Julije Knifer

Meandar u kutu (Meander in the corner)

Knifer Meander In The Corner Museum Of Contemporary Art Zagreb 1500 - © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016
  • Julije Knifer
  • Meandar u kutu (Meander in the corner)
  • 1961
  • Oil on canvas
  • Two parts: 143 x 199 cm; 143 x 308 cm
  • Courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb - © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

In 1959, Julije Knifer arrived at the basic compositional format that he would use exclusively for the rest of his life: a minimal meander motif in white on a black background, or vice versa. Knifer conceived of the meander works as a form of “anti-painting,” in which he would repeatedly execute permutations on a readymade system. The reductive geometric form of the meander was an ironic response to both the neo-constructivist geometric abstraction that dominated Croatian art of the late 1950s and 1960s and the utopian aspirations of prewar avant-gardes, who equated the pursuit of formal purity with transformative social progress. By contrast, Knifer’s meander is insistently monotonous and unoriginal, becoming increasingly meaningless through its endless repetition. Knifer’s turn to the meander coincided with his involvement with the proto-conceptual artist group Gorgona, active in Zagreb from 1959 to 1966. The group’s collaborative activities were carried out largely in secret, a deliberate choice that reflected its nihilistic, anti-art stance.

Meandar u kutu (1961) was a breakthrough work for Knifer, allowing the meander to escape the boundaries of the canvas an instead to invade the surrounding space. The black meander pattern, set against a white background, continues uninterrupted across the work’s two panels, which are installed to form a right angle in the corner of the gallery. By using the corner in this work, he emphasized that this was not merely the representation of a motif but instead a concrete manifestation of it that carried no additional symbolism or significance.

Rachel Wetzler

Biography of Julije Knifer

  • Born 1924 in Osijek, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
  • Died 2004 in Paris , France
Julije Knifer began his career with a series of sketched self-portraits in ink and mixed-media, making them into a kind of diary from 1949 to 1952, during his studies at the Akademija likovnih umjetnosti (Academy of Fine Arts), Zagreb (1951–57). While developing his own style, he experimented with abstraction, gradually abandoning recognizable imagery. Within two years of completing his studies he defined the basic elements of his lifelong artistic approach. He radically reduced his formal repertoire to the meander in ever-changing variations through the opposition of black and white, horizontal and vertical. In 1959 he co-founded the Gorgona Group and between 1961 and 1973 he participated in four New Tendencies exhibitions at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb. Knifer explored the meander in different genres, including geometric abstraction, neo-Constructivism, anti-art, and neo-avant-garde, but his work consistently focused on the element of time. Although Knifer mostly exhibited in Croatia, Germany, Italy, and France, his works are included in important international collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. He represented Croatia at the Venice Biennale in 2001, and a major retrospective was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, in 2014.