from scratch Peter Freeman Inc., which includes five Eastern European artists, emphasizes the common desire among artists that “art should go beyond the basic, fundamental, and essential,” as noted in a press release, reflecting on aesthetic and socio-political issues. Of their geographical and historical contexts. The exhibition is organized by Croatian art critic and curator Branca Stepancic, and features conceptual works of art produced between 1949 and 2020 by Manglos, Mladen Stilinovic, Julia Knipper and Goran Trebuliak, all from Zagreb, Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia); And Julius Koller, from Bratislava, Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia). For these artists, starting from scratch means raising existential questions about the use of language and humor or irony in art. The works refer to or are based on alphabets, dictionaries, notebooks, book covers and word games – from scratch Returns the viewer to early learning in the classroom.
Of Mangalos Tabula Rasa A series (1951–56), consisting of 10 tempera drawings of black rectangles, sets out the central theme of the exhibition: how each of the artists conceived of art as a means of communication that must be freed from the past in order to move forward. The artist’s work (1921–1987) explores how to spell, write and create words, and the rest of his works in the show include an alphabet, globe and the handwritten name “Pythagoras”. The rectangles carry multiple meanings that place the work in a historical context, and can both contradict and emphasize the idea of ”Tabula rasa” – in his notebook he used them to describe black graves to acknowledge the absence of friends and relatives killed in World War II.
The artist Mladen Stilinovich (1947–2016) brings audience participation. Visitors are invited to play his dice game “Pain Game” (Ball game; 1977) at reception for seven minutes. No matter how you roll the dice, the result is always the same: on the surface it always says “pain”. In “Dictionary – Pain Letter A” (2011), the artist replaced the definitions of all words beginning with the letter “A” with the word “pain”. A statement on his website read: “When I say pain, questions immediately arise: what pain, his pain, where the pain comes from, as if the pain needs to be explained. There is nothing to explain … the pain exists.”
Both Julia Knifer (1924–2004) and Goran Trabuljack (born 1948) used basic forms to establish a critical approach to painting and drawing. Knifer – who, like Mangalos, was a member of the neo-avant-garde Gorgona group – reduces the visual to its basic elements. His canvases displayed repeat the same vertical and horizontal lines in black and white. Trabuljack, the only living artist on the show, captures the idea of making the artist in absurd limbo. In 1974 he began the preparatory drawings for an “artist’s exercise,” in which he activates his eyes and hands by writing dots in square notebooks, without passing the “exercise.”
Julius Koller (1939–2007) changed and questioned language by drawing question marks on everyday objects, sometimes as a performance (documented here through photographs). Unlike Yugoslavia, which had a moderate communist policy, Czechoslovakia had stricter access to artistic and personal freedoms. For the artist, a simple question mark was a universal sign of doubt and uncertainty in the entire human race that resonated with the socio-political instability of his country.
The Yugoslav state’s aspiration to modernize the state was to support artists and the neo-avant-garde. Artists were encouraged to explore a new language, questioning traditional perceptions of the art object. Teaching something new aligned with the utopian socialist idea of the new man – the ideal citizen and man of the future.
From scratch: Mangalos, Julia Knipper, Julius Koller, Mladen Stilinovich and Goran Treboliak Continued at Peter Freeman, Inc. (140 Grand Street, Soho, Manhattan) through April 16th. The exhibition was curated by Branka Stepancic.