* 1944

“Milan Kunc’s art forms were the flow of the history of western painting crashes against the steep cliffs of the present. This is where flamboyant whorls and deep insights are fashioned. New myths born of the foam.”  

Hubert Winkels

Milan Kunc was born in Prague, Czech Republic. From 1964 to 1967 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. He emigrated to Germany in 1969. From 1970 to 1975 he studied at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf (Germany) with Prof. Joseph Beuys and Prof. Gerhard Richter. In 1979, he founded “Gruppe Normal” with Jan Knap and Peter Angermann. In 1981 he participated in the legendary Times Square Show in New York. During Kunc’s stay in New York, Pop-Surrealism had a profound impact on him. In 1982 he moved from Düsseldorf to Cologne. He worked throughout 1986 and 1987 in New York and moved to Rome, Italy in 1988. He stayed in Rome and Tuscany until 1991. During his stay in Rome he was inspired by Neoclassicism.  In his new, refined paintings he transformed classical Mediterranean metaphysics and lucidity. In 1994 and 1995, he moved to New York and East Hampton in the United States again where he had studios. In 1996 and 1997, he worked on a body of ceramic sculptures in The Hague, Netherlands before moving to Schlosstal in the Eifel, Germany where he spent 2 years. In 2000 Moved back to Cologne. Since 2004, he has lived and worked in Prague, Czech Republic. During last 5 years he visited India where he worked on drawing books. Kunc is called a predecessor of a low-brow movement.

Hubert Winkels - FotoPop – the laughing Art of Milan Kunc

FotoPop – the laughing Art of Milan Kunc

It is difficult to be an artist in Italy. One is caught between an ever-present obscene TV-culture on the one side, which, while destroying art, binds common desires in a grand fashion and on the other side a great tradition in the fine arts which transcends the reach of electronic channels.

TV-culture is a first class variety show of erotics and politics, at the forefront of Europe's brain-dissolving mass media. A pool of sweet sins and forbidden pleasures which simultaneously greatly represses liberty. It can be defined as hedonism if viewed morally or as nihilism if approached metaphysically. Ether lives; images race by at the speed of light only to sink slowly into the synthesis-addicted, never satisfied right half of the Mediterranean visual peoples brain. "I love Italy". On the one hand: Ubiquity, simultaneousness. Everything included and everybody infatuated. Larger than human will is electronic fate. After China, Bertolucci flees into the desert. Frustrated. And what for? To film colourful, moving imagery. An offensive variation of this is Jeff Koons and Cicciolina as a colourful sculpture: Post-TV 3-D artware.

On the other hand: the old paintings, grey, static, isolated. Figures out of stone, aged from weather, damaged in the course of time. Two thousand five hundred years. In museums, scattered over gardens and parks, in bushes, behind hedges: they grow out of a distant period and overwhelm the visitors. Like Milan Kunc, for example, during his decisive Rome-year 1988. They are indeed there, these figures, one's hand can rub their porous surface; but that is exactly the problem: that they do not reflect the reality which we as viewers mistake for our lives but rather are dusty, hard and real.

And yet another aspect: their presence is of a different nature. They are irritating not because they reflect a particular period (that is only the case for a handful of art historians) but rather that they open a different relationship to time as such: they extend from one time dimension into another – they are dead and yet immortal. How mortal than is the viewer in comparison. Is there another confrontation which so clearly articulates the feeling of one's own accidentalness and mortality?
The artist in Italy is in a dilemma. Caught between the virtual, ubiquitous contemporary images and the real, isolated old ones. Between the 'living' culture, universally communicable world pictures, the large complex media brain network and the 'dead' culture at best a remembrance that remembering once might have been significant.

Milan Kunc is consequent in avoiding cultural history's illusion of sublime greatness which shrouds old paintings like a sticky transparent substance. He combines the two worlds confronting the Italian artist not by stratifying them but by allowing them to integrate in complementary decoration. That's how it happens that an antique torso lands in a ceramic-tiled bathroom and that another smokes with a cigarette holder. That, of course is humorous. Had a design artist made a postcard out of it, the enlightened message of the corroded figure sitting with a rubber stem would seem to be: "Smoking is dangerous to your health".

Milan Kunc’s work is slightly but decisively different: he exposes the postcard perspective as such – our own viewer’s perspective which sweeps over the surface. In contrast to the Neo-Pop Duo Fischli & Weiss with their room permeating postcard installation in Munich and Düsseldorf, Milan Kunc constructs large art formats and shows what happens when our stylized TV-consciousness meets with its cultural opposite: the grand, serious old art.
It is embarrassing to be caught this way yet at the same time comical and touching. Milan Kunc is not seldom subject to hostility because he exposes our folklorish way of perceiving as well as our fought-after and from consumer advertising thoroughly stylised attention. The embarrassing confronts our form of perception. This fine difference is decisive: that is, if our stuffed, over-nurtured TV-perception is fed further or if it in itself becomes obvious.
Yet in the photos painted over in the new series even more becomes evident. Not only are the sculpture-like works 'embellished' by means of projecting interchangeable motifs of sentimental grace and vitality (butterfly hunt and panicles) and thereby distorted in a contemporary concept. But rather the biomorphic body is virtually petrified; it is isolated and moved toward the antique image. The stone torso is vitalized, the living body banned: fixated by the camera and then 'cut out'. Black and white photography surrounded by fields of colour resembles the naked female bodies and vice-versa. Diana bathing and being accosted by a pert goldfish? Venus suspended in the Milky Way? This vitalisation of the dead appears completely artificial as does the transportation of the living in the picture's space. Little biomorphic shapes once again accompany both the fleshy and the stone bodies: curls, waves, spirals, feathers, etc. Together with plant motifs, they construct an ornamental patchwork which resembles and replaces nature at the same time. It cites and treats them with irony, it stages instead of reconstructs.

"The ornament is especially beautiful because it contains the traces of its origin – like a playfully staged piece of nature. Whether it be an animal or a botanical ornament, like nomads of the steppes, Scythian, Egyptian, domestic or barbaric – it is constantly speaking, seeing, acting." Baroque fragments in Milan Kunc’s Fotopop. Nothing is natural, given, good; everything is artificial, reversible, empty.

One can readily understand Kunc’s works as an appendix to the European Vanitas-presentation when viewing white ox eyes, bright and shining, yet still growing in rows out of the iron fencing. And since, of course, the deepest amusement belongs to the one who lives closest to the abyss, one knows from whence and what type of laughing it is which is laughed here: towards the viewer.

For a moment the laughing art is able to move even the pious admirer of old art and critical sceptic of modern art into amused suspension. We have never experienced the weight of art in such a light way. It is almost as if one had once been able to leave the wheelbarrow empty in front of the gigantic construction site of Occidental art and with an Italian gay complacency, have a smoke. Or maybe two.

Hubert Winkel

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