Mitchell-Innes & Nash is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Croatian artist Julije Knifer (1924 – 2004). The exhibition will be the first ever solo show of Knifer’s work in the United States, and will include work from the early 1960’s through the 2000’s.
Julije Knifer is recognized as one of the most prominent Croatian painters of the 20th century. Growing out of the Russian school of Supremist painters, Knifer applied proto-conceptual practices to abstract painting. He was a founding member of the 1960’s avant-garde group Gorgona in Zagreb. The Gorgona group was known for their ephemeral and intellectual approach to art-making and is considered a predecessor of the Conceptual Art movement which thrived in Western Europe years later. Knifer’s oeuvre involves the exploration of a single form – “the meander”, a geometric maze-like form composed of only horizontal and vertical lines, almost exclusively in black and white. Like On Kawara’s “Date Paintings”, Knifer’s repetition of a single motif across his entire career addresses the artistic problem of depicting time. In Knifer's words, “I realized that I didn't want to create a single painting, a work that would be self-contained and complete in and of itself. I understood that my drawings and my own images were only one in a series of connected similar acts.” -Julije Knifer, as quoted by the Avent-Garde Museum
In 1960, Knifer announced his intention to paint the meander motif exclusively. At the 1961 Music Biennale in Zagreb, Knifer was introduced to the notion of serialism in music. Knifer recognized Igor Stravinsky’s musical technique of repetition and reduction as parallel to his own interest in the “escalation of uniformity and monotony” in painting.
In addition to musical influences, the severe geometric abstraction of the earliest works presented at Mitchell-Innes & Nash note the influence of Russian Suprematist and Constructivist movements, specifically Kazimir Malevich whose work was an important influence in Knifer’s early education in Zagreb. In 1975, Knifer started to create large-scale outdoor murals of the meander, including one 20 x 30 meter canvas draped in a quarry in Tübingen. The gallery will also present graphite works on paper, and paintings from the 1990’s, which demonstrate Knifer’s consistent reductionism, pushing the meander to the edge of the canvas, creating nearly monochrome black or white surfaces.
This exhibition is curated by Zarko Vijatovic and is organized in conjunction with the Frank Elbaz Gallery, Paris.
Julije Knifer was born in Osijek, Croatia in 1924 and died in Paris in 2004. He represented Croatia in the 2001 Venice Biennale. In 2014, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb will mount a full retrospective of his work; he has previously been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; MAMCO, Geneva; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; works by Knifer reside in private and museum collections around the world including the MoMA in New York City.