Julije Knifer, installation view, MAMCO, Geneva, Switzerland Photo: Annik Wetter
Julije Knifer was born in Croatia in 1924, and settled in France in the early 1990s—first in Sète, then in Nice, and subsequently in Paris, where he died in 2004. From 1950 to 1956, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb where he discovered abstraction, notably through the work of the Russian Suprematists. Knifer’s later work was often associated with a “concrete” abstraction, a form explored in many different variations throughout the post-war period in Europe, such as the Zero Group or the work of François Morellet.
From 1959 to 1966, Julije Knifer was also part of Gorgona, an informal grouping of artists, poets, and critics who refused to work under a prescriptive manifesto or program and sought to demystify the experience of art. The Gorgona project centered on the group’s belief that the material status of a work of art was less important than its essential idea, and that artistic practice was inseparable from everyday life. The Gorgona journal, published until 1966, disseminated the group’s ideas throughout the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe.
From 1960 onwards, Julije Knifer concentrated on a motif that fuelled all of his subsequent work: meandering lines. On paper and canvas alike, each composition—mostly using a minimalist black and white palette—is organized as a series of variations. Knifer described these serial works as a journey “without progression or regression,” and readily declared that he had “doubtless already produced his last work and not yet begun his first.”
On closer examination, we see that the meanders follow a rhythm defined by the disposition of their verticals. The works— sometimes diptychs or polyptychs—echo and reach out to one another, like elements in an organized, collective scheme. The viewer’s gaze follows the rectilinear meanders in each case, inviting us to experience and reflect on the passage of time.
MAMCO possesses several works by Knifer, gifted to the museum by the artist’s Estate, which also left on long-term loan an important ensemble of drawings and pictures.
This exhibition is organized by Lionel Bovier and Sophie Costes.