Richard Gregor: Re:Dada (Introduction to Stano Masár’s work), 2009

 If we wanted to find a different filter of art and artists than the one normally used within the Slovak science of art, we would realize that one of the most interesting, yet least explored groups, is the one that includes non-academic authors, i.e. authors who had not graduated from an art university. Among many options, I would like to liken Stano Masár (1971) to Ivan Štěpán (1938-1986), and so bridge the gap between the glamorous sixties and today . These two artists have never actually met; we cannot speak about any influence whatsoever. Still, however, there is certain peculiar fashion in which these artists move, form and enforce their opinion within our academically haughty environment.

Perhaps the most distinctive trait is the perception of form as, pricipally experimentational or open to experiment, inexclusive (non-lasting) structure. Based on this view, all parts can be arbitrarily recoded within, redefined so that their historical (e.g. avant-garde) meaning would be detached from the contemporary one, whilst keeping concurrent or similar (and to the historical adumbration unequivocally assignable) form. It is not experimentalism in the classic intermedial sense, concurrently, we can see the coming of its antipole, certain academization – very early, predictable and possessive scholastic relationship to non-academical processes. And in these instances it is not only about (so typical for our environment) syncretism of often ambivalently standing art programs and their manifesto – this approach has its own logic in the “semi-marginalism” of the authors – never completely disinherited, yet never really accepted to the sect . Logical paradox is that this polarization is healed not by scholarly interest of the critics, but rather by market success.

If searching for the common moment in the work of these two authors, I would go for the types of their objectivism. Though diametrically dissimilar from visual point of view, they are very similar in jest, and in unpredictable functions searching for different sensuality, or gauge. Even within the intention of contemplation, encompassment, intrusion of safety of the seen and felt, the utopian Štěpán’s model and Masár’s ironic one do not differ that much – they both admonish to immediate interaction. Acting similarly are, for example, the mild, yet, in their essence radical and fundamental style variations for the benefit of upcoming strategies, just as is the continually present pursuit of meaning integrity or exactness of perception (present in Stepan’s work by his attempts to “poly-artistic” engagement of all senses; in Masar’s work by his quest for some meta avant-garde unity or purity). They are related also in their dependence on formal perfection, solidity; this is in sharp contrast with the conceptual dematerialization which so applies to both – Stepan heading towards, Masar emanating from it.

However, Masár’s initialisation ritual to the sphere of (post)conceptual art does not have such indistinct outlines, on the contrary. It was triggered by two very concrete figures with very pronounced attitude towards art and life, as well as life style – Ľubomír Ďurček (1948) and Július Koller (1939-2007). Two personalities, who, according to me, can be considered introverted, but at the same time distinguished by an intense need for and ability to communicate and spread their relativising attitude towards (any) official “high” art. Therefore, both had attended to schooling to children, students (as in Ďurček’s case, until today) – ergo to non-professionals, which, at the end of the 1980s constituted not only a way to earn, but also, it was one of the few unique possibilities to e.g. create and photo-record performance – an overlap from a leisure activity, from a game . Ďurček’s influence upon some students , Masár among them, was similarly intense and crucial, as had been Rudolf Fila’s influence upon his pupils within Avance - Retard group, or as long before Ľudovít Fulla’s on the galand generation .

Shortly after 1989, Masár meets also Koller, and as of 1991 he regularly attends his Creative Confrontations through which he personally gets to his conceptual work. The crucial inspirational role therefore must be played by his artistic relativism and antagonism. Koller and Ďurček are similar in certain sense – they carefully select whoever they let close, they determine their territory and they define themselves towards their environment (both direct and virtual – artistic) in the broadest sense of meaning . Masár has similar sensibility. One of its great advantages is strong concentricity, sense of own expansion rate stemming from superior need to be secure in what he does, ability to evaluate and necessity to verify his own contemplations – all the features which together have to accompany an art program based on a game with form, and on impugnment (modifying, densifying, generalizing) of the real (seen). If we situated Masár’s original resources back to the end of 1980s, then it would be appropriate to look at the issue from one more point of view. “I have noticed that in certain moment, ironically, only the non conformist art activities could be realised; those, that were directly related to life and everydayness…” , said Pierre Restany about normalization period in Slovakia – Koller-like gradual separation from the form, long way that his anti-art had undertaken until 1980s lies just in this non-conformism, whilst it actually culminated in its total form .


3. Until today, first and crucial point of Masár’s work is polemics with project conceptual purism (of many drawing projects) and objectivism (more-less “redundant” necessity to realize things in form). Most likely, he has been led to this polemics by pre-revolutionary idealism of pure “art in innocent state” , which had been imprinted upon him, and which I attempted to contextually suggest in my lines above. So does masar immediately start in reduction (which can also mean overcoming) of conceptual and ideological aspect of conceptualism; which means that his early work in the sense of form become initiated ready-made. Hand in hand with the process of reduction, deconceptualization , the ready-made objects come back to their original context, but understandably, they gain new meaning.
New “D” meaning based on the following scheme:

Duchamp: A urinal ŕ(transfer) > B fountain > C fountain – icon of ready-made
Masár: C fountain – icon of ready-made ŕ(deconceptualization) > D urinal > D ≠ A (D still remains an art piece)

This scheme however is valid only for his latter pieces, exhibited in Bratislava in 2008 (e.g. Just Chair, 2007). I am mentioning it as the first one because of its radicalism in transparency.

2. Transfer and contextual change, as paraphrased by Masár, could not be avoided in his site-specific installations. Their system also has its pendant within the drawings, in which he emphasizes certain absurdity, whilst best are the ones which can not be realized (e.g. Fly Over Communication, 2004). Masár does not perceive site-specific in the classic sense – to understand space with its qualities and rules. On the other hand, he is not a post-modern usurper who would forcibly recreate space into his picture. Masár sets a trap both to space and to the viewer: he chooses an entrance which is absurd to a large extent (yet not as absurd as the meeting of hemming machine…), but at the same time he subversively marks seemingly formal oponence geniu loci so that he simultaneously contradicts and agrees with it. Ironically in relation to the socialist concrete panel community centre (Remote Moving, 2001) , cynically in relation to the synagogue (Time to Close, 2004) . Yet, it is not necessary to separate particular layers of his ambivalent attitude and these constructs – the whole is narrative, seemingly surreal, and only later do we realize that it is very symbolical in the relative ratio of object versus space.

1. During earlier projects of interior or furniture paradoxes (already in the 3rd third of the 1990s), the strategy of idea reduction becomes even more complex; it leads to harder identifiable results. It is so because it is about ready-made initiated, or about an object within an expended field of the statue on the confines of architecture. Here Masár transforms the function of the traditional object conception (e.g. a chair), into a created object conception (personified animated chair); moreover, this transformation has happened during a period which author had been watching closely, even if he had not recorded it.

In the scheme:
Chair conception reduction (to its most basic form = same as Plato conception, sme as conceptual purism) chair conception – as of created object R process R final object

Logic of the transformation used widely in pop-art is not random, it is palpable within Masár’s objectivism type, within its humour and its alleviation which surely bears signs of above mentioned attack against ideism. From this point of view, we shall appreciate the moment when author gets to the pictograms of various (and variously constellated) pieces of art from the history of art . Such serial pictogram can be perceived as an extract of a caricature, as something that is in this very case generated by a typical Masár‘s way which from several points of view I have been trying to depict (describe) in this very text. It is not about pure deconstruction as one might expect, but rather about some calibration – what remains is the fundamental form not only free of any alluviums of style, character or so, but a form free of any art alluvium.

We might be able to simplify what I mentioned in the introduction as combat with the art and with „artistism“; they are basic premises of conceptual art in its opening point. This very atmosphere is present on his Nove Zamky exhibition Entry-No-Entry. It is principally also about transfer of (neo)dada premises into site specific position, in which Masár attempts to combine older and newer metamorphosis of his drawing concepts and their 3D objectivism. Basically, all objects of non-functioning doors are funny; this humour, so inherent to his work, the daring alleviation from heavy messages, is something that only very few of our (or any) authors possess. Ironically, the complicated space of the gallery fits to the objects very well. Had we placed these very pieces into a “white cube”, we would have a problem – they would not be sufficient, they would get different connotations inherent to the context of such pure gallery – for example, they would require a more monumental form, they could become (also because of the white execution) a parody on the minimalist statues (definitely not what the author intended); they would refer to the context of notional Kossuth conceptualism more than needed and so could they act anachronically. Yet, we known all this time that Masár’s perception is turning to conceptual purism in this series. It has an urgency and ambition to debate with basic idea/object/perception strategies, and I reckon, also with pilot personalities (Duchamp); but on the other hand, this creation is a clear product of our environment – it is anchored in his gauge, in his zest for art, it has been developed by the figures I already wrote about.

In certain sense, it is absolutely unique that significant Slovak conceptual school, if we dare to call it so, has not been able to find more followers after 1989, who would understand it and who would directly refer to it. I assume that Stano Masár is one of the very few examples upon which we could characterize this school – both with positives and negatives: with its typical absolutism (ratio of „mandatory“ non-formality), together with its openness, lightness, intelligence, playfulness and attractiveness.

1 I am intentionally articulating this, and not any other couple: crucial for my logic is the fact that they both started their career during liberal (or more liberal) periods of our history of art, and their work does not imply any political connotation. Among other authors, let us remember Milan Admačiak (1946), Igor Kalný (1957-1987), and Peter Kalmus (1953).

2 Among others for instance surrealistic sources for Czechoslovak informel, culminating in pop art influenced altars of Stano Filko.

3 See ex post rejected victory of Stano Masar in an audition for an assistant’s post in the department of drawing on Bratislava Academy of Fine Arts and Design in 2008

4 Poly-artistic space, Piestany 1970. Author of Exhibition concept: Lubor Kara

5 See systematically created photo-archive of Julius Koller and Kveta Fulierova

6 Academy of Graphic Design in Bratislava, Stano Masár studied here between 1986-1990

7 We need to remember that at the end of the pre-revolutionary period, members of the youngest generation, unless coming from explicitly artistic or intellectual environment, had only rarely good quality or similarly daring tutors

8 This attitude however has different sources; each began in different time of the start of their career lying in different period and artistic connections (mid 1960s as opposed to mid 1970s), thus their determination originally had different respondents.

9 Pierre Restany in an interview with Zuzana Bartosova. Quoted from Hrabušický, A.: Slovenské vizuálne umenie 1970-1985. SNG, Bratislava 2002, s. 234

10 This led into “absurd” New austerity with Peter Ronai

11 As named by Jindrich Chalupecky, referring to non-existence of Western European type market

12 The deconceptualization trend culminates in Masar’s project called After Duchamp for SPACE Gallery (curator Juraj Carny), on Frantiskanske square in Bratislava, in 2008

13 CC Centre, Bratislava – exhibition curator Mira Putisova

14 At Home Gallery, Samorin

15 We have to speculate about “the conception”, because it is the basic essential emergency form, 3D pictograph of accountable size

16 Just as interesting is the moment when he gives up this part of his art. It happens so in the beginning of its overlap into design – to logos etc.

Richard Gregor
Bratislava, 29.11.2009