Karel Malich

This exhibition of the work of the Czech artist Karel Malich served as a complement to the Eastern European art fair in Hamburg. Malich lived for many years in complete isolation, but since the fall of the Communist regime, his work has gained increasing importance in both the Czech scene and international arena. He was basically unaffected by the political and social turmoil before 1989. With an astonishing consistency his work pursued a path following the classical abstraction of Modernism. Even when he was involved in conflicts, he strove to develop an art that transcended societal tensions and that was therefore timeless and universal. Alone on his artistic path, he consciously rejected the apocalyptic narrativity and aggressive expressivity with which many of his generation of Czech artists reacted to the intolerable situation of Communist rule.

Malich’s pictures and objects are abstracted from social, political, and psychological dramas. His wire sculptures, which hang from the ceiling, are also abstract, but because they raise mostly formal issues, these fragmentary, fragile, nonfigurative structures are an inadequate response to current conditions—whether in the West or the East.

In this show there were no sculptures, just the lesser-known pastels from the past five years. A bright-blue, bowed line accompanied by a short, red line flashes across a flat, dark-blue background. The red line continues the movement created on the dark-blue background by the bright blue line. Entitled Svetlo (Light, 1993), the drawing seems to depict the light flashes associated with the tail of a comet. They are traces of an illumination turned into color, or of an idea.

Although the drawings consist of simple lines on a simple background, they are more than mere examinations of form and color. They reach a level that transcends these questions—that of the absolute and immaterial. For this reason, they were undesirable in the era of socialism, in which every intimation of a nonmaterial level of existence was a threat to the system. Today, Malich’s works have lost some of their danger due to the changed political situation, but the interest in them proves that even in times of political and social need, reflective, artistic expression with formal demands will survive over purely expressive works.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.