Summary

NO ART! is a conceptual artwork consisting of a Czechoslovakian postal telegram slip, with text printed on it in green ink. The artist has stamped his name and address in the ‘Sender’ box, and the date as 1970, but the ‘Recipient’ box is addressed simply ‘Československo’ (‘Czechoslovakia’). The slip has also been stamped with the word ‘Bratislava’ in faint black ink, suggesting that this is the location where Koller acquired the slip. The text in the message box reads UME NIE!, which is a play on the Slovak words ‘umenie’, meaning ‘art’, and ‘ume nie’ meaning ‘nevermore’. The critic and curator Georg Schöllhammer has commented that, from 1970 onwards ‘symbols of eternity appear more and more often in [Koller’s] work, along with question marks and the negation NIE’ (quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák, p.130). The exclamatory message can be read as a call for action, or a more ambivalent statement of intent.

Koller began making text works on paper, which he also referred to as ‘text-objects’, in 1965. He used children’s stamps to create each work in various editions, each of which was hand-printed. In 1971, he wrote a manifesto entitled ‘Text-Cards (Card-Texts), Text-Objects (Object-Texts)’ (see Böhler and Seidl, p.79). Many of the early text objects contained references to his concept of the ‘anti-happening’ and later, bore the initials ‘U.F.O.’. Schöllhammer has suggested that the works were inspired by the use of text and collage in the work of the dadaists and the surrealists (Rhomberg and Ondák, p.127). Koller made his own interpretation of mail-art’s potential for allowing artists to work outside of the boundaries of established art spaces. His ‘invitation cards to an idea’ (see T12436) were designed to be left in public spaces, and his telegram works were addressed to the entire country of Czechoslovakia. This approach contrasts with examples of mail art in which the telegram or postcard is actually posted, such as On Kawara’s series I Got Up 1968 (reproduced in Daniel Marzona, Conceptual Art, Cologne 2006, p.71).

Born in Piestany (formerly in Czechoslovakia), Koller studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava from 1959 to 1965. He has defined his thinking as ‘de facto ... a sort of anti-academicism’ (quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák p.141), an approach evident throughout his artistic career. Schöllhammer has pointed out that Koller was sceptical of group activism, despite his work containing ‘a number of thematic, formal or subject matter correspondences’ with the Slovakian Happsoc group (quoted in Rhomberg and Ondák, p.126). In 1965, this group of three artists (Zita Kostrová, Stano Filko, and Alex Mlynárčik) published the Happsoc manifesto, proclaiming the whole city of Bratislava to be a ready-made work of art during the week of 2–8 May 1965. From 1968 onwards, Czechoslovakia entred a period of so-called ‘normalisation’ by the ruling Communist regime, and Koller’s work became increasingly ambivalent. Around 1967–8, he began to use the symbol of the question mark in his works (see T12441), and from 1970 he started to take yearly self-portraits of himself as a ‘U.F.O.-naut’. During the years 1980–9, he ran the fictional U.F.O. Galéria, in his own words, ‘a challenging and hard-to-reach fictitious space for spiritual communication between earthly beings and the unknown cosmic world’ (quoted in Documenta Magazine, nos.1–3, 2007 Reader, Cologne 2007, p.476). Koller’s work aims at a constant questioning of the world and the cultural context, opening up possibilities for a humanistic utopia in unexpected places.

Further reading:
Marian Dzúrik and Ann Stephen (eds.), After the Spring: Contemporary Czech and Slovak Art, Sydney 1994.
Kathrin Rhomberg and Roman Ondák (eds.), Julius Koller: Univerzálne Futurologické Operácie, Cologne 2003.
Jan Verwoert, ‘Július Koller: Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany’ in Frieze no.79, November–December 2003, pp.98–9, http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/julius_koller/

, accessed 19 November 2009.

Elizaveta Butakova
November 2009

Supported by the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange in collaboration with the Courtauld Institute of Art.