Critics’ Picks

Vlado Martek, Drvo (Tree), 2016, paper, ink, pencil, stamp, 10 x 14".

Vienna

Vlado Martek

Galerie Michaela Stock
Schleifmühlgasse 18
January 21 - March 11

A popular strategy in the recent expansion of the art-historical canon is to position overlooked artists as shaman-like figures, in the Beuysian mode. This shorthand instills an automatic reverence for the misunderstood genius, elevating his or her every gesture to the sacred status of an “artistic action,” thereby reducing the need to establish or address in any real depth the particular context or concerns the artist was engaging.

Vlado Martek rebuffs this opportunistic absolution in a new set of collages. Instead of embracing the role of the “total artist,” Martek—a fixture in the Yugoslav Conceptualism scene as one of the Group of Six, the collective behind the publication Maj 75 (1978–84)—insistently identifies himself as only “10 percent artist.” This self-branding is conveyed with alternating anxiety and pride. In the drawing Drvo (Tree), 2016, for instance, two branches spread like frayed nerves over a simple, penciled figure, stamped with the label 10% ARTIST, while in Identiteti (Identities), 2015, Martek uses staples to spell out his other affiliations: 10% PATRIOT, 10% FATHER, 10% HUSBAND, and so on.

Conspicuously absent from this list is Martek’s identification as a poet. Throughout his multidecade career, he has hovered between the worlds of visual art and poetry, never fully committing to either. Instead, he prefers to position his work as “preparation,” a process rather than a product. Underlining the liminal state of his gestures, Martek, in his visual practice, forgoes more traditional materials in favor of humble office supplies, punctuating his compositions with staples, razor blades, pencil shavings, or erasers. These modest materials often provide their own punch lines, as in Avangarda (Avant-Garde), 2015. The assemblage strings the word AVANGARDA between the tip of a pencil and a white block eraser, in a syntax of self-defeat not unlike the artist’s own branding.