Július Koller



Not on display

Július Koller 1939–2007
Original title
Ink on paper
Support: 174 × 123 mm
Purchased 2007


G-Astronomy consists of a single sheet of paper with an oval printed image of the night sky glued onto it, and text handwritten in green ink, including the artist’s name, and the year and location of the work along the bottom. The blue oval, presumably a found image, has been outlined with the same green fibre-tipped pen used for the text, in such a way that the dark blue sky becomes the contents of a plate or saucer. This drawing plays on the shape of a flying saucer: ‘unidentified flying object’ is the original meaning of the initials ‘U.F.O.’ favoured by Koller, which in this work appear above the artist’s name as ‘Univerzálna Fututologická Organizácia’ (‘Universal Futurological Organization’). This playful gesture is enhanced by the title of the work, which creates a pun on the words ‘astronomy’ and ‘gastronomy’. The subtitle – ‘konsumnej spoločnosti XX. storočia’ – translates as ‘consumer societies of the twentieth century’, and the text below the image lists three kinds of cosmic endeavours and five different cosmic states, centrally positioned under the dish, between rows of dots. The text translates as ‘cosmic exploration’, ‘cosmic success’, ‘cosmic competition’, ‘conquered cosmos’, ‘mastered cosmos’, ‘used cosmos’, ‘discovered cosmos’, ‘explained cosmos’. These phrases point to the ways in which the cosmos acquired an ideological function in the Cold War context of the 1960s and 1970s.

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.’. The critic and curator Georg 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). The layout of this particular text-object resembles an advertisement poster, evoking references to food and consumer goods.

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.

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