Julije Knifer, Mangelos

Investigating the Limits of Painting

September 9 - October 28, 2017

Opening on Saturday, September 9, 2017 - 5-8pm

galerie frank elbaz, Dallas

Julije Knifer, Mangelos, Investigating the Limits of Painting, 2017,
Installation view, galerie frank elbaz, Dallas.
Photo: Kevin Todora

galerie frank elbaz, Dallas, is pleased to present Investigating the Limits of Painting. Curated by Dr. Ivana Bašičević Antić, the exhibition explores the work of Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos and Julije Knifer. Created in post-war Croatia, their art presents an attempt to resolve the problem of the ‘death of painting’ and could be described as a part of the neo-avant-garde and proto-conceptual practices in Europe. Julije Knifer dedicated his life and career to create “anti-painting”, reducing form down to its simplest iteration, and holding himself to a principle of repetition, while Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos was negating art creating his antipeinture series, turning ready-made objects, like school tables or globes, into works of art. His approach was deeply rooted in philosophy and aimed to investigate the destiny of painting after the experience of wartime death and devastation. The result of his quest was a unique form of anti-art which the author himself named “no-art”, made at the edge of image and text.

Mangelos and Knifer started their art practices in Yugoslavia at the time when the country was under a specific political and ideological regime, nothing like those in other Communist countries, especially after the Cominform Resolution was signed signaling the official break up with the Soviet Union in 1948. Important proof of the country’s political neutrality was its opening to Western European and American art. Postulates of abstraction made a strong impression on Mangelos and Knifer. From the 1950s on, they developed a practice that aimed to be free of ideological influences and devoted exclusively to the idea of art itself. Art that belongs to the globe and is highly intellectual (Mangelos is well known for his globes, and Knifer’s meander is a truly global symbol with no hidden national or political meanings), closer to science than to what is traditionally considered art. The respect the two artists had towards the legacy of their older Russian colleague Kasimir Malevich is obvious and it helped Knifer to take a reductive approach and stick to black and white, adding other colors only as a reminder of other influences on his vision, like when he introduced blue in series of works dedicated to Yyes Klein. Malevich’s black square could be seen as a starting point for Mangelos’s monochromes and Malevich’s supremacist chromatic palette of black, red and white offered Mangelos his necessary color range.  Starting from a theoretical position to negate painting and everything irrational in it, Mangelos used materials and colors that infused his work with the aura of precious objects.

Some other developments in art - especially the poems and the ironic gestures of Dada or the Bauhaus, and its devotion to art made for an industrialized society - or most importantly, the Duchampian demand to think art and not feel it, to rationalize and not rely on emotions - influenced both Knifer and Mangelos, and led them to make an art that is post-suprematist and proto-conceptual by nature, and above all, truly unique.

As key ideas of their art one could name challenging the paradigm of progress in art and a continuous search for antipainting, that in the case of Mangelos would not suggest a void as a response to the death of traditional painting, but empty surfaces filled with new content; while for Knifer surface emptied of meaning was a goal.

The idea of this exhibition is to present both artists, Mangelos and Knifer, keeping in mind the obvious difference in visual expression, and prove that similar concepts could result in completely different final art work. Diversity becomes the second most important value of this show, the first being the fact that they are both representatives of an early postwar proto-conceptual European art scene where the key elements are being shared by other conceptual artists working at the time in Western countries.

The choice of works exhibited here serves as a small survey of both artists, aiming to introduce the public to an art that is not part of any collective utopia but reflects a strongly individual approach. Faced with failures of humankind, these two artists completely devoted their lives to art, believing in it like a personal religion. 

Ivana Bašičević Antić


Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos (born in 1921 in Šid, died in 1987 in Zagreb, both former Yugoslavia) studied art history first in Vienna and then in Zagreb where he graduated and soon became a prominent art critic and curator who stood for new values in art that would function outside the realm of ideological and academic influences. As such, he was active in the organization of The New Tendencies and afterwards, as an active supporter of new media (photography, film, and TV) in art. Parallel to his public career he was creating his own art completely privately, almost secretly, under the pseudonym Mangelos. Although he started his art practice in the early 1940s, the main part of his oeuvre was created after World War II, between 1950s and the late 1970s. Mangelos was a founding member of the Gorgona group (1959-1966) which very early became part of the international art scene through collaborations with Manzoni, Roth, Vasarely and Rauschenberg among others. Mangelos’s work is included in major museum collections such as the MoMA in New York; the Tate Modern, London; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto; Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach; and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

Julije Knifer (born in 1924 in Osijek, Croatia, died in 2004, in Paris) studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb.  Knifer was one of the founding members of the Gorgona Group which was active 1959-1966. From 1961 to 1973 he took part in exhibitions of The New Tendencies in Zagreb and in 1976 he represented Yugoslavia at the Venice Biennial, and Croatia in 2001. Knifer began to focus on the meander, a geometric maze-like in the 1960s, it later went on to become virtually the sole motif of his œuvre. He made infinite versions of this sign on paper, canvas, sculptures and relief. In 1975, Knifer started to create large-scale outdoor murals of the meander, including one 20 x 30 meters canvas draped in a quarry in Tübingen. In 1991 Knifer moved to France, he died in Paris in 2004. Knifer’s work is included in major museum collections such as the MoMA in New York; the Tate Modern, London; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and MAMCO, Genève.

Ivana Bašičević Antić holds a Phd in art theory and has written her thesis on the Theoretical platform of textual practices in visual arts – Case studies: D.B. Mangelos and Marcel Broodthaers. She has published numerous papers and several books, among them: The Personal Mythology of mangelos, in: mangelos, Paraquay Press, Paris, 2014; Textual Practices in Visual Arts – Interpreting Mangelos’s Noart, Lambert Academic Publishing, 2017; The Central Concepts of Ordinary Language Philosophy in the Art of Marcel Broodthaers and Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos, AM Journal of Art and Media Studies, No.9, Belgrade, 2016; Comparative Analysis of Two Artists’ Practices - Broodthaers and Mangelos, AM Journal of Art and Media Studies Issue No. 5, Belgrade, 2014. Since 2007, she is President of the Ilija&Mangelos Foundation, and a since 2010 she is a member of the Board of The Young Visual Artists Award in Serbia.