Magdalena Jetelová

Christine König Museum For Angewandte Kunst

In their massive construction and their spatiality, Magdalena Jetelová large wood sculptures have an architectonic character. Along with the gigantic proportions, the relationship between the formal idea and the space has always contributed to this quality as well. These two installations went one step farther by broadening the idea of sculpture and countering the idea that a sculpture is independent of its surrounding space.

Domestizierung einer Pyramide (Domestication of a pyramid, 1992), Jetelová’s largest project to date, was installed in the two-story atrium of the Osterreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst. The work consisted of a single sloping plane that ran at a 45-degree angle from the floor to the ceiling of the atrium, dissecting it. Jetelová succeeded in transforming the space and confronting its architectural harmony with a dynamic energy that seemed to explode its borders. Through the elemental energy of her geometric form, which was made of red sand, she broke the classical harmony of the Italian Renaissance style.

The sand also recalled nature, perhaps a sand dune. In this combination of the monumental with the natural, Jetelová announced a fundamental principle of her art: to juxtapose monumentality as an expression of power and subjugation (as she experienced it when she lived in Prague, her home until 1985) with a monumentality of a more humane kind. Central to her strategy is demystification, which she demonstrated here by giving the viewer access to the rear of the pyramid, allowing a view of its construction. The element of time also figured into her calculations as she combined present experience, historical architecture, and a “prehistoric” archaism she calls “remembered time.” And as in her 1979-80 work Herabsteigender Stahl (Chair descending a staircase), the title Domestizierung einer Pyramide expresses an absurdity that Jetelová considers a fundamental experience of the Prague society she knew—not only in its contradiction of medieval city structure and modem, socialist ideology, but also in its contemporary culture, expressed most clearly in the works of Franz Kafka.

At Christine König, Jetelová’s preferred technique of anthropologizing the concrete world became very clear: two oversized tables tipped sideways, made of charred wood, stretched their legs toward one another as if ready for battle. This dynamism stood in opposition to their charred materiality, which was more suggestive of death. The power of the closed gesture was heightened in this installation, despite its rejection of monumentality.

The idea of splitting the space, carried through in the pyramid in the museum show, was expanded in the König show: the wall between one exhibition space and a smaller, more intimate one was cut though vertically with a circular saw, so that an opening provided a view into the darkened and inaccessible side room. And a laser sliced through this room, segmenting its secretive intimacy. With the precision of technology, it continued the sectioning of the wall into the space itself, pointing toward the act of enlightening the unknown as an act of control. In contrast, the limitation of the field of vision showed the restriction of such a domesticizing view, a rationalistically bound view against which Jetelová’s work tries to act.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.