Born in Cleveland to Czech parents in 1906, Karel Josef Biederman, who would adopt the name Charles, knew a childhood of emotionally distant parents, hard labor, and few expressions of comfort. Although he was naturally interested in the arts and sciences, the young Biederman found that his gifts were ignored by his parents—they encouraged him to quit high school to find work to help support the family. After a few years of working on commercial advertisements, Biederman built up the independence to leave. At twenty years old, Biederman extricated himself from his Cleveland home, his sights set on the Art Institute of Chicago. He arrived at just the right moment. Helen Gardner’s lasting and influential Art Through the Ages had been published in 1926, and all students at the Institute were required to take her vast survey course. No less important was the Institute’s acquisition, in the same year, of the Helen Birch Bartlett collection. The collection included many of the masterworks of post-impressionism that today are synonymous with the Art Institute of Chicago: Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, van Gogh’s The Artist’s Bedroom at Arles, and, notably, Cézanne’s Basket of Apples. Gardner’s lectures contributed to Biederman’s lifelong near-obsession with weaving the threads of art history into a single, coherent fabric – and the Bartlett collection, one of the finest assemblages of modern art in America, gave him an early view of the front lines of contemporary painting. Though he would not complete his schooling at the Institute, neither of these gifts was wasted on the young artist.
The influence of the Bartlett collection is hard to overstate. Though it raised the hackles of Chicago society and even of some of the Institute’s faculty, the impact on Biederman was profound and immediate. Cézanne’s lessons for the art student began then, and continued for decades. Biederman had found a leading light.
Biederman’s student work exemplifies the virtuosic and ravenous qualities of the young and restless; Picasso, Braque, and Cézanne are devoured and digested with an eagerness to find out what comes next. The palette, much higher-keyed than any of his European models, is certainly Biederman’s own. It sizzles and borders on oversaturation. He had found a path, but not yet his own voice.
Following that path, he would make a number of personal revolts. The first of these was leaving the Art Institute, just a year shy of graduation. Susan Larsen notes that “he had neither a high school diploma nor a diploma from the Art Institute of Chicago. He had nothing on paper to show for more than three years of diligent study.” (Larsen, 28) After an abortive trip to Prague he entertained a brief dalliance with the Works Progress Administration: “I decided I couldn’t stomach the business,” he later recalled. (As quoted in Larsen, p. 37). Given Biederman’s penchant for bridge-burning, it is a testament to the persistence of his vision that any bridges remained. One such was to John and Eugenie Anderson, whom he met in 1930. They would remain friends and patrons for decades.
1934-37 | At the Center of American Abstraction
Biederman’s arrival in New York was just as fortuitous as his timing at the Art Institute. His studio at 77 Washington Place put him a stone’s throw from the Museum of Living Art, the vehicle by which Albert E. Gallatin was beginning a barnstorming campaign to attract New York to avant-garde abstraction. (Larsen p. 43) Cubism, previously on his radar, began to captivate his imagination, and the germs of surrealist forms and abstract sculpture began to take root. The flat biomorphic forms of Miró and Arp, the high-polish steel finish of Léger, even the analytic cubist practices of Picasso and Braque all fell into Biederman’s toolbox. His sudden and powerful growth did not go unnoticed. Within a short time, Gallatin himself had taken Biederman under his wing, and he soon also found representation with Pierre Matisse.
Eclipsing all of these developments, however, was Alfred Barr’s blockbuster show at the Museum of Modern Art, Cubism and Abstract Art. The survey included all of the preeminent modernists that had so captivated Biederman but had remained largely unknown to American audiences at large. The specificity of the title of the show demonstrates how foreign abstract art was at the time – the very vocabulary of abstract art was still open territory. If audiences found the artwork foreign, it was not without reason: only one American was included in the show—Alexander Calder.
This omission of Americans was grist for Gallatin’s mill. One week later, on March 9th, 1936, he opened his Five American Concretionists at Paul Reinhardt Galleries at 730 Fifth Avenue. The five Americans were Alexander Calder, the artist with the highest profile; John Ferren; George Morris; Charles Shaw; and Charles Biederman. When the show later traveled, Calder would drop off its roster, to be replaced by Gallatin himself. The exhibition put American abstraction on the map, drawing praise from critics and elevating Biederman’s profile substantially. (Stavitsky, p. 8)
Biederman’s output during these years of the middle thirties is in many ways staggering. Not only did he produce a volume of canvases and sculptures, but also an intense production of studies – drawings, gouaches, lithographs, and wooden models for larger sculptures. His media exploded – he experimented with string, found objects, various polychroming devices, stone, concrete, metals and plexiglass. He was working at full tilt and fever pitch when he committed another of his now characteristic revolts: in October of 1936, he turned his back on Gallatin and Morris and set off for Paris. There he met Kandinsky, Picasso, Miro and Léger; he encountered Gertrude Stein, wondered after Brancusi, and mooned over the work of Russian Constructivist Antoine Pevsner. (Larsen p. 100) He was included in a number of important exhibitions, his work discussed by just the personalities that ought to have taken notice of it.
These years spanning Biederman’s time in New York and Paris proved his most prolific working period on canvas. A brilliant series of large vertical canvases were begun in the United States and were continued abroad, where Biederman’s ideas were reinforced by his new associations in Europe. In them, brightly-colored anthropomorphic forms mingle with mechanical forms above fields of intense color. Many of these ideas were worked out in smaller studies in gouache on paper, considered in a variety of interpretations before setting down definitive ideas to canvas. He played with texture and surface treatments in high contrast, exploring a world of tactile associations and entanglements in an undefined abstract space. His work with polished steel must have found support from artists familiar with the works of Fernand Léger, while some of his compositions of intercrossing bars of color must have resonated with adepts of the Bauhaus, which closed only a few years prior. Biederman had come to many of the same pictorial conclusions as the thread of European modernism from Kandinsky to Klee, largely by following his own internal compass. Already in 1936, his work was becoming focused on objects of increasing solidity, with progressively distant, receding fields. Devoid of scale and identifiable imagery, the work was nonetheless pushing towards sculpture, suggesting a direction in which Biederman would embark decisively in the following decade.
By June of 1937, Biederman had grown wary of the shifting political winds in Europe, noting with dread Hitler’s rise. Having finally connected with the cutting edge of abstract art, he was ready to establish some distance from it. This withdrawal was a mixture of protection and rejection, as he pushed away from what he thought were dead ends in modern art as well as insulated himself from diluting his vision with the influence of others. Aesthetically, politically, and financially, it was time for him to return to America. This period of great fecundity in painting drew to a close when he arrived back in New York. With a grand vision of the new art to come, Biederman gave up painting.
1938 – 1948 | Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge
Biederman wrote of his break with painting in 1979:
“In 1937, almost a century after the birth of the first non-memetic machine art, my experience as painter and sculptor led me to conclude that the two ancient forms of art had become obsolete as the means to a new art.” (Search for New Arts, p. 67)
This break may seem radical, but it was in fact a development of ideas that he had been working out for years. Though Morris and Calder may have bristled at the term “Concretionists,” it lent certain insight to Biederman’s work. That initial encounter with Cézanne years ago at the Art Institute of Chicago had only grown more important to Biederman over the years. He saw in Cézanne an idea about structure and form that would push him ever more towards sculpture. A favorite quotation of Biederman’s, attributed to Cézanne, (The New Cézanne, p. 15) was: “Painting is not sculpture.” Although this may seem trivial, Biederman’s time in Europe only emphasized that the new generation of abstract artists had not grasped this simple concept. Picasso – to whom Biederman referred in private correspondence as “that clown” and worse – had missed this entirely, in Biederman’s estimation. (Bohm-Biederman, p. 26) While Picasso’s cubist pictures were lauded for carving up three-dimensional objects into two-dimensional planes, Biederman felt that this was precisely the trap that Cézanne had warned against. So, too, had Léger lost the thread by embracing the cult of the Machine rather than keeping his eyes on nature. Just as bad were the expressionist and surrealist avenues, both of which closed their eyes to the analysis of the world for inner psychological reality.
Many of these realizations came not through open-handed dismissal, but through Biederman’s attempts to trace the same developments as these great innovators. His experimentation in 1935-37 demonstrates his earnestness. Extraordinary small gouaches signaled his pursuit to create the dynamic biomorphic forms of the Surrealists. He deployed the shine of polished steel that was suggested in some of Léger’s works and mingled in Kandinsky-esque undulating forms – screws with tongues of flame. The work is radical for a person of any time period, and much of it remains stunningly contemporary, whereas his models are layered with the mildew of decades.
Though he continued to work with his characteristic diligence, the artist’s return to the United States marked the beginning of his efforts to get his philosophical house in order. In addition to turning his back on painting, he began a number of attempts to simplify and redirect his energy into clarified forms. Once he had been called a Concretionist. Now, adopting thin planes and crisp lines, that term seemed unsuitable. There is at least a superficial resemblance of this work to some of the work of the artists at the Bauhaus. Biederman’s pictures were assembled from thin lines of individually painted pieces of wood, later metal. In contrast to the Bauhaus, though, he was slowly building up the surfaces into reliefs, no longer two-dimensional, in a method he derived wholly from Cézanne. He named his new body of work Constructionist. (Like “Concretionist,” the term was not to stick). (Search for New Arts, p. 67) Biederman began to write, an endeavor that became perhaps as important as his work as an artist. Part of clarifying his own work required that he analyze, carefully and methodically, the meaning and position of the trajectory of art history. And so for ten years he labored on a major theoretical survey, Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge. For a final move of simplification and purification, this period witnessed his geographical relocation to Red Wing, Minnesota. He would live and work there for the rest of his life.
The experiments of the 1930s were behind him. He left subject matter entirely, becoming increasingly confident that art itself should exhibit parallel structures to nature. He rejected the mimetic art of the 19th century, but so too did he reject the inward-staring psychological art of Surrealism and the growing trend towards Abstract Expressionism. He felt there were lessons to be learned from nature to be applied to a wholly abstract art that were not invented, but discovered through analysis. In the monastic Midwest setting, he set to work on that analysis.
Stephen Bann, in a survey of Constructivism, called the Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge “the most significant new stimulus to early postwar constructivist art.” (Bann, p. 224). But, ultimately, Biederman parted ways even with the Constructivists. “The Constructivists’ interpretation of reality, with its emphasis on the time-space factor, was as uncongenial to Biederman as was Mondrian’s elimination of nature… The influence of Constructivism on Biederman’s work ended in 1947.” (van der Marck, pp. 11-12) Biederman had, by the end of the 40s, worn out another name. “I called the new art Constructionist; its use by others eventually confused its original meanings. In 1952, I coined the label Structurist.” (Search for New Arts¸p. 67) This, too, would eventually wear out, but it is the movement to which Biederman is most often attached.
1958 | The New Cézanne
Biederman’s next book, 1958’s The New Cézanne, was intended to set the record straight; timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the painter’s death, The New Cézanne was an attempt to demonstrate that Cézanne had been fundamentally misunderstood all along. Biederman pointed out that the painter’s statements had largely been ignored in favor of his paintings, and that this lead to some major misconceptions – not only of the fiber of Cézanne’s work, but also of what the proper direction of art history ought to be. Biederman considered Cézanne the first cubist, and thought that Picasso and Braque had misinterpreted his ideas, thereby setting the 20th century off on entirely confounded footing. (Biederman, The New Cézanne, p. 39)
From there, Biederman’s narrative of the progression of abstract art took a very different course. He gave a position of much greater respect to Piet Mondrian, “the only one of the following generation to be a ‘continuator’ of Cézanne.” (The New Cézanne, p. 42) Even Mondrian, however, “is not completely satisfactory” as a successor. (The New Cézanne, p. 42) Whereas Cézanne’s work was a constant mediation between nature and art, as two parallel paths, Mondrian, wrote Biederman, believed he had finally resolved the conflict between the two, and purged nature from the equation altogether – a grave error, from Biederman’s perspective. Biederman felt the constructivists had gotten it wrong as well; that the mediation between nature and art must continue. Stephen Bann put it mildly (in The Tradtion of Constructivism, p. 224): “[Biederman] was less concerned with their wider aesthetic and social implications.” More bluntly, the social concerns of Russian and international constructivism were a distraction and even a disqualifier in Biederman’s eyes. Nonetheless, Bann notes, “The New Cézanne (1952), played a crucial role in reinvigorating the constructive tradition in postwar Europe.” (Bann, p., 224)
To digest The New Cézanne and 1948’s Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge is to feel the whole of art history shifting, on an axis provided by Cézanne, a few degrees into a familiar but profoundly different trajectory. Biederman considered as a thought experiment the notion of taking Cézanne’s ideas to an extreme; covering an entire canvas with a single color, or with a perfect checker-board lattice – gesturing briefly, in 1952, at the possibilities of Minimalism that would come to fruition in Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd. For the time, he turned from these possibilities: “If everything were exactly alike to everything else, all would freeze into a static silence; conversely, if every aspect of structure were too unlike every other aspect, a chaotic complexity would result. Such total extremes are impossible.” (p. 35) Biederman would expand later on this shifting view of art history in Search for New Arts (1979).
If The New Cézanne is not a perfectly enlightening comment on Cézanne, it is a clear statement about Biederman. In his reliefs of the second half of the 20th century, Biederman began with an expansive plane of a single color as the staging ground for his three-dimensional elements. Biederman’s elements were not placed out near the edges of this staging ground, but organized around central, concentric clusters. A corollary to Cézanne’s rule that “Painting is not sculpture,” was the notion that a painter does not have light as a tool. Painters only possess colors and the plane. Biederman had played briefly in the 1940s with his own electric light sources, but he abandoned these experiments. He observed, instead, that careful placement of sculptural elements allowed him to cast shadows across the plane, allowing his brilliant colorations to interact with shadows falling in all directions. Like baroque sundials, the reliefs cast shadows carefully orchestrated by the artist with that fact in mind. (van der Mark, p. 13) Biederman also related elsewhere that Cézanne “simplified” the circle into the cube, and the cube’s six sides into just three visible sides. Though it may not be abundantly clear how a cube is simpler than a circle, that notion animated Biederman’s thinking, and, though there are many spheres and circles in his work in the 1930s and 1940s, none appear after about 1950. Indeed, a profound simplification had occurred. Biederman, by the mid-1950s, had simplified his palette, his vocabulary of forms, and his configuration of those forms. And he had so much left to say.
1960 -1969 | Bohm-Biederman: Creativity and Science
A few years after the publication of The New Cézanne, Biederman happened across a book on theoretical particle physics by a former collaborator with physicist Niels Bohr, David Bohm. Biederman struck up a dialogue with the author, and over thousands of pages, a correspondence of a full decade was born. Bohm was a generous and attentive correspondent, as interested in the arts as Biederman was in the sciences. They jointly believed that there were parallel problems in the sciences and in the arts, and Bohm’s cheerful enthusiasm was a delightful counterpoint to Biederman’s emphatically contrarian spirit. Ultimately Biederman felt the need to sever another connection when his pen pal took up the spiritualist teachings of Krishnamurti. Nevertheless, over the course of their discussion, Biederman greatly clarified his ideas about nature.
Like all of Biederman’s thinking, his notion of nature is at least nominally rooted in Cézanne. Following Cézanne’s admonition to always return to nature, Biederman, like Cézanne, abandoned the city for a life surrounded by green. Nonetheless, that greenery is, of course, absent from Biederman’s work. He seemed to think of Cézanne’s depiction of landscapes as rather incidental to his work. The observation was important, but not the mimesis of what was actually there. Yet, if Biederman was observing nature but never drawing a tree or a mountaintop, what was it that he was observing? And if he wasn’t observing tree and mountaintops, why was it so important to be surrounded by nature instead of a sprawling city?
Cézanne likely did have in mind areas of land untouched by human industry. For Biederman, however, a more sophisticated notion of nature was required. Interested in crystallography, he noted that ultimately nature never produces perfectly geometric forms. Symmetry and geometry were the features of human abstraction, not the source material. What mattered to Biederman were the processes of nature and its overarching structure. (van der Marck, p. 11) The mere appearances of things were fleeting and superficial. Hence, he lauded Mondrian’s development past the depiction of trees and landscape. (The New Cézanne, p 47) He wanted to “lift the veil” on nature: to see past the false abstractions, that attributed to nature these easy geometries and local colors, to see the subtle, asymmetric patters that hummed along musically underneath it all.
David Bohm helped clarify this position. The two shared an underlying belief in the unity of all things – that humanity is not fundamentally separate from nature, that space and time are inexorably linked. Biederman was significantly invested in Determinism, the idea that every event is caused by set laws that govern the entire universe. It is present in his systematizing of art history as well as in his work. Unfortunately, this perspective had been shaken in the world of physics by Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Schrodinger. Under the reigning perspective, subatomic particles were now considered to be subject to random chance. An extreme, but roundly accepted, implication of this idea was that literally anything could happen, at any time, anywhere. The idea disturbed the deeply systematic artist.
Biederman found an ally in opposing this idea in Bohm. Bohm opposed the view of radical indeterminacy, describing a softer conclusion from Bohr’s data that suggested there were “ambiguities.” Bohm, too, highlighted for Biederman the strangeness, in science as well as in art, of the interaction between observer and observed. This was particularly interesting to Biederman, as both an artist and a historian of arts, trying to simultaneously make new art and place himself into the existing story.
From this correspondence, Biederman gained a more sophisticated view of both physics and his own art. He left behind the naïve view of nature as a pristine Eden, and allowed himself to see the processes of nature everywhere – even in the courses of human industry. Biederman’s work, which may have otherwise stalled on the idea of Man vs. Nature, gained renewed vigor with a mathematician’s understanding of chaos and order, causality and chance, symmetry and asymmetry, and determinacy and ambiguity. Though Bohm failed in his efforts to open Biederman’s mind to Existentialism, Surrealism, and Action Painting, these discourses undoubtedly contributed to the artist’s examination of architecture, film, and popular media. Though the correspondence fizzled out over the question of spirituality, the notion of a real and lasting bridge between science and art became a reality during that decade of the 1960s. “Science and art reflect different sides of man’s perception of nature,” Biederman would later reflect. “The scientist mechanizes nature, the artist humanizes it.” (Search for New Arts, p. 74) It is clear from this remark that “nature” finally encompassed to him everything that science can study, as well as everything that art can study. In that sense, it’s impossible to ever really get away from nature, and so Biederman came to understand: “All artists, of whatever kind they may be, are involved in some inescapable form of abstracting from nature.” (Search for New Arts, p. 52) As a result of his correspondence with Bohm, Biederman’s idea of nature became an understanding of the patterns by which we perceive reality itself. He had grown beyond Cézanne, but Bohm reassured him:
P.S. A physicist does not discard an older law when a newer and better one is found. He shows that the older law is contained in the new one as an approximation or limiting case (as Newton’s laws of motion are contained in Einstein’s laws as an approximation holding for velocities small compared with those of light). Therefore the attitude is not so different from that which you advocate with regard to art. (Bohm-Biederman Correspondence, p. 35)
1979 – 2004 | Later Years
Towards his later years, Biederman seemed to have grown more at peace with his work and his place in art history. He had never voiced much sympathy for the tastes of the masses or for politics, but in his later writings he showed a concern for the interaction of art and commerce and public life. The “new arts” that he had in mind were photography, film, and architecture, and he showed a real concern for popular and democratic use and consumption of all of these. His break with many of the manifesto-driven art movements of the first half of the 20th century was at least partly to do with the use of art for political purposes. Certainly he maintained a conviction against this, but by his later years he had grown open to the application of art in social wellbeing and recognized the civic responsibility of the arts. He remained committed to a harmony between art and nature, but in embracing a sense of how the masses might use and consume art in a modern context, he seemed to finally be succeeding at that harmonious unification.
Biederman turned new attention to education, believing the creation of visual arts form an important element of human development, individually and socially. “A well-educated art public will remedy that interolerable system which prevails: art will become truly democratic.” (Search for New Arts, p. 137) Some of this reads strangely like a Bauhaus program:
“The child has an instinctive need to be an artist; he begins on a naïve mimetic level of perception which is reinforced by bringing to his attention similar levels of perceptual effort…It is imperative the child understands he is individually experiencing, not imitating, the past of man as artist. Just as each child must learn from the beginning to acquire language, to count, etc., so he must learn to acquire perceptual art from the beginning.” (Search for New Arts, p. 136)
It is interesting to note that, by the early 1980s, many of Biederman’s ideas were gaining traction. New Urbanism was beginning to look at the American city as a place that could be reworked so that architecture and urban design decisions reflected a human scale in harmony with nature, rather than in defiance of it. Le Corbusier, one of Biederman’s punching bags, was falling out of favor, as Jane Jacobs’ vision of the city as an ecosystem or ballet was rising in popularity. Biederman’s writing about human development and the syntax of art strongly paralleled Noam Chomsky’s contributions to linguistics and new ideas about early childhood development. As Biederman was working photography into his ever-evolving narrative of arty history, the medium was enjoying new attention with the rise of the “Pictures Generation” and the coinciding theories of Roland Barthes and Marshall MacLuhan. His work, too, reflected a deepening confidence that he had found a voice that resonated with the times. It was as if, by outliving and outlasting the art movements that he considered irrelevant, he had demonstrated their short shelf-life. In fact, he had been clarifying and evolving his vision all along. If the 1930s were his most explosive period, he was not by any means trapped there.
His last few books were increasingly aphoristic and increasingly inclusive. He ruminated on Beethoven, the meaning of the piano, and the rise of New Music in Art as the Humanization of Science (1997). His writing lost some of its strict systematizing. It became more concise, with brief “chapters” limited to a few sentences. His last writings are analogous to his late reliefs: having spread the vast plane of rigorously-tuned system, he scattered upon it some charming and insightful pearls of wisdom and simple observation, multi-colored and easily digested. A few characteristic selections:
JUNK ART & JUNK FOOD
Each generation rejects the junk art of the previous generation in order to make its own junk art. (The End of Modernism, Figurative or Abstract, 87)
Nature will prevail, and nothing anyone can do will alter that fact. (The End of Modernism, Figurative or Abstract, 90)
Biederman continued to work on both his writing and his constructions until the very end of his life. Having outlived virtually all of the great art stars of midcentury, he enjoyed several notable museum and gallery shows over his career. He died in Red Wing, Minnesota in 2004, at the age of 98.
Biederman’s legacy, like the man himself, is full of contradictions. He had a voracious appetite for new ideas, and his impact as an interpreter and ambassador of abstract art in the 1930s can not be overstated. Nonetheless, much of his lasting impact stems from his serious study of the nature of art and his work in construction, rather than on canvas. His influence can be seen in the work of Donald Judd and throughout minimalist art. Indeed, only from the longview is it clear how radically Biederman’s work diverges from the work it superficially resembled. Biederman blazed a trail, and while that trail crossed at several points with important developments on both sides of the Atlantic, it remained distinctly his own.
- “Chicago: A Future Art Center?” Trend, p. 2-3, 27-30, Chicago, February 1942
- Art As the Evolution of Visual Knowledge, 1948
- Letters on the New Art, 1951
- The New Cézanne, 1958
- “Art and Science as Creation,” Structure, 1:2-18, Amsterdam, 1958
- “Nature and Art,” Structure, second series, 1:13-21, Amsterdam, 1959
- “The New Cézanne,” General Semantics Bulletin, nos. 24, 25, Lakeville, CT, 1959
- “Art and Motion,” Structure, second series, 2: 51-57, Amsterdam, 1960
- “Symmetry: Nature and the Plane,” Structure, third series, 1: 17-28, Amsterdam, 1960
- “The Real and the Mystic in Art and Science,” The Structurist, 1:14-31, Saskatoon, Sak., 1960-61
- “Instinct-Intuition and Emotion-Intellect in Art,” The Structurist, 1:42-51, Saskatoon, Sak., 1960-61
- “Dialogue on Art as Imitation or Creation,” The Structurist, 1:40-46, Saskatoon, Sak., 1961-62
- Search for New Arts, 1979
- “A Non-Aristotelian Creative Reality,” Structure, fourth series, 2: 38-43, Amsterdam, 1962
- “The Sphere and the Cube,” Structure, sixth series, 1: 9-13, Amsterdam, 1964
- David Bohm and Charles Biederman, Bohm-Biederman Correspondence: Creativity and Science, 1999, Routeldge, (New York, 1999)
- The End of Modernism Figurative or Abstract, 1994
- Art Mirrors Psychological Humanizing Experience of Reality, 1996
- The Art as the Humanization of Science, 1997
- Bann, Stephen (ed.), The Tradition of Constructivism (Da Capo, New York, 1974)
- Denby, Robyn, Charles Biederman, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1969
- Hedberg, Gregory (ed.) Charles Biederman: A Retrospective, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 1976
- Larsen, Susan C., Charles Biederman, Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, 1999
- Meredith Ward Fine Art, Charles Biederman (1906-2004): Works from the Thirties, (Ward Fine Art, New York, 2005)
- Stavitsky, Gail, Archives of American Art Journal: “A Landmark Exhibition: Five Contemporary American Concretionists,” Archives of American Art, Washington Vol. 33 No. 2, 1993
- van der Marck, Jan, Charles Biederman: The Structurist Relief 1935-1964, (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1965)
1929Trebeilcock Prize Exhibition (solo), School of the Art Institute of Chicago
1936Five Contemporary American Concretionists: Biederman, Calder, Ferren, Morris, Shaw at Paul Reinhardt Galleries in New York; traveled to Galerie Pierre, Paris; Mayor Gallery, London Solo exhibition at Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York The Art of Today, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
1941Solo exhibition at the Arts Club of Chicago Solo exhibition at Katherine Kuh Gallery, Chicago
1942Abstract Painting by Twenty-five Americans, Gallery of Living Art, NYU, New York
1954Solo exhibition at St. Paul Gallery and School of Art, St. Paul, Minnesota
1962Experiment in Constructie, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Experiment in Flache und Raum, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Zurich
1963Solo exhibition at the Columbia University School of Architecture, New York; traveled to the School of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
1964Mondrian, De Stijl and Their Impact, Malborough-Gerson Gallery, New York Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Biennial of Painting and Sculpture, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Pittsburgh International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pennsylvania
1965Solo retrospective at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
1966Biennial of Painting and Sculpture, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Reliefs, Sculpture, Marlborough New London Gallery, London
1967From Synchronism Forward: A View of Abstract Art in America, the American Federation of the Arts traveling exhibiton, New York Solo exhibition at the Rochester Art Center, Rochester, Minnesota
1968Relief/Construction/Relief, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; traveled to Herron Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana; Cranbrook Academy, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia
1969Solo retrospective at Hayward Gallery/the Arts Council of Great Britain, London; traveled to Leicester Gallery and Museum, Leicester, England
1971Solo exhibition at Dayton’s Gallery 12, Minneapolis
1972 American Abstraction of the 1930s, Zabriskie Gallery, New York Geometric Abstraction 1926 – 1942, Dallas Museum of Fine Art, Texas The Non-Objective World, 1939-1955 at Annely Juda Fine Art, London; traveled to Galerie Liatowitsch, Basel; Galleria Milano, Milan; University of Austin at Texas
1973American Art Third Quarter of the Century, Seattle Art Museum, Washington
1974Geometric Abstraction, University of Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln
1976Solo retrospective at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
1977Aspekte Konstructiver Kunst, Kunsthaus, Zurich
1979Vanguard American Sculpture 1913 – 1939, Rutgers University Art Gallery, New Brunswick, New Jersey
1980Solo show at Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
1981Pioneering the Century, 1900-1940 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County Branch, Stamford, Connecticut Amerikanische Malerei, 1930-1980 Haus der Kunst, Munich
1982Echoes of De Stijl at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Solo show at Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
1983Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America 1927-1944, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art; San Francisco Art Institute; and the Minneapolis Institute of Art
1985Contrasts of Form: Geometric Abstract Art, 1910-198, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York Solo show at Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
1986Solo show at Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
1987Twentieth Century Drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1988American Artists of the 1930s, The Bronx Museum of Art, New York The Lipschultz Art Collection, Museum of Art – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
1989Solo show at Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
1991Between Mondrian and Minimalism: Neo-Plasticism in America, Whitney Downtown at Federal Plaza, New York Solo show at Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York Abstract Sculpture in American 1930 – 1970, American Federation of Arts traveling exhibition, New York Modern American Painting 1925 – 1950, Snyder Fine Art, New York Off the Wall: Constructed Paintings, Sheldon Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
1992Geometric Tradition in Twentieth-Century American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1994American Art, 1900-1940, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1995American Modernism (1920-1945): From Realism to Abstraction, Crane Kalman Gallery, London
1996An American Story, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1997Abstraction in Europe and America, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
1999The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900-2000 (Part I), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Solo retrospective at the Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; traveled to the Cedar Rapids Art Center, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida
2003The Transatlantic Avant-Garde: American Artists in Paris 1918-1939, Musée d’Art Américain, Giverny; traveled to Tacoma Art Museum, Washington; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago
20041930s: Modern American Art and Design, Michael Rosenfeld, New York
2005Memorial Retrospective Exhibition at the Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis
2006Solo show at Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York
2009American Modernism, Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York
2010Charles Biederman: Works 1934 – 1994, Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York
2011The Second Wave: American Abstraction from the 1930s and 1940s, David Findlay Jr. Gallery, New York Putting it Together: Collage Assemblage, and Mixed, David Findlay Jr. Gallery, New York Pioneers of American Abstraction: the 1930s – 1940s, D. Wigmore Fine Art, New York
2012Charles Biederman: A Selection of Works from the Estate, Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, New York Putting it Together: Collage Assemblage, and Mixed, David Findlay Jr. Gallery, New York Charles Biederman: 60 Years of American Modernism, Weinstein Gallery, Minneapolis
Public CollectionsAlbright-Knoz Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
The Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, Texas
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison
The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Texas
Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
University of East Anglia, Norwich, England
Museum of Art - Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Frelinghuysen Morris Foundation, Lenox, Massachusetts
Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Stichting Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands
Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
Phoenix Museum of Art, Arizona
Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska
Smart Art Museum, University of Chicago, Illinois
The Tate Museum, London, England
Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York