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Remembering artist Charles Biederman
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Work No. 24, Constable. This painted aluminum sculpture, created in the late '70s, is representative of Charles Biederman's work later in his career. (Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Biederman Archive, Promised gift of Charles Biederman) (Image courtesy of Charles Biederman)
Artist Charles Biederman, who died Sunday at his Red Wing home, leaves behind a legacy unknown to many people in Minnesota. Biederman is best known for his three-dimensional painted aluminum sculptures, which attempted to capture the "structural processes" of nature.

Red Wing, Minn. — Artist Charles Biederman, an early American Modernist whose later work attempted to capture the "structural processes" of nature, has died. He was 98.

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Image Untitled, New York, June 1936

Biederman died Sunday afternoon at his home after a period of declining health, his daughter, Anna Brown, said Monday.

Biederman is best known for his three-dimensional painted aluminum constructions, created from the early 1950s to the late 1990s, in which brightly colored squares and rectangles are arranged in patterns projecting out from a flat background.

His works are represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.; Tate Gallery in London; Art Institute of Chicago; Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis and other museums in the United States and western Europe.

The first of about a dozen books on art theory written by Biederman, "Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge," appeared in 1948 and is generally considered his masterpiece.

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Image Biederman in 1946

Some critics say Biederman is one of the most original and important artists of the 20th century. But to most of the public -- and most of Minnesota -- Biederman is unknown.

As a young man, Charles Biederman spurned the critics, curators and gallery owners who can make contemporary artists into superstars. He resolved to devote his life purely to art.

Biederman was born Aug. 23, 1906 in Cleveland. He studied art at the Cleveland Art Institute, and later at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.

Biederman worked successfully in Chicago and New York, where his work was exhibited alongside such artists as Alexander Calder and Charles Shaw. He spent several months in Paris before returning to New York in 1937.

In 1941 he was back in Chicago, and a year later he and his wife, Mary, settled in a farmhouse outside of Red Wing, where he had produced works for a medical clinic, and continued to develop his art in a kind of self-imposed exile.

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Image Biederman's house

From his home in Red Wing, Biederman used to observe nature every day, in search of the best -- abstract -- way to represent it, said Lyndel King, director of the Weisman museum.

"He believed he was revealing the structure of nature, and that's what he believed all art was about," King said.

She said that at a time when other abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock were making more emotional art, "Charles represented another direction, a much more intellectual dimension of abstraction."

Some 1,400 pieces of Biederman's art, and many of his papers, were put in the Weisman's possession in the late 1990s, and the museum has coordinated a traveling exhibition of his work for the past two years.

Minnesota Public Radio's Stephen Smith visited Biederman at his Red Wing farmstead in 1995, to get a sense of the man and his art. To listen to his report, choose the audio link in the right column.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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