be observed in some early examples of work that were cast in luminous yellow. In her more recent work linear structures have now either been abandoned or else reduced to a bare minimum in favour of the one colour. In the words of the artist:

My interest centres on the exploration of the effects of colour, on luminosity and colour intensity in various arrangements and their inversions.

Ina von Jan applies various shades of yellow, which forcefully impress themselves upon perception either by way of addition, with up to nine identical pictures in a quadratic format, or else she enhances or propitiates them by way of bringing them into a relationship of reciprocity. She draws the viewer’s gaze towards the effects of the single picture by simultaneously breaking and enhancing the yellow by the use of narrow black frames. Here, the simultaneous effect is calibrated, one of the most advanced techniques in concrete colour painting. The fact that everything is played out within the square is something which, for an artist of the likes of Ina von Jan who feels herself fundamentally committed to Concrete Art, is no question. What she seeks to achieve through her minimal choice of colour, and what she achieves by means of high levels of concentration, is reliant on the neutral form of the quadrate, which, for example, also facilitates serial addition. The effects of enhancing by way of inner-pictorial progression, is possible only in this ancient cultural figure of geometry.

The developmental direction in which the artist works is that of concrete colour art, the dimensions of which – also in the square – were fixed by Josef Albers through the interaction of colour. Here we note how, within the narrow confines of a form and a few colours, tensions may be generated that reflect unforeseen distinctions in subjective sensibility. Such precision work, without shades and without recourse to disruptive accessories, is something which is only possible in Concrete Art. The above-mentioned inner circle in which Ina von Jan is firmly anchored rejoices at such artistic subtleties. The outer circle ought to be made increasingly aware of the existence of this art, since it does, indeed, convey first-hand aesthetic information to the present-day lifeworld.

© Prof. Eugen Gomringer. May 2010
Translated by Justin Morris.