Mangelos (Dimitrije Bašicevic) Dialogue with Death 1971–7

Artwork details

Artist
Title
Dialogue with Death
Dialogue avec la mort
Date 1971–7
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Unconfirmed: 462 x 334 x 20 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 2007
Reference
T12466
Not on display

Summary

The oil painting Dialogue avec la mort features Mangelos’s signature ledger lines painted in red on a black background. The French words ‘dialogue avec la mort’ (meaning ‘dialogue with death’) are painted across the ledger lines in uneven lowercase copperplate letters, also in red. Mangelos produced a version of this painting with the same phrase written in German (Dialogue mit dem Tode 1971–7, reproduced in Stipančić, p.113). The ledger lines are unevenly spaced and are ostentatiously hand-painted, creating the impression that the words are floating, dream-like, across the surface of the canvas. Mangelos wished to oppose the traditionally irrational – or expressive – element of painting, and therefore chose to paint words, usually the form in which rational thought is expressed, in order to do so. On his theory of ‘no-art’, Mangelos commented that his aim was ‘to negate the picture by writing it with words, to negate the word by painting it’ (quoted in Dimitrijević, p.287). The formal negation therefore functions in two directions: painting and text negate one another. The painting has a heavy gold frame added by the artist himself to emphasise the work’s status as a painting – an object of high art.

Death was a constant theme in Mangelos’s work, ranging from the ‘death of art’ expressed through his manifestos and anti-paintings, to his own death, the year of which he correctly predicted. Curator Branka Stipančić has commented that: ‘Mangelos may be said to have conversed with death, moving from an intuitive experience of it to a theory according to which death did not even exist’ (quoted in Stipančić, p.13). On another work – a globe, Le manifeste sur la mort c.1977 – Mangelos wrote in French ‘il n’y a pas de mort, il s’agit d’une autre forme de vie’ (‘there is no death, it’s about another form of life’). In T12466, the title’s reference to dialogue, a common form for philosophical debate, is a declaration of the work’s conceptual space for doubt, conceived between the washed out black of the Mangelos’s early paysages (‘landscapes’), comprising images almost entirely obliterated with black paint, and the declamatory statements of the later globes and manifestos.

As well as his native Croatian, Mangelos often used French and German in his works. Along with the many references to Western European philosophy, this suggests he wished to situate his work within an international frame of reference. His use of Glagolitic script (the oldest known Slavic alphabet) and runes also indicates his interest in sign-systems and the relationship between word and image.

For his personal art experiments, Dimitrije Bašičević took on the pseudonym Mangelos. The name was taken from the name of a village near the place of his birth, Šid, west of Belgrade. Before assuming his artistic pseudonym, Bašičević studied History of Art and Philosophy in Vienna and Zagreb, and received a Ph.D. from Zagreb Faculty of Philosophy in 1957 with a thesis on the Serbian painter Sava Šumanović (1896–1942). He worked as a curator and a critic, and in the 1950s became one of the foremost champions of Yugoslav naïve art. His first art works, Paysage de la mort 1942–4 (Landscape of Death) and Paysage de la guerre 1942–4 (Landscape of War), were paintings in which found printed images were entirely covered in black paint (reproduced in in Dimitrijević, p.50 and p.52). From that point onwards, he began to create works in various media including notebooks, books, tablets, sheets and globes. The works were often made in series, and included Pythagoras, which featured geometric shapes, Négation de la peinture (see T12467), in which printed reproduction were painted over and Abecede, which featured Glagolitic and Latin letters and runes. He also wrote poems and tracts, which he titled Nostories, Theses and Manifestos. From 1959 to 1966 Mangelos was an active member of the Gorgona group in Zagreb, who, according to the curator Branka Stipančić ‘in the spirit of the late 1950s and early 1960s ... turned to neo-Dadaist trends as well as to the reductionism and philosophy of the East – Zen Buddhism’ (Stipančić, p.20). Mangelos divided his artistic activity into nine and a half periods of seven years each, based on the theory of cell-renewal (every seven years, every single cell in the human body is renewed) and correctly predicted the year of his own death in 1987.

Further reading:
Tihomir Milovac (ed.), The Misfits: Conceptualist Strategies in Croatian Contemporary Art, Zagreb 2002.
Branka Stipančić (ed.), Mangelos Nos.1 to 9 ½, Porto 2003.
Branislav Dimitrijević, ‘A Brief Narrative of Art Events in Serbia after 1948’ in Irwin (ed.), East Art Map, London 2006.

Elizaveta Butakova
January 2010

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

About this artwork