Julije Knifer

Julije Knifer

Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb

Julije Knifer: Uncompromising, 2014. Installation view, MSU – Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 2014. Courtesy Museum
of Contemporary Art Zagreb. Photo: Žarko Vijatović.

November 9, 2014

Julije Knifer: Uncompromising
Retrospective exhibition

Open until December 6, 2014

MSU – Museum of Contemporary Art
Avenija Dubrovnik 17
10000 Zagreb


The first, long awaited retrospective exhibition of one of the most important Croatian painters of the second half of the 20th century, Julije Knifer (1924–2014) was opened on 20 September with a symbolic act of rolling down the large canvas Arbeitsprozess (30 x 20 meters), created in a quarry near Tübingen, from the museum roof.

In the art world Julije Knifer has become recognised by his geometric form of the meander, which he gradually defined in the early 1960s: “Within a few months I came, as it were, to the end, that is to a black & white painting (which I referred to as anti-painting)—to a meander that cannot be simplified further.”

In fine arts the winding Meander River became a synonym for the eternal flow of life. Julije Knifer would, however, append to this archaic symbol his own, individual interpretations, posing complex questions concerning human existence through the simplest possible, but uttermost and juxtaposed visual tools. “It is likely that I have already created my last paintings, but maybe not yet the first ones.” This thought, following the logic of the meander, incessantly repeated in his Notes from 1976, offers us a key to a world in which chronology and continuity have no meaning.

Knifer’s language of strict geometry constantly provoked classification into diverse tendencies in post-war art (constructivism, minimalism, analytical painting, post-painterly geometric abstraction), enabling him to participate in major international exhibitions from the early 1960s. Nevertheless, we find Knifer’s actual spiritual origins in his affiliation with the neo-avant-garde group Gorgona (1959–1966) whose members found the point of departure for their unconventional artistic activities in the philosophies of existentialism, absurdism and Zen, creating a platform for new artistic phenomena that would emerge a decade later.

Knifer’s process-oriented, utterly disciplined and almost ascetic approach to “radical will” would be expressed in its extremity in a series of meander drawings he began in the late 1970s when for months, sometimes even for years, he was saturating the surface of paper with the trace of a graphite pencil, inscribing into it the temporal frame of his own existence.

Along with a selection of key works from the MSU holdings, the exhibited works are borrowed from several private and public collections. Among them are some of the most important international collections like the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and MAMCO in Geneva. Some of these works have never been exhibited in Croatia, since from the beginning of the ’70s to the end of the ’80s Knifer often worked in Germany and exhibited his works there. By the beginning of the ’90s he moved to France (Sète, Nice), where he, taking a permanent residence in Paris, remained to the end of his life.

Apart from the early works that preceded the meanders, many drawings are exhibited, as well as sketches for paintings and murals, documentary photographs of murals and performances less known to the public. There are also his notes (Banal Diaries), which are just a verbal continuation of the same thought on human existence incorporated in the meander shape.

The exhibition is accompanied by a Croatian/English catalogue (348 pages, published by MSU). Along with the introductory text by catalogue editor Radmila Iva Janković, Zvonko Maković is the author of a comprehensive foreword on Julije Knifer’s work. The authors of earlier published texts are art historians Igor Zidić, Ljerka Mifka, Ješa Denegri, Jean-Claude Marcadé, Krešimir Purgar (interview with Julije Knifer), Arnauld Pierre, Hubert Besacier, Leila Topić (interview with Ana Knifer), and writer Žarko Radaković.

Exhibition curator: Radmila Iva Janković
Collaborator: Ana Knifer
Expert advisor: Professor Zvonko Maković PhD
Exhibition set-up: Radmila Iva Janković and Ana Knifer
Space design: Filip Kožarić
Catalogue design and visual identity of the exhibition: Igor Kuduz

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November 9, 2014

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