Collapsing Sculpture

GK 09 12 — 30 01 2016

Co zbude ze sochy na papíře? Zbavíme-li jí hmoty, zůstane jenom silueta, figura rýsující se na pozadí. Z tohoto základního binárního vztahu (figura│pozadí) vyrůstá význam, nebo spíše základní jednotky významu, často tak strohé, že samy o sobě smysl nedávají. Čtverec uprostřed prázdného pole bude stále jen čtvercem; čtyři čtverce různé velikosti nalepené na papír ve správném prostorovém vztahu už většina z nás uvidí jako schody. V převážně komorně laděných malbách-kolážích se Mikołaj Moskal (1985) důsledně pohybuje právě v tomto prostoru zárodečného významu. Ve vztahu k předlohám si přitom uchovává pozoruhodnou cudnost – jen vzácně si můžeme říct „vidím to a to“, a přesto zjevně něco vidíme. Spíše než obrazy konkrétní reality (jakkoli se jí inspiruje ve velmi tradičním slova smyslu například při výletech do plenéru) nám Mikołaj Moskal předkládá obrazy žánrů a žánrových schémat. Každá jeho koláž vstupuje do dialogu nejen s předmětnou realitou, ale zároveň i s dlouhou tradicí evropského modernismu v pestré škále jeho geografických i kulturních variet.

Kurátor: Jan Zálešák

The first thing we do when we talk about art is decide whether to concentrate on form or content. At college they warned us against this simple dualism and insisted that the one could not be separated from the other (I think I’ve often used the same argument myself). But the fact remains that if I want to speak of a specific work, I have to make that choice. I have to decide whether to focus on how the work is put together or to examine the narrative projected from or concealed within the work. And though this might appear to be a formality, merely a choice between two available rhetorical figures, it usually influences the entire course of my discourse.

You’ve probably guessed by now that the reason I’ve been wasting your precious time with this introduction is that this decision is impossible to make in the case of Mikołaj Moskal’s paintings. It would be too easy to speak only of form. We can all see that these are works on paper executed in a very simple, almost “primitive” way. The background is usually painted in one colour, yet in several works comprises but a simple semantic gesture, namely a horizon formed by a relatively sharp colour gradient. “Figures” are placed on this background – collage-style paper compositions again largely in one colour. And so we reach for our guide to art criticism and call his work “graphic”, by which we mean that it is based on the relationships between a relatively restricted number of distinctive formal units. Let’s leave to one side the fact that if we look more closely, we see that the “paint” of the background (you’ll have of course noticed that I’ve used a somewhat pejorative term within the context of the art of painting) is clearly applied with brushstrokes, and that this is therefore a “genuine painting” that in its material quality could not be represented by another medium. What is important is that, though the lapidary formal language does not prevent us from savouring the painterly quality, the viewer’s attention is from the outset focused elsewhere – to the composition or construction of the picture, which is laid bare before our eyes.

And so we come to the composition: several dark green rhomboids on a dazzling ochre background, arranged in such a way that they form a kind of roof. The keystone of this putative roof has a different shape, one reminiscent of an upturned flowerpot. While the nine tetrahedrons I’ve just described are too abstract for us to ascribe to them a particular meaning, on the left-hand side a symbol completes the entire composition/construction that is clearly the handle of a mug or jug. I don’t know about you, but in me this rather old-fashioned shape triggers a wave of vague (somewhat emotional) associations: old porcelain, plant pots, and a rustic minimalism based on the piling up of still useful remnants of building materials so that the path remains clear to the shed and privy in a courtyard.

Though Moskal works with symbols that are fairly unambiguous, he nevertheless retains a great deal of freedom within a relatively simple language. This sense of simplicity is enhanced by the fact that the “figures” in the background are not painted, but glued on to the picture like a collage. Cutting out a particular shape from the abstract module of a sheet of paper is a kind of magical act, and what’s more it’s a form of magic that in today’s disenchanted world anyone can perform. The use of this technique is again of great aesthetic significance (the specific outline formed by the cut differs from that which would be possible with a brush, and its imperfect contact with the surface of the background and the protruding pieces invite us to join in the game of perception with not only our eyes, but our hands).

After a short detour into content we are now back with form, and with it a key question that the viewer might wish to pose: isn’t it (all) (just) (zombie) formalism (an elegant variation on the modernist painting that successfully fills the stalls of art fairs)? Well I personally don’t think it is, and that’s because of the implied association with the smashed jug, with vernacular ornamentation, or with the abstracted morphology of the monumental sculptures of the late 1950s and 60s. Moskal’s work is not a set of variations on the repertoire of universally available forms, but an ongoing and painstaking “distillation” of its own formal idiolect, an idiolect grounded in the specific cultural experience of life in Central Europe. This is the experience of permanent translation, mimicry and imitation, not only of that originating in the West, but that which once belonged here, only to be (almost) forgotten by the historical rupture. The esoteric language of modernist painting, which with the arrival of communism was to be consigned to the dustbin of history, was refashioned in the sphere of the applied arts: in textile patterns, on painted glass and porcelain, and in architectural decoration. If the formal language of modernism creeps into Moskal’s work, which otherwise is based on a very traditional plein-air confrontation with a sensuous experience of the world, it is far more likely to do so through its provincial, vernacular, “degraded” forms.


text Jan Zálešák

translation Phil Jones