Otto Zitko


In an Otto Zitko exhibition, one usually expects a wall drawing that covers the entire interior of the space, and this is precisely what occurred here (with Untitled, 2009) in the artist’s first solo show in Italy. Yet this time there was also something else that made the show even more interesting. In a room separate from the wall intervention (except for traces high up and on the ceiling), the artist exhibited a portfolio of ten lithographs titled Pythia, from 2008. Nine of the lithographs present tangles of marks; one is a female portrait. According to the ancient Greeks, Pythia sat on a tripod above a chasm in the earth from which intoxicating vapors issued forth, sending her into ecstasy and allowing her to predict the future. Her presence in the exhibition sends us back to the completely this-worldly ecstasy that the artist offers to the viewer, allowing him or her to enter into the painting, to be enveloped by it as if by a dynamic whirlpool that leaves visible traces on the walls.

I use the word painting because the installation was realized in black acrylic on white walls, but for Zitko, none of this has anything to do with painting, and the work owes still less to gesturalism; he doesn’t create brushstrokes, he says, but lines, such as those graphic lines he has rendered on paper. Because of his work’s design-related and cerebral nature, Zitko calls it drawing, though he wants to liberate it from the humble and intimate dimension of drawing paper. Since 1989 he has chosen to work on an environmental scale, intervening in architecture in order to interfere with our perception of space: The artist speaks of illusionism. For this reason, he covers rooms in white with a roller, which he ties to a stick as an extension of his arm. His actions are always well thought out and finely calibrated, with traces that are subtle, fluid, or twisted to varying degrees, yet they are also instinctive and determined by happenstance, not completely regulated, unpredictable. And so one can think of the work as a drawing, of a sheet that is exploded, blown up to the point where it involves real space, where the conceptual element of the project meets the unpredictability of its physical realization. In other words, Zitko’s idea is projective, but it is never abstract and remains profoundly tied to material phenomena: to the space, to the way it is inhabited by the artist’s gesture.

As a result, the installation at Klerkx seemed chaotic, but viewers soon noted, or rather “sensed” around them, a unified rhythm that lent a certain harmony to the mark’s discontinuity from its context. From some vantage points, the large knot of lines unraveled into recognizable figures, as in the case of two semicircles, one painted on the wall to the side of the entrance, the other painted on one wall of the corridor. If seen with one’s back to the office, it looked like a circle, “instinctive,” perhaps, but defined and precise.

In dialogue with the continuous line, three paintings on aluminum played with circular gestures that delineated an oval form. Vivid blues and reds contrasted with the black and white of the space, heightening the emotional temperature. The energy remained constant, concentrated, and contracted in the paintings, free to interact with the surrounding space.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.