Mangelos (Dimitrije Bašicevic)

Negation of Painting


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Not on display
Mangelos (Dimitrije Bašicevic) 1921–1987
Original title
Négation de la peinture
5 drawings, tempera on printed paper
In five parts: 176 x 141 mm, 180 x 126 mm, 183 x 125 mm, 182 x 128 mm, 162 x 128 mm
Purchased 2007


Négation de la peinture (Negation of Painting) is a work in five parts, consisting of five sheets of paper. Each sheet is a printed reproduction, likely to have been found in an art book or magazine, which the artist has painted over in black tempera. Parts of the original prints are still visible – a small square has been left unpainted in each case, and then crossed out in red. The unpainted square is positioned differently each time, producing a striking visual pattern. On each sheet, towards the bottom, ledger lines have been drawn in red and the title has been painted in cursive handwriting in white, with each one numbered from one to five. The title has been shortened to ‘neg. d.l.p.’, and is followed by the French word ‘serie’ (‘series’) and a rune symbol. Mangelos described the process of production: ‘The phase of denying painting started at the same time as the slates and the letters. I denied painting by painting over some reproductions with black and then writing underneath that this was negation of painting or anti-painting. Some of these negations had details left in which I then crossed out in red.’ (Quoted in Stipančić, p.185.) Mangelos produced several works entitled Négation de la peinture, all of which follow a similar process of production.

These ‘anti-paintings’ are also closely related to the Paysages (Landscapes) series, in which shapes were painted in black tempera on printed materials such as newspaper. As curator Branka Stipančić points out, in the Paysages, ‘the emphasis on black denoted the burden of emotions and the disappearance of everything visible’ (Stipančić, p.15). The black tempera in Négation de la peinture also serves to denote the disappearance of the visible, but the work functions on a conceptual level: it is a reproduction that is negated rather than a painting. Therefore, as Stipančić comments, it is the very idea of painting that is negated (Stipančić, p.21). The Gorgona group, which Mangelos was a member of, was devoted to the idea of ‘anti-art’. According to the art-historian Radoslav Putar, who was also in the group, the individual members were united in their desire to move ‘beyond painting’ (quoted in Stipančić, p.20).

In addition to Croatian, his native language, 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. 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).

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, he was an active member of the Gorgona group in Zagreb. 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.

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