Annie Le Brun
Honing, the Sparkling Principle
1986

Thanks to the irony of art history, Ivan Picelj remembers the ones who founded the traditions of not remembering: Remember Malevich, Remember Mondrian, Remember Rodtchenko. Is this maybe spectacular arrogance, pure treason? Or less clearly and more down-to-earth maybe an invocation closer to revolt then to celebration? Because Picelj only seemingly remembers Malevich’s black square, Mondrian’s quadrillage, Rodchenko’s monochromes; he remembers the illusion created by three founders of modernity at the moment when this modernity is fading.

Still, nothing is less sentimental than the turning back of the traveller walking along the long coast of a century. In three acts and twenty-nine images Picelj depicts the covered distance that could be the path of our time. In order to do that, he first kills nostalgia and with it the memory of aesthetics, very simply, by putting each of the selected works under the millstone of time, not the historic time, but the time of forms, the time that has penetrated their structure, to which these bodies owe both their glitter and shabbiness. We could believe that the power of a work’s self-destruction is the guarantee for the flawlessness of its execution. Picelj invites us to step into this dangerous pitfall by exposing these works, which have become historical milestones, into their formal trap.
From the beginning Picelj manages to convince us of his decision by starting from the paradoxical evidence that Malevich’s black square and black circle on white ground are and remain forms. Such are, however, forms whose dematerialization is illustration, in all the meanings of this word, of the famous text from 1915, “From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism”; to new painting realism in which Malevich, starting from the “liberated nothingness”, which would be the black square, attempts to “set the dynamism of painting three-dimensionality in motion”. But as Picelj’s memories are more clearly outlined, these forms double, becoming blurred, until there is only the iconoclastic anger from which they were born. Think of that which was heralded by Malevich at that time: “I have broken the ring of the horizon, I have left the circle of things and the ring of the horizon that capture the painter and the forms of nature” This is Malevich Picelj remembers here. Malevich who fiercely believed that he would enable the emergence of “pure painting”, Malevich the visionary, so blinded that he projected his hatred of the painting towards wild art he had certainly never seen before, Malevich already “metamorphosed in the nothingness of shape”, Malevich who had already “surpassed nothingness”. There is, however, just one way to remember him: it is necessary to find a means that would help him to abandon the ring of painting which at that time closed over the intensity of his thinking. In that way Picelj would lead us and we would see the famous black square grow until it replaces the white ground of a black circle, getting smaller, divided into 4, 16, 64, 256… squares, until the virtual appearance of a new white square on white ground.

In the same procedure Picelj managed to represent that which cannot be represented, the proximity of that virtual existence. Could Malevich dream of a more precise embodiment of his challenge: “Art is the capability of creating a construction that does not emerge from the relation between shape and color, and whose foundation is not the aesthetic desire that excessively praises the prettiness of composition, but is built on weight, speed, and the moving direction” Could he dream of a more faithful evocation of the adventure he mentioned in 1919: “I have conquered the blue envelope of the sky, I ripped it off, put color into thus created pocket and made a knot. Sail! Before us opens white and free space. Infinity stretches before us”.

As if abstraction would begin when nothing remains to be seen, but we can only imagine the destiny of forms. What should we then think of Mondrian who in 1929, in the first issue of the magazine Cercle et cami stated that “new plastic” in art was characterized by not focusing on the form and color as form”, after he said in 1926 that “neoplasticsm was still painting after all its interiorized plastic expression”? It seems that Picelj gave himself the task to create his Remember Mondrian, taking just one such plastic contradiction as his point of departure. We can agree that the project is odd and that there are less ambiguous tributes. At first I leaned towards mimetic memory, then just the opposite, finding a critical distance, in order to finally come to believe in his exploration of Mondrian’s universe, which is obstructive, to penetrate into his origins and his secret.

Fact is that Picelj indulges in this so thoroughly that he took over Mondrian’s obsession with color like something autonomous, and so, taking the Losange il lignes grises from 1918 as his point of departure, he does not refrain from imitating the “interiorization” of plastic expression, which does not discard only the vibrations of “non-color, i.e. white, black, and grey”, until their full obliteration in the dark of the rhombus which became black. Therefore, the tension necessary for the retaking of this absolute trajectory is so pitched that it is difficult to imagine a more appropriate homage to Mondrian’s procedure governed by probably unpreceded reductive strictness. Contrary to Malevich, who seeks how to bring laws of autonomous existence of different immaterial elements of the plastic world, between 1920 and 1930 Mondrian was focused only on discovering the relations and interdependence of elements that would enable him to develop his neoplasticism. In that respect Remember Mondrian, evoking the asceticism of the Dutch painter, analogously suggests that the quest for such new order brings Mondrian to increasing detachment from the new freedom originating in non-figurative art with each stage. Maybe it even brings him to its negation in favor of the “only initial relation” represented “through the duality of the position that forms the right angle” Thus already in 1919 Mondrian declared “this relation of position” to be “a relation most balanced of all, because in perfect harmony it expresses the relation between one and the other extreme, also containing all other relations”.

Let us remind ourselves of some aspects. Among the fundamental ideas of neoplasticism, formulated in 1926, in whose name Mondrian is not afraid of going astray when he asserts that orthogonality witnesses “about the balance between nature and spirit in the equality of meaning, in the balance of the individual and the universal, the male and the female” is the concept whose simplification must strike us as appalling: “Neoplasticism witnesses of true order. It vividly shows equality, because the equal value in the composition of plastic means demonstrates, for all of them, the laws equal in their value, but still different. The balance along the lines of dull and neutralizing opposition obliterates individuals as persons and creates a future society as a try community” This is a sentence whose controversies are terrible, but it enables us a better insight into the fact that Picelj here plastically shows the obscurity implied by this “purified, i.e. abstract aesthetic form”, which Mondrian wanted as the creator of universal order. Picelj actually does not lead us only to the observation, in that particular case, of the emergence of darkness whose desire for purity is doubled in that case, but at the same time he encourages us to recognize the basic controversy that threatens the integrity of that “new plastics”, destined for the fertile ground of the new existential freedom. Namely, whatever the ones and the others, first of all Mondrian, intended, the emergence of new plasticism as such will not be the result of a single conquest of pictorial anatomy, because it is primarily presented as a manifestation of a transcendental philosophic vision and lastly it is the more unclear the more bare plastic expression is. This is corroborated by vague mystic-humanistic efforts that have never ceased to threaten Mondrian’s plastic asceticism, let alone the spiritualist mess with whose help some have found it appropriate to aggravate and then obscure the entire problem area of abstraction.

Unfortunately, here we are not speaking about an incidence or about chance events in modern art that could be imputed to Mondrian’s unusual ways. Let us just think of the change of scenery: we are in Russia of the 20s, the light is entirely different, but the smoke curtain is the same. It obscures the art landscape and the same rush for darkness appears, but this time through the obsessive need for rationalization which got hold of most constructivists and then also productivists who do not hesitate, maybe unconsciously, to betray the sensory revolution that essentially owed its radicalness and its width to the illogical beginning. Although already in 1918 Viktor Shklovsky had no doubts that the “gravest mistake”, as he says, “of those who today write about art is the equalization of the social revolution and the revolution of art forms they try to impose”, still almost all artists who emerged from non-figurative tendencies sacrifice that same tendency to the historical necessity of ideological illusion. Such a concession raises maybe one of the most important questions of the sensory history of our time, the more because since then it has managed to warrant the deflection of that autonomous plastic adventure towards extra-pictorial aims to the entire criticism, which, deliberately or not, embarked upon the idea of linking the social revolution to art revolution, irrespectively of the chronological evidence.

Maybe only Malevich, who since summer 1919 rejected the “imperfectness of a disheveled paintbrush in favor of a pen” in order to draw theoretical conclusions from new spatial awareness that he had just reached, would not allow a deflection from his set course. Even when at the time of his large retrospective in Moscow 1920 he started an attempt to explain suprematism in a formalist manner, at no point did he try to find social and cultural equivalents that would serve him as justification: in the tension that results from the ontological openness of his horizon he found the most reliable means that would help him continue his search. I say this without for a moment forgetting Malevich’s occupation with metaphysics and his participation in the first revolutionary interventions in the plastic domain. However, in everything that is his approach, from this or that side, there is something that we can call a lyrical dimension: for its sake he added the expression of political order or philosophical proposals just as echoes of his own activity, although these words or proposals could change the destiny of his lonesome journey or deflect the successive figures of his investigations.

Should one think that here I intend to compare Malevich to Mondrian? I would only like to underline the way in which Picelj evoked their plastic reflections as two sides of one and the same sensory rebellion, which pose the basic problem of the relation between art and awareness. First, it pertains to both that from the deepest fragment of their solitude they established the truth which is still far from being accepted, the truth that art as such does not exist and that art creates ideas before objects. From recent history we could remember, i.e. we should have remembered how frail those ideas were. Moreover, we should have remembered what multitude of forces opposing them from all directions are at work here. Today, when instances of its resistance cannot be compared to their repeated falls anymore, it remains to us to very precisely explore the conditions of their appearance and vanishing. In this perspective I shall consider Picelj’s procedure when he, simultaneously remembering Malevich, Mondrian, and Rodchenko, so different in the ideas about their work and in the turnovers they expect from it, in a way examines the conditions set for the human thought by the beginning of the 20th century. I on my part maintain that all modern art is immersed in this problem complex, because from the moment the plastic awareness started its efforts to determine new escape points on the human horizon, we began to equalize the existence of the thought to the existence of freedom. Everything that average criticism, skilled in classification, under the pretext of aesthetics, reflection, and sensitiveness managed to eliminate from our memory, the Remember series manages to return into it.

Let us take the discovery that the desire for the cognizance of the beginning of each art procedure is rooted in the furthest corner of our being as our point of departure. This discovery is most certainly one of the founding moments of our modernity. Theo van Doesburg also tacitly evokes this connection between art and cognizance that contributed to the greatness of abstract art’s predecessors and the misery of everyone who decided to deny it afterwards, as he already in 1917 stressed that “the existence of theory emerged as an unavoidable consequence of creative activity” There is no doubt that this kind of thinking primarily applies to Mondrian. Due to that fact, and this is where the danger lies, with him, as well as all the others, a constant confusion between cognition and belief would arise. This confusion will modify the adventure of modern art to a large extent, constantly slowing down the continuous innovative momentum from the beginning of the century, especially since the moment when this belief became political and when the seeking was masked and then fully aborted along with the recurrent affirmation of ideological certainties. A few years after Shklovsky, Strzemiński brilliantly analyzed the dangers of this socio-political deflection. In 1927 he could not resist denouncing “compromises” and “illegalities” of all kinds, “posters, exhibition kiosks, interior paintings”, both in Poland and Russia, which in his opinion were just cloaks for the true aims of non-figurative artistic creation, which we live and think as a new concept of the world. Fact is that the transition from constructivism to productivism could be formed is the most shattering example of that which has been and still is a drama of modern spirit. Although in Mondrian, on the contrary, the metaphysical dejection, which seems to exist at the roots of his belief or, moreover, at the roots of his need for belief, is so strong that belief is often lost in favor of the passion for cognition. And finally, could not the persistence of such periodicity between belief and cognition leave the impression on his enemies, but also his friends, that he had never ceased to paint one and the same painting? Maybe the same one, but one whose seeming tranquility was always a result of the ever renewed tension between belief and cognition, a tension that Mondrian, being such a genius, solved plastically, i.e. by revealing or inventing the existential logic of the new space belonging only to him.

The fact that he presents us this dark rhythm that structures neoplasticism will certainly not be the least tribute of this Remember Mondrian and maybe also not the fact that in this way he suggests the deeply-rooted reason which during 1942 was bound to lead to the disappearance of the black line in Mondrian’s paintings when binary harmony was tacitly included into the dispute and with it the miserably symbolism of the right angle shaken by the liberating discovery of the painting’s inner rhythm. As if abstraction was not about seeing but about foreseeing the adventure of color. In the same way, evoking the famous exhibition 5×5=25 from 1921, where Rodchenko exhibited three canvases: Pure Red Color, Pure Blue Color, and Pure Yellow Color Picelj chose to stress that which represents the critical point of non-figural painting, which can at the same time be considered his triumph and defeat. At that occasion Rodchenko announced a different concept of painting: “In 1918, at the exhibition Creation non objective et suprematisme I have for the first time confirmed spatial constructions, BLACK on BLACK in painting.

In 1920, at the State Exhibition No.19 I have for the first time confirmed the LINE as a construction factor. In 1921 at this exhibition three fundamental colors were for the first time confirmed in art”. It is certain that with such precision Rodchenko wanted to move away from both the idealism of Malevich’s philosophical preoccupations and the experimental preoccupations put forward by Pupowa and Exter. In his essay from 1921, From the Easel to the Machine, Tarabukin is doubtlessly right when he marks Rodchenko’s intervention as “an intervention that provides evolution of art forms during the last decade with ultimate meaning. This is not a stage after which other, new stages could follow, but it is the final step made at the end of a long journey, the last word after which painting should fall in silence, the last painting created by a painter. This canvas vividly tells us that painting as notional art — which it has always been — has reached the end of its journey”.

However, the art critic is fundamentally wrong when he maintains that Rodchenko’s canvas, unlike Malevich’s black square on white ground that “in spite of the bareness of its aesthetic sense contained a certain pictorial idea called ‘economy’ or ‘the fifth dimension’, was devoid of all content, that it was a blank wall, dumb and without a voice”. Although Rodchenko ceased to paint after the autumn of 1921 in order to devote himself to photo-montage, we cannot deny the primarily conceptual meaning of his step, although here he attempted to negate the notion of material representativeness. Indeed, Tarabukin employed the radicalness of Rodchenko’s move in his quest for analytical purity of material through “unique colors”, so that he could use it in theoretical liquidation of analytical constructivism.
By retorting to a sophism right away, which a few years later would revive all the weakening accusations of proletarian art criticism, Tarabukin needed just a few lines to reduce all non-figurative activity to speculative movements of a few more or less nice young people. “The example of Rodchenko’s canvas confirms our idea that painting has always been the art of depiction and that it cannot leave the boundaries of notionality. In old art depiction was its content. By ceasing to depict, painting lost its inner meaning. The laboratory work on pure form confined art to a narrow circle, stopped its progress and led it to impoverishment.” This is so simple, but the more difficult because the allusion to “laboratory work” points to the expression under which some constructivists could for some time find a way to retain their artistic autonomy from the growing ideological pressure. As far as Tarabukin’s further text is concerned, there is no room for doubt: it only shows the speed and width of theoretical regression accompanied by the founding of the artistic New Economic Policy (NEP), whose unfortunate animators were Brik, Kushner and… Let us judge ourselves: “…when the society is democratized, the class consumer of aesthetic values and the patronage system yielded their place to the mass viewer who from art required forms that expressed the idea of the mass, society, and nation as a whole. Under the influence of this new viewer’s demands, art acquired democratic forms.” Also: “In democratic art each form should be socially justified”. And finally the question that provokes the inevitable answer: “What is the role of the contemporary constructivist artist in production? His role is pure propaganda.” This clearly and merrily heralds the theories that will be formulated by Zhdanov ten years later. What is less clear is the way how the artists that emerged from the non-figurative adventure arrived to the point to serve the ones soon disclosed as their fierce enemies. The liquidation of the Russian Avant-garde within only a few years means a kind of genocide whose consequences we have not yet grasped.

For this reason Remember Rodchenko carries a certain tragic dimension in itself that can be equalized to the social and political reflection of the scrutinizing undertaken here by Picelj. It is primarily useful to remind ourselves of the fact that the painting exhibition 5×5=25 in September of 1921 was the last exhibition of the Moscow Avant-garde and at the same time the last coherent constructivist event, which also polemically confirmed itself vis-à-vis the emerging productivist movement, before two months later it would be unambiguously accompanied by a productivist declaration, signed by the majority of its participants. This is where the drama is.

I know that there will be no lack of evoking that epoch, there will be no lack of desire or conviction that there is a coincidence between the sensory and the social revolution, there will be no lack of certainty that we witnessed the construction of a new world in a thorough revision of the then present set of values. All that is true, but it still does not explain the easiness with which constructivists allowed to be dispossessed of the achievements of non-figurative art. How could they so suddenly abandon that which was the very foundation of their artistic existence? I also know that it has been put forward from many sides that new ideas have been used and discarded at incredible pace during the first twenty years of this century. However, the transition from cubism to futurism, from futurism to suprematism, from suprematism to constructivism, or from Dadaism to surrealism does not represent a breach, does not imply the kind of negation established by the transformation of constructivists into productivists. The fundamental problem here is maybe less linked to historical circumstances in the narrow sense of the word then to awareness artists have or don’t have of their work. We can notice that the turnover visible in all arts demands a formulation of other concepts of the world, and in order to achieve this, artists, the initiators of these turnovers, started to ask themselves about their place in the world. Most of them did not fail to do so, which is corroborated by the rich variety and the abundance of theoretical activity that characterized these years. However, a seeming confusion of proposals, an abundance of declarations and announcements did not in any way impair the emergence of real developments, beginning with the self-evident meaning that they intended to give to their chosen path. Such is certainly the main input of non-figurative art that Mondrian would never renounce like Malevich. Through their radical unacceptance of imitating reality and even the unacceptance of the evocation of this same reality, not in order to discover the imaginary space, but to discover the imaginary features of space, non-figurative painting brings the thought to the very center of painting. It again in a spectacular way provides painting with the meaning it acquires whenever it is a strict evidence of the expressed thoughts, which can be manifested only through a plan, color, movement, and matter. It is therefore not at all important what painting represents when it — like poetry — becomes a victory over the non-contemplated. Tracking that adventurous essence of thought could one day turn into the most beautiful signature of our modernity. Has not modernity become so old-fashioned because this awareness has been made insecure by plethoric production of objects from which art objects differ only in their name? Thus we shall the more appreciate Picelj’s invitation to disregard the improper superficiality of a period that is currently trying to erase an entire epoch. For this reason we must very carefully study the benchmarks he proposes us. Wondrously unsteady orientation points, almost always ready to vanish. They have always been heralds of their own disappearance. As if amidst an incredible turmoil, from which between 1910 and 1920 non-figurative art appeared, Picelj chose to set himself, to set us, even three times, atop the highest wave. As if he wanted to remember only three borderline points of painting on the verge of invisible with Malevich, almost nothing with Mondrian, and nothing with Rodchenko. These are their borderline points that mark the threshold which painting would not be able to pass without obliterating itself. Three borderline points whose determination each time corresponds to the examination of the very essence of painting. The fact that contemporary descendants of this non-figurative art’s inventors made it their profession, that they pretend not to know it had ever taken place, that they sometimes even negate its adequacy gives very realistic weight to Picelj’s undertaking, because that which this undertaking implicitly attacks is the impressive production of tricks which attempt to occupy the entire dull realm of contemporary exhibitions, and it also attacks the not less impressive growth of conceptual interventions that try to capture the entire attention of contemporary criticism. We could long examine the variety of deliberately applied or other reasons at the root of these Remember, the last line of defense or a maneuver of symbolical protection before the growing flood of objects which are to the same extent the denial of non-figurative roots to which, contrary to the obvious, they keep trying to make them affiliated.

It is a fact that Picelj would give only as much room to despair to draw power from it to deflect this growth of senseless signs whose onrush today licenses, for example, Jean Clair in his Consideration sur l’etat des beaux-arts to rehabilitate the craft, the painter and with him the safe values of drawing and pastel, in favor of the good old notion of painting. This would have no meaning as such, when this reaction, in a different sense of the word, would not lead Jean Clair to determine a disturbing equivalence between uniformity and cosmopolitism and see (after its precarious establishing which is in complete opposition to its announced care for the examination of forms) in the development of abstract art of western countries a form opposite but still of the same kind as the one in socialist realism of eastern countries.

Indeed, when we speak of malignance, the aesthetes in visual art have nothing to envy the literary aesthetes about. However Jean Clair might hide behind Marcel Duchamp’s authority, his critical positions are no more important than that which often turns to modernity he condemns. We could even maintain that if modernity is reduced to the little this fierce avenger of ridiculed aesthetics condescends, in him it found a critic it deserved: blurring the vision in order to conceal the most confused amalgams.

Thus we can see Jean Claire how he without prior consideration discovers “how that which we have maybe not sufficiently observed is the fact that the development of avant-garde in Russia was almost simultaneous to the development of the contemporary Proletkult movement, which opposed that avant-garde, and that the development of avant-garde was simultaneous to the development of the theory of faithfulness to the idea, i.e. the conformity to the party spirit, which warrants ideological correctness. We shall not be surprised when we find the modernist cliché of chronological overlapping here, of which we have already warned. It is, however, necessary to stress the seemingly casual use of the “almost” that served for erasing about seven years of difference between the beginning of the avant-garde and the foundation of the Proletkult in 1917, as this aesthetic specialist concludes without thinking twice: “However in their formal effects they might be seemingly juxtaposed in terms of ideology, the avant-garde and the socialist realism are not similar only in their simultaneous development (we can observe the shift from simultaneity to similarity), but also because they developed in accordance with the same temporal scheme, the same teleological vision”. This not only remains to be proved, but also demonstrates obvious intellectual inadequacy as soon as it remains unsaid that the representatives of the Russian avant-garde were, if not liquidated then one by one forced into silence, in spite of the sympathies most of them showed for the October Revolution.

Should we therefore wonder that Jean Clair, masterfully using theoretical unclarity in order to introduce half-truths and real cloaking, reached the point of making out, away from non-figurative art, a “visionary and almost hallucinatory power of painting in the West: making things we have never seen before visible. However, what kind of conquests in the realm of pure visibility would mark the work of Malevich, Kandinsky or Mondrian?” Something like this is absolutely out of question, because it is either — or. Either is the painting invoked by Jean Clair with all his heart really visionary, so that it cannot emerge from the “domain of pure visibility” or it is from the “realm of pure visibility”. The least we can say is that neither Malevich nor Kandinsky or Mondrian participated in that for the obvious reason that their procedure is primarily essentially visionary and never retinal.

How can we not share the revolt implied by the Remember when these Considerations sur l’etat des beaux-arts, neither better nor worse from the rest of contemporary criticism, in a spectacular manner witness how little respect there is today for words and forms? Jean Claire managed to lead them to say the opposite of what they mean and bring them to say that which he wanted them to say, whenever he pleased; in short he managed to subjugate them. How can we not hear that revolt when this new criticism finds its reason of existence in reproducing that subjugating of sensibility to ideological expression and in the attempt to introduce what has been a mortal sickness of modern art into the very center of aesthetic reflection? How can we not see that this criticism, whose desire is to be purely aesthetic, finally brings the work to the status of an object and sooner or later implies the subjugation of form to the idea? We must be especially grateful to Picelj for doing everything in his power to find the origin of this misfortune that was primarily a misfortune of our epoch. Here I point to the very accurate selection of works that he deemed necessary to evoke today, because they had evaded the great danger to become “objects”, even if “art objects” to which they were reduced by formalist considerations regardless of how brilliant some of its analyses might have been. Although we can well perceive the liberating range of a statement like Shklovsky’s in The March of a Horse: “Representative art never had the aim to depict existing objects; its aim has been the creation of art objects — of art forms.” This does not mean that the notion of the object, liable to contradictory interpretations, would not establish the main asset of the interested party between the existential novelty of the non-figurative revolution and anti-modernist reaction of its accusing ideologists. This part is maybe not yet completely finished, but its impact leads us to observe, beyond the word-play, for example the fact that the achievements of non-figurative art died in 1922 at the Berlin revue of Lissitzky and Erenburg, titled Object-Vesc-Gegenstand. This happened at the moment when Shklovsky, saying: “I do not believe that painting will remain non-figurative forever” considered it useful to formulate more precisely: “However, only suprematists have become aware of the elements of painting, because for a long time they had been focused on the object as material. Only suprematists were able to free themselves of the slavery to the object. By disclosing the procedure they were able to present paintings which are nothing more than painted surfaces to the viewer.”

Starting from there to reach the production of a “normalized object” they for example excessively praise “active revolutionary art associations” in Moscow 1924. An interconnection of regressive substitutions, whose extra-pictorial dynamics certainly is the most powerful argument against the formalist pretension for absolute autonomy of the creative process, would be necessary. It opposes the “art object” that according to Strzemiński’s beautiful strictness… is not a sign of anything… it does not say or produce anything”

Thus the notion of the object appears here paradoxically in order to confirm the non-referential value of a work that is not a sign anymore, but an autonomous plastic organism. However, while the inventors of abstract art could all recognize full adequacy of Strzemiński’s concept that the “appearance of a new form creates new content”, and this view is very close to Shklovsky’s formalist statement that “a new form bears new content”, the appearance of these plastic “objects” would, quite on the contrary, progressively serve as a cloak for the return of the old content through the idea of the construction as a “myth” of the new functional logic”. This would happen to the extent that the very idea would finally emerge as a subject, says Nakov wisely. Even when this is about discovering the structures of plastic meaning, i.e. examining the pictorial object as organic identity, this object becomes a pray of the new aesthetics, a construction that reduces it to inner materiality in order to model it according to the will of increasingly normative socio-cultural interdependence model. This solely extra-pictorial reference would be sufficient to uproot the transformational dynamics of constructivism, although we keep striving to take the object as a point of departure, so that in place of the construction notion we might place the notion of organization, and then replace the notion of organization with the notion of production. It really simply and cleanly negates the objectal autonomy of plastic creation imbued with the non-figurative idea. Simultaneously the specific nature of the artwork is also negated and in consequence the very idea of freedom, from the moment when this aesthetics of production set the control over aesthetic production as its sole aim.

We should never forget Brik’s statements, already since 1918 against the “smoke of ideas… against the idea of the object in favor of a real object… For reality against specters… this is the motto of the Commune.” Did not because they let themselves be convinced too easily that they were primarily producers if objects, twenty five INHUK’s sculptors opt on November 24th of 1921 for Brik’s proposal, leaning towards “abandoning pure art in favor of producing practical objects”, as this is related by Nakov? In that way, instead continuously discovering irrational, non-logical space and finding delight in seeking its unknown signs, constructivists and productivists have contributed to a sudden turnover of the abstract revolution, legally confirming the production of “art objects”-turned-“theoretical models” and then “normalized objects”. However, apart from that, which led to gravest consequences, because they were not at the height of the ideas in the non-figurative adventure, they warranted the subjection of art to ideological manipulations, in this way obliterating that which already had been and had remained a spiritual and sensory adventure, which was the very beginning of modern art.

It also does not seem useful to me to continue asking myself about the emptiness of most works appearing today, be they conceptual or functional, figurative or not. Their misery is connected to that historical failure of awareness that painting must have of itself. This failure once again, in a tragic manner, re-opened the problem of Jewish-Christian guilt that since the rise of atheism by the end of the 18th century would not cease to threaten the creative procedure. How many times have we seen artists obsessed by a desperate need to justify themselves — in metaphysical, philosophical or social terms, the more they tried to convince themselves that they produced objects, although they just produced things?

However, the lack of import of these things put them at mercy of all kinds of uses. Because whatever we say, abstract art does not exist. There are just dead forms, packaging for different uses or live forms that coincide with the appearance of a concrete, until then unknown, or more precisely unthought of action. We have always equalized painting to the announcement of this unthought of concepts and the alternative was that there was no painting.

Picelj does not remind us of anything else, but of this. However, he does it in an extremely instructive manner on the example of three works consisting of the possibility of their self-destruction or, more precisely, conceived as a challenge to the threat they contain. This is maybe the secret of true autonomy non-figurative artists dream of, an autonomy that is neither object-related nor conceptual, but a metaphoric autonomy of a thing that becomes a warrant of our freedom since the moment when its concrete existence begins to point to certain presence, never with the aim to mask; on the contrary, its power lies in disclosing. We could ask ourselves, does not the need for justification, which gradually weakened the radicalness of the abstract adventure really correspond to the upsetting erasure of this presence? Why should else technical abstraction be so fit for ornamenting railway station halls, bank walls or for the decoration of all kinds of state and city monuments (btw. this is its only benefit), while there is not a single Malevich’s, Mondrian’s, Rozanova’s, Kobro’s, Strzemiński’s, Arp’s or Schwitter’s composition, however abstract, in which non-figurative will is primarily and entirely the guide to a certain twittering of the being these compositions owe their greatness to? Maybe it is time for us to understand that it is difficult to demand negation down to the very form of that which is mortal, without condemning ourselves to manipulation with dead symbols. Maybe it is time for us to grasp that the commonplaceness of forms is the warrant of the symbols’ life. In other words, this is still “honing, the sparkling principle” — in Malevich’s words who has doubtlessly defined, without knowing this, concrete strictness of the iconoclast passion that burdens the history of art.

Foreword to
Remember Print Portfolio
1986