Milan Mölzer, Amphibolin Relief, 1976, Amphibolin paint on Plexiglas, 63 x 47 1/4".

Milan Mölzer, Amphibolin Relief, 1976, Amphibolin paint on Plexiglas, 63 x 47 1/4".

Milan Mölzer

Galerie Zdeněk Sklenář

Milan Mölzer, Amphibolin Relief, 1976, Amphibolin paint on Plexiglas, 63 x 47 1/4".

The rediscovery of Milan Mölzer won’t rewrite art history—he worked between the major trends of his era rather than beyond them—but his idiosyncratic and energetic blending of a wide range of contemporary influences nevertheless deserves notice. Born in Prague in 1937, he trained there as a typesetter and frequently acted in theatrical productions. In 1968 he left Czechoslovakia and settled in Düsseldorf, where he studied painting at the Kunstakademie under Gerhard Hoehme, a member of the Informel movement. At the time, the city was host to a vibrant and rapidly evolving art scene, including both Informel painting and the art of the Group Zero (whose members Günther Uecker, Otto Piene, and Heinz Mack were bringing abstract painting into three dimensions and expanding its focus to include the effects of light and motion). Simultaneously, the Fluxus movement was emerging, and Blinky Palermo had just begun his experiments with fabric and tape and would soon conceive his Malevich-inspired, site-specific abstract painting.

The recent exhibition “The Brief Journey of Milan Mölzer” showed how he was drawn in by all of these tendencies: the delicacy of feeling in Hoehme’s painting, the sensitivity to materials of the Group Zero, the Fluxus love of chance, Palermo’s concern for space and process. Mölzer would often begin a work by dripping white oil paint over a black primer, then painting thick stripes. Chance effects are clearly visible, yet, structured by the stripes, the regularly spaced drips of downward-flowing color form a relieflike grid, as in Černo-bílá struktura (Black and White Structure), 1974. Even more relieflike is Modrá struktura (Blue Structure), also from 1974. Here, he used a screwdriver to bore rows of small holes in a square, blue-painted panel of thick, flexible paper, so that the brown paper under the paint shows through.

In the two years that followed, the experimental impulses evident in these two works led to an explosion in Mölzer’s production. In some works, he cut overlapping pieces of paper, applied white Amphibolin paint (used mostly for building exteriors) to canvas, and scratched and cut into the canvas so that it began to curve and buckle. Or he used white paint on a yellow background, then sliced the paper into strips so that the yellow became visible again. He stuck multiple layers of printed parchment paper on a white panel, cutting them into horizontal bands that began to roll into spirals; he called such works “scores.” The results of his experimentation were always surprising, sometimes radical. There is something at once minimalistic and poetic about these works. The rhythmical structures of his paintings react sensitively to light, suggesting movement and a delicately organic, even erotic tactility: Some are reminiscent of skin, others of fur.

In 1975, Mölzer began his “Reisezeichnungen,” or “Travel Drawings.” While on a train or streetcar, he would draw densely spaced horizontal lines with a pen, which reacted to the jolts of the train. These lines became seismographs of his travels, and would be combined with train tickets and itineraries that he glued onto the paper. In 1976, Mölzer traveled with his friends the artists Alex Kayser, George Brecht, and André Thomkins from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam. He documented this trip in a publication including photos and stories. At that point, his work was gaining popularity and critical acclaim. In 1977 his Travel Drawings were included in Documenta 6. But by then, his brief journey had already come to an end: In 1976, at the age of thirty-nine, Mölzer had taken his own life, leaving a legacy of fascinating experimentation cut short before it could have—perhaps—changed the course of history.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Anne Posten.