Milan Grygar

Galerie Zdeněk Sklenář

There are always new discoveries to be made—astonishing ones, even. For me the Prague artist Milan Grygar, who was born in 1926, is one of them. Grygar works at the border between visual art and music, and for nearly fifty years he has been exploring the relationship between image and sound. Early in his career, it occurred to him that drawing a line on a piece of paper made a sound. In 1965, he began experimenting with using various drawing implements—including objects—to intentionally expand these (at first) random sounds to create “sound polyphonies,” which he recorded; he calls the physical results “Akustická kresba” (Acoustical Drawings). Each consists of a sheet of white paper with the drawn traces of the composed sounds, accompanied by a sound recording. Looking at the drawing and listening to the composition are intended to be done simultaneously.

This show was the first time since 2001, when they were exhibited at the Drawing Center in New York, that these visualized sounds composed of dashes, lines, dots, and circles could once again be seen and above all heard. Most of the works in this show date from between 1965 and 1968; five are from 1973. In each case a sheet of paper is accompanied—modern technology having simplified what used to be so tricky—by an iPod with headphones. Put them on, let your gaze rest on the corresponding drawing, and dive into a world that turns pencil strokes into scurrying sounds, dots into staccatos bouncing through space. It is a world that carries these drawn traces into three dimensions and turns the sounds into lines and loops—the relationship between visual signs and sounds has rarely been so close. Sound and sign work as a unit.

Grygar was a pupil of Cubist painter Emil Filla, who is revered in the Czech Republic. For this reason, the gallery show opened with one of that painter’s most famous pictures, Hlava muze s cylindrem (Head of a Man with a Top Hat), 1914. It is to Filla that Grygar owes his sense of the analytic in art. Along with this picture by Filla and the drawings, three films by Dobroslav Zborník were also shown. The first, Živá kresba (Living Drawing), 1973, records the genesis of an “acoustical drawing.” Grygar, dressed in black with a top hat, conjures his composition on the surface of a sheet of paper lying on the table. He does so using not only writing implements and brushes but also toys, such as a tin chicken that hops gaily across the paper’s surface, leaving behind black marks drawn with its beak. The sound it makes is particularly pleasurable to listen to. Hmatovcá Kresba (Tactile Drawing), 1969, shows Grygar sitting behind a long sheet of paper. He pokes his hands through it and then draws circles by using his fingers to dab black spots around the holes his hands have made. In the third film, Prstová partitura (Finger Score), 1982, the percussionist Alan Vitouš plays Grygar’s score, translating a row of black spots on lined notepaper into sounds. Offering only a small glimpse into the work of this fascinating artist—whose work clearly parallels, but is perhaps even more radical than, the experiments with the plasticity of the musical score of John Cage and his followers—the show left one eager to see and hear more.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.