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71111 Waldenbuch

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Karl-Heinz Adler

Folienschichtung über kleinen Quadraten auf diagonal geteilter Quadratfläche, 1977–79

Foil, paper

59 x 59 cm

© Artist

Photo: Gerhard Sauer


The “Schichtungen” [Layerings] are, together with his “Serielle Lineaturen” [Serial Lineaments], Karl-Heinz Adler's central group of works, on which he has worked since 1957 using various mediums and techniques, including paper, glass, chip board, water colours, painting, metal, and concrete. In the 1970s and 1980s he created a series of collages in black and white, in some cases with one additional colour, entitled “Folienschichtungen” [Foil Layerings] which are among his subtlest works. Their characteristic effect is derived from the progressive layering of squares made of white transparent foil.


This process of layering surfaces, together with the ensuing relief they produce, creates the perspectival illusion of a cuboid. On the collage “Foil Layering over Small Squares on a Diagonally Divided Square Surface” our gaze is directed however to the dominant symmetrical axis formed by a set of small black squares, so that the seemingly three-dimensional, hovering shape flips back kaleidoscopically to the surface where it seems to resolve itself on the black background into prismatic bundles of refracted light. Small squares radiate out in finely nuanced grey values that grow paler towards the middle – like an optical dispersion on either side of the central axis.


Karl-Heinz Adler regards his artistic activity as a form of philosophical contemplation of the universe which he performs by the parsimonious use of visual means. He is concerned with showing the eternal cycle of chaos and order by dividing up the picture in imaginary ways and then piecing it back together. He is one of a small circle of constructivist artists from the generation following Hermann Glöckner, who all worked clandestinely in the GDR following the formalism debate in the early 1950s. Up until the beginning of the 1980s, Adler was only known to the public through his works for buildings; he earned his living by decorative murals made of concrete and ceramic. He was only first able to take up a guest professorship at the academy in Düsseldorf some ten years later, because the GDR authorities had previously refused him permission. He received more and more recognition after German reunification, as for instance in his retrospective in 1997 at the Museum Folkwang in Essen. This exhibition was mediated by Gotthard Graubner, a friend of his youth who also remained loyal to Adler after he moved to the West.


Karl-Heinz Adler

1927 born in Remtengrün (today: Adorf/Vogtland)

2018 died in Dresden