Karel Malich

By Kravagna, Christian | Artforum International, November 1993 | Go to article overview

Karel Malich


Kravagna, Christian, Artforum International


With the democratization of Eastern European countries in the past few years, many Western eyes have looked toward "Ostkunst," or eastern art. The term, used in a derogatory fashion for years and always connected to a regressive idea, was transformed in the Gorbachev years into its exact opposite: "Ostkunst" was "discovered" and became very hot property (largely because of a rather uncritical attraction to the exotic). That today one can see Karel Malich's works in a Western gallery testifies to the change in our perceptions about "Ostkunst," for now we must examine the commonalities and differences in artistic development in the postwar years.

The almost 70-year-old Malich is one of the most important Czech artists living today, and he is all but unknown in the West. In this exhibition, he presented a series of drawings from the '80s and wire sculptures from the '70s. The artist constructs a fragile, open structure from thin, curved wires of varying lengths; they seem like drawings floating in space. But the freedom and dynamism of the lines contrast with the tedious process of construction; the wires are painted individually, then bundled together and knotted, so that the dynamic force is broken in these places. This is really not a contradiction, as the traces of this production process (reminiscent of primitive handicraft) find their correspondence in the lines of the wires--theirs is a raw, and even expressive power. In Die entfesselte Landschaft III (The unbound landscape III, 1973--74) the heterogeneity of the line structure is evident in the primary s-shaped structure and its supporting verticals that are juxtaposed with small spiral shapes.

The use of "poor" materials like wire and rope, the openness of the formal structure, and the emphasis on organic energy place Malich's work close to American "antiform" or Italian arte povera. …

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