Critics’ Picks

Mangelos (Dimitrije Bašicević), Spread from Jahrensbuch, ca. 1970, tempera on paper, bound in plastic hardcover, 11 x 8".



Galerie Martin Janda
Eschenbachgasse 11
March 8–April 21, 2017

Trained in art history and philosophy, and known as an influential critic and curator in what was then Communist Zagreb, Mangelos (a pseudonym of the late Dimitrije Bašičević) offers a distinct approach to language as an aesthetic material. Unlike his Conceptualist contemporaries in the West, who came to this subject as the logical conclusion of modernist reduction and dematerialization, the artist adapted painted and drawn words in different languages as a way to extend his philosophical reflections into the material world, a physical counterpart to abstract thinking. His practice was essentially concerned with introspection, note-taking as an art form.

The key piece, both in his oeuvre and this show, is Jahrensbuch, ca.1970, a sketchbook in which every page is elaborately painted in tempera. These leaves could be seen variously as lines of poetry, drawings for his globe sculptures, a draft for a manifesto—of which he wrote many—or aphorisms, all written in his characteristic cursive hand on painted backgrounds rendered in his preferred palette of black, white, and red. This book is significant both for its impressive formal qualities and for how all the works on view share their visual languages with the pages of this book, encapsulating Mangelos’s methodology.

With their calculated casualness, there is a whiff of dandyism in these works, albeit with the quintessential disposition of Eastern European underground culture under Communism, as in the ironic Constructivist color-coding. It appears that Mangelos was a man of letters who proposed a manner for being an artist against specialization and professionalization.