* 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.

Boris Groys - Cheerful Post-Modernism

Cheerful Post-Modernism

No compliment today is as manifestly out of fashion as the determination that an artist's work is 'prophetic'. However, no more suitable characterization exists for that which is most conspicuous to the contemporary viewer of the works from Milan Kunc's "Ost-Pop" series (1977-1979): they foretell the evolution which has been taking place up until recently on a worldwide scale and which has brought about the diffusion of everyday Western and Eastern sign. The opening of Eastern European politics, industry and media in recent years has produced a quaint and aesthetically charming visual environment. Against the background of well-preserved 19th-century townscapes, this environment is now providing the scene for a clash between outmoded socialist status symbols and the continually increasing number of signs of Western commercial product culture. One cannot help feeling that this is due to the political decisions and events which shook the former power structures of Eastern Europe.
The series by Milan Kunc which I referred to (and which came into being fourteen years ago) shows, however, that the newly-developing trends which correspond to it were not brought about by the subjective decisions of one political or artistic personality, but have their source in the logic of symbols themselves, in their immanent play between affinities and differences. The artist is capable of discerning this logic, thus lending a prophetic dimension to his work. In his paintings, objects, photocollages and installations from the "Ost-Pop" series, Kunc intermingles the signs of the Western commercial world (such as a Coca-Cola bottle, a McDonald's hamburger, or television skits) with Soviet and Chinese symbols of the hammer and sickle, red stars and flags, pictures of ardent Communist Youth members and socialist collective farmers, or symbols of the Moscow Olympic Games.

All of these symbols remain symbolic: they do not transform themselves, as with American pop artists, into new icons which must be perceived as classic museum works, or rather as religious art. This sensual-contemplative approach which extracts the sign as an element from its original sign system and use it as an autonomous image which is not bound to any sign system is foreign to Kunc. Therefore, it is not possible to grasp his "Ost-Pop" as simply the transfer of pop-art methodology into a new subject area. Eastern iconography, which is at its foundation ideological and ascetic, demands an entirely different perception of symbols than Western commercial advertising which builds upon mere sensuality and erotic temptation. "Ost-Pop" is first of all based upon work with a different – Eastern – understanding of signs and art which for Kunc urgently and fundamentally influences and changes the economy of his work.

The imagery of Eastern communist ideology was poor in comparison with that of everyday Western life and offered no immediate attractiveness. Eastern posters, slogans, exhortations, and symbols were simple, monotonous, and boring: they did not attract attention and remained nearly unnoticed despite their ubiquitousness. Even in the East, the idea was often mistakenly held that they were therefore insufficiently effective and that it was necessary to artistically improve 'visual propaganda'. Such proposals were always unsuccessful, however, and their failure was not coincidental. Every citizen of the East bloc grew up surrounded by the ruling ideology. Its world view, its discourse with every possible nuance and undertone, its guiding values and idiosyncrasies were so intimately known that ideology became for each individual matter-of-fact – almost subconscious. It is unnecessary to advertise such ideology or to make it enticing. On the contrary, every attempt to make it linguistically or visually more interesting created a blasphemous impression because it patently rejected the ideology itself and tried to link it to something heterogeneous. Someone once pointed out that, so far, no well-painted Christian canvas has ever been worshipped as a miraculous icon.

Visual symbols of Eastern ideology communicated a pertinent content directly and infallibly without diverting attention to beauty or eloquence. And here, upon their dignified simplicity, Kunc establishes the connection in his works: he leaves them their linkage to the relevant ideological languages. And the signs of Western consumerism are seen by Kunc as being on the same level. For the East, where the taste of Coca-Cola and McDonald's was nearly unknown when the series started, such signs assumed a purely abstract ideological role as signs of the West, the enemy, the devil. Thus, from an official Eastern perspective, Milan Kunc's works presented themselves as an impermissible and provocative melange of the sacred signs of two opposing global ideologies – as profanity, as unheard-of blasphemy, as devil worship.

This effect loses its unequivocalness when we depart from the purely ideological level and take into consideration the role which ideology played in Eastern societies. For citizens of the East bloc, the West radiated an almost magical, irrational allure. It formed a kind of mystical zone of the absolute satisfaction of all desires and was seen as an earthly paradise, as 'true communism'. From an Eastern point of view the West appeared as a world where social and sexual temptation were predominant, where, although life was more dangerous, it was also more interesting and more meaningful. The United States of America was even geographically on the other side of the world from the Soviet Union: the border between the Eastern and Western military blocs was also the boundary between day and night, between reality and dreams, between consciousness and unconsciousness, between repression and libido. Thus the guarding of the borders between East and West had such an absolute, mythical, and fundamental priority, and their crossing promised people from the East the attainment of mystic harmony.

This dream of the West did not correspond only to 'anti-communist' thinking, but was itself contained in the official ruling ideology. The highest and most sought-after privilege of an Eastern European functionary was the opportunity to travel to the West; thus a visit to the West – that is, a journey through the land of the night, and never a journey through the future region of communism – was the focal point of the Eastern political system. This goal gave communist-oriented societies their inner unity and formed the substance of inofficial collectivism. Indeed, it included all social opposition. The opposition differed from the rulers only in the method by which it wished to move toward the West – i.e., along a path of private risk rather than by means of an officially arranged career – but never in the goal of its effort. Communist ideology itself originally came from the West and gravitated unconsciously toward its origin. Seen in this context, Milan Kunc's "Ost-Pop" series is an exploration of the actual structures of the ideology which prevailed in Eastern Europe, including their secret codes and the social subconsciousness of their subordinates. The same game of signs looks different from the Western perspective. Here, Coca-Cola and McDonald's are not any kind of ideological symbols indicating Western values. An inveigling allure – at least for politically free, left-wing intellectuals – emanates from red stars and flags and hammers and sickles. They symbolize both the imminent danger of total annihilation and a vision of exalted departure from the unbearable monotony of Western everyday life. While the West was a land of the subconscious for the East, the East played a similar role for the Western the West. Having mixed the symbolism of this far-away dream with typical, de-ideologized signs of everyday Western culture, Kunc thus stripped it of its secrecy and its attractiveness. Such de-ideologized ideological symbolism is cheap and just one of the phenomena of popular culture. Revealed are its tautology and banality which, in their most trivial forms, have not contained any alternative to the dominating western system for a long time. Here Milan Kunc exposes the true and actual function of this symbolism as supplementary ideological convenience for simple minds.

Overcoming the East-West dichotomy which Milan Kunc achieved artistically and foresaw politically is not entirely without danger, however. The removal of this dichotomy touches upon the dichotomy between the conscious and the unconscious, between dream and reality, between the self and the other. In this light, the process of detente between East and West seems, in retrospect, to be part of the post-modern strategy of deconstructing oppositions which are lost in the potentially endless game of signs. The fate of East-West relations is contingent upon the fate of symbols, upon their interrelationship as depicted by Milan Kunc in his works. This fate obviously encloses something depressing, futile and disenchanting within itself. Achieving balance between East and West – viewed as a particular form of post-modern reconciliation between reality and utopia, between enlightenment and myth – deprives life of an historical perspective: any movement forward inevitably becomes a tourism within fixed borders.

However, with Milan Kunc, we will not encounter the same depressiveness which is strongly exhibited by many other artists today. Although he calls one of his installations No Future Workshop (1979), the work has a happy overtone and only playfully reflects the new mentality of pop-art. The playfulness and joy of Kunc's works can perhaps be explained through the artist's biography. As a Czech emigrant he comes from a country which suffered severely from the East-West conflict, and Kunc himself became a pilgrim to the borderland between East and West. The symbols of modern utopias and modern imperialism – the symbols of Soviet ideological and American consumerist imperialism – are alien to Milan Kunc and for him have no psychological significance. They indicate for Kunc more of a European and internal psychological division than a real historic vision. Milan Kunc's works therefore lack any trace of bitterness which we find with American and Russian artists who also treated the issue of the loss of modern values (for example, artists of the 'Sots-Art' circle whose analyses resembled those of Kunc).

The devaluation of dividing signs, their arbitrariness, their interchangeability and miscibility have become, for Kunc, a new post-modern, national and personal utopia: a new sign of overcoming boundaries and mending inner fractures. Post-modern anti-utopianism is becoming a new utopia for all who suffered under classic modern utopias founded upon irreconcilable contradictions. In his earlier series "Embarrassing Realism" (1974-1977) Milan Kunc put to use a kind of historical war painting which depicted war as a noble and poetic affair. Its heroes were German and Russian soldiers. In Portrait of Stalin with Telephone Receiver (1976), which is reminiscent of Salvador Dali's painting Hitler's Riddle (1937), and in which the telephone, instead of the sword, is a symbol of supreme military power, Stalin seems – as was customary for socialist iconography – like a wise and benevolent leader. In the painting Melancholy Autumn Sentry (1977), a Nazi soldier appears in the role of a neo-Germanic hero from Hoelderlin's epics. Here Milan Kunc demonstrates the real power of his art as the first to create myths upon which the power of the military and the state are dependent from within. While the critical, protesting and demythologizing artistic approach always comes only from a position of weakness, thus confirming the superiority of the political power, the 'positive' art of Milan Kunc demonstrates the impotence of politics which needs art to legitimize, represent and protect itself. Although the powerful have obtained great military and political power, they require additional representation and glorification from art, due to a lack of 'normal' social legitimacy. The artist's presentation of this need for self-confirmation is his artistic master stroke. By voluntarily recognizing this legitimation through art, Milan Kunc exposes their legitimizing mechanisms.

On the other hand, Kunc overcomes not only Eastern, but even certain Western taboos which – after Auschwitz and the Gulag – try to prohibit a playful approach to these topics and allow only pathos and respect, thus compelling art to continue a bombastic ennoblement of totalitarian regimes. By incorporating these dangerous allusions in his game of symbols and making them ironic and aesthetic, Kunc liberates himself and the viewer from their power. For Milan Kunc even the most distressing, murderous and absurd utopias of our century have their hidden roots in the very simple and everyday aspirations and dreams about earthly happiness – dreams which unite all men on a deeper level and beyond all borders of ideology. This creates an affinity which the artist also professes. After all he, too, dreams of happiness, seduction and fulfilment – and, unlike so many others, he does not want to be a hypocrite and deny the inevitable similarities between his own personal dreams and the mass utopias of our age. This makes Milan Kunc's art a cheerful art, just as Nietzsche's science was a cheerful science.

Boris Groys

Donald Kuspit - Fool's Paradise

Fool's Paradise

Lear: Dost thou call me fool, boy?
Fool: All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with.
William Shakespeare, King Lear, I, iv, 163-195

Again and again, Milan Kunc picture paradise in everyday visual language. But there is always something amiss in it, some jarring note, suggesting that it has a morbid underside. Thus the couple in Club Med (1992) drive a car with a death's head. Club Med is the capitalist paradise of petit bourgeois pleasures – of leisure time activities once reserved for the upper classes (golfing, tennis, and presumably extramarital sex) now made available to all, at a reduced rate. The brightness of the scene is compromised by the grim-faced blackness of the car, which also suggests the alienation between the couple, who stand on opposite sides of it. It is as though their relationship, for all the ostensible fun it involves, is a living death, like the car.

In Penetration of the Dialectic (Young East European Lovers in the Caribbean for the First Time) (1992), the young lovers still carry the hammer (his) and sickle (hers) in their heads, having traded their Communist paradise for a Caribbean paradise – a real material paradise, where red is not the color of the failed social revolution but of the successful sexual revolution (of passion rather than social planning). However idyllic their embrace, they are secretly linked by barbed wire, not love. Prisoners of passion indeed! They are also tempted by the American Express Card proffered by a crab, Kunc's version of the snake in paradise. (Both the card and the crab are the green color of American money.) The card is no doubt on their minds because they made the trip to paradise on credit: Eastern Europe being economically bankrupt as well as a social lie, who will pay the price for the holiday when it comes due in the socialist future?

Whether it is a capitalist Club Med or a Communist Caribbean, there is trouble in Milan Kunc's paradise. Indeed, the point of his art is to show that the wish to be in paradise, to make a paradise of society, is ultimately foolish and destructive of life: a social paradise, whatever its party line and however modernist form, is a fool's paradise. Kunc's art demonstrates that the dream of utopia, which professes to make life like poetry – as Marx wrote, in his utopia we'll work in the morning, write poetry in the afternoon, and read it to each other in the evening – in fact always betrays life by turning it into dull prose, that is, makes it seem banal, if not finally pointless. Indeed, the language of utopia – the place where the dream of utopia is most explicit – is the banal language of kitsch, that paradise of clichés (the fool's gold of thought) that invites us to enter a fool's paradise of fantasy. Milan Kunc uses this language to represent social paradise, as though to give it the lie from the start. But he uses kitsch against itself, manipulating visual clichés to suggest, however broadly and subliminally, the vitality of life that is the alternative to an insidiously life-sapping social paradise. His is a life-affirming art that on the surface represents the living death of modern social reality, proclaiming at every turn the big lie of its paradisiac ideality.

Milan Kunc's art, then, confronts us on two levels. On the one, it mocks the universal language of kitsch by using it in an absurd way, thus undermining the paradise of facile understanding it presents itself as. On the other, he mocks the idea of social paradise by representing it as a contradiction in terms, that is, he shows that it is all too human, suggesting that where there is human society there can be no paradise. Clearly, the construction of absurdity, the creation of a sense of madness – the method of radical, unresolvable contradiction – is the bread and butter of his art. This throws a monkey wrench into the methodical character of kitsch representation and into the methodical character of life in the social paradise. The ‘method’ of kitsch, which offers itself as the language of sanity, is in fact to create and indoctrinate everyman with utopian illusions about his life, that is, standardized descriptions of it (implicitly interpretations of its meaning), which imply that it is comfortably comprehensible and thus under complete control. The 'method' in the wish to live in a social utopia – presumably it is sane to wish to do so – is not dissimilar: it is to want to live in a world in which everything is rationally ordered and controlled. But in practice this means that everything is standardized into kitsch form, down to the climate of opinion, which is completely regulated. Both kitsch and utopia – and utopia is a kitschy place and kitsch is a kind of utopia, as Kunc implies – lack criticality, indeed, deny the need for it, since in them everything is understood, everyone's wish is instantly granted, and life is completely organized and sane-itized down to the least detail. Kitsch and social paradise, then, necessarily converge: the completely clear, self-evident language of kitsch is implicitly the language that will be used in social paradise, for kitsch can supposedly be understood intuitively by everyone; and to live in and in an emotional paradise where one's feelings and thoughts are completely clear to oneself and to everyone else.

Milan Kunc in effect satirizes the totalitarian management methods implicit in kitsch style and would-be utopian society by using the former to represent the latter. This makes both seem like bad jokes. Kunc's pictures are deliberately disrupted and 'foolish' in their construction, suggesting the foolishness of and ruptures in the world they mean to embarrass into self-awareness. His art is a kind of praise of folly, and like Erasmus of Rotterdam he takes a certain humorous attitude to the world's folly – the madness in which it contradicts itself to the point of literally being at war with and finally destroying itself – which gives him a certain integrity and distance from it while carefully describing its lack of integrity. Milan Kunc wears a fool cap, as it were – his famous artificial naiveté, emulating that of kitsch, which is also secretly 'knowing' and manipulative (but Kunc's naiveté also bespeaks a certain romantic attitude to life, a wondrous appreciation of its mystery) – in order to be free to tell modern society the unhappy truth about itself.

In general, Milan Kunc plays one kitsch representation off against another, leaving us in doubt as to which tells the social truth. But the very play of opposites he sets in motion makes it clear that there is no one truth, social or otherwise – unless it be that of the 'truthfulness' of the stereotyped form in which all truths are ultimately represented. That is, the kitsch form in which every concept finds its vulgar death, achieving popularity with its dying gasp, in the process losing its subtlety never to recover it. Milan Kunc puts us in a double bind – in a contradiction from which there is no dialectical way out. This contradiction is typically presented in the simplistic, mediocre, ingratiating, fabricated, lumpen language of kitsch, which makes the contradiction itself seem peculiarly banal, fraudulent, and manufactured, and as such believable only by the naive and gullible. But Kunc contradicts kitsch itself, in that he uses it, a language supposedly free of ambiguity, to create ambiguity. Kunc ties meanings in knots that are impossible to untie, making kitsch, which is supposed to be easy to use and understand, suddenly seem very 'difficult'.

This is a way of seeing through kitsch to the life it represents, and thus of using it to show the critical character of life. Kitsch was invented by modern historical necessity as a common language and outlook that would preclude criticality and conflict. It would satisfy the potentially explosive masses with mass-produced fantasies. It would weld the world into a uniform, uncritical mass, a weight all the easier to move – by the same kitsch, now in its role of manipulative lever rather than 'consolidator' of the masses – because it was dead. But Kunc uses kitsch critically to create an uncommon outlook on life, showing it to be full of conflict. This is what makes it exciting, however troublesome it may be. He uses a popular style to say unpopular, debunking things.

Thus, in Always (1991) a woman's face is neatly split into bright young and dark old halves. In the former her skin is wrinkle-free and her hair blonde, and a star twinkles in her blue eye. In the latter her skin is wrinkled, her hair has become gray, she has a bit of a moustache, and a death's-head glitters – it is as white as the star – in her eye. She hasn't changed her make-up, apart from her eyebrow, which has become black instead of brown. Each half is a kitsch cliché. Taken together, they suggest the absurdity of society's sense of woman, and no doubt of herself, insofar as she conforms to society's idea of what she is supposed to look like. The young side is fantasy, the old side is presumably reality, yet both are presented in the same banal, standardized terms, suggesting society's effort to control the truth. Kunc makes the difference between being young and old transparently clear, but the transparency is borrowed from society, suggesting that it is part of a big lie – suggesting that to believe in the social rendering of the difference is to be a fool, for the kitsch representation of it is not the answer to the unresolvable existential problem of growing old, but rather an exploitation of it. (One wonders if there isn't an oblique comment on the blue-eyed, blonde-haired, ideal woman. Does the fact that she is intact despite her split into old and young parts indicate that she remains the Aryan ideal of German society despite the passage of years?)

Similarly, in Contemporary Monument (1992) the medieval gold background is as much of a cliché – standard procedure – as the representations of the leprechaun, the flowers, the television set, camcorder, and baby's dummy. It is the way Kunc combines them that makes the picture an intriguing contradiction. Thus, Kunc sets up an opposition between fantasy and reality, by putting the dummy in the leprechaun's mouth, making it into a baby, and juxtaposing it – a rare, mythical creature who can grant wishes, which is why it symbolizes good luck – with a commonplace television set, which in its own way also grants wishes, and epitomizes modern kitsch mentality as well as modern technology at its most accessible. But which represents enchanting fantasy, which disenchanting reality? The kitschy leprechaun looks more real than the television set, but most of the programs on it – perhaps all of them, including the news broadcasts – are also kitschified fantasies, promising, like the leprechaun, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and the general fulfillment of one's wishes. Kitsch toys with our wish to believe, our gullibility, giving us a fantasy that seems believable, real, but in fact obscuring reality by simplifying it, 'resolving' it. (There seems to be a personal dimension to this picture, which probably shows Kunc's response to the birth of his son, whom he regards as lucky little elf – a symbol of the mystery and poetry of life – whose growth must be recorded and who will grow up in a television society.)

Kitsch, through its unashamed banality, reveals that modern life is no longer as marvelous and poetic as Baudelaire once thought it was, but Milan Kunc makes marvelous poetry out of it. Kitsch is an ultra-prosaic, banal language, suggesting that modern society, which produced it, means to kill the mystery of life, or show that there is nothing mysterious and enchanting about it, because it has been reduced to a cliché by modern understanding and rational management. It is presumably sane to be disenchanted about life. The idea that there is a mystery to life is a superstition, and the modern world seems to have put superstition behind it.

But Kunc's art strongly suggests there is a mystery to life, something irrational that cannot be managed, something that it makes sense to be superstitious about, because it always appears as an omen of vitality: and that is the mystery of sex. Kunc's art is permeated with enchanting erotic imagery, whether it be in the bizarre form of his Easy Rider motorbike series, 1992, or in the innumerable images of women that fill his work. The most unwittingly heroic aspect of Kunc's art is perhaps his ability to make sex still seem mysterious in a society that has kitschified it to the point of apparent speciousness, suggesting how disillusioned by it modern society really is – and to achieve this re-enchantment of the erotic by the manipulation of the kitsch representation of it. It is ultimately about the redeeming power of woman's sexuality, as the one true source of vitality and pleasure in a society that betrays its members with its fakeness and destructiveness.

Again and again woman appears in Kunc's art, as a mocking, seductive presence, as in the Dionysian diptych Ladies And... and ... And Gentlemen, both 1992. In a similar diptych of the same year, Landscape Between Siena and Florence and After Siena, the suggestiveness of the landscape in the first work is 'realized' in the breasts of the woman that form the second landscape. The landscape, which is a familiar Kunc composition of fantasy (castle) and (economic) reality is dominated by these overarching, 'fantastic' breasts, on which clouds in the form of poodles happily play. There are many visual puns in these works, and in Kunc's images in general, which it is not possible to go into in detail here. (The tunnel of course, is the woman's vagina. It symbolically appears in other images, for example, an untitled 1986 work and Autumn [1986-1987]. In both the floral pattern is emblematic of woman – a force of nature, as it were.)

The irrational body of woman is the alternative to the 'rational' dismemberment of the body in war and its demythologization accomplished by the anatomical reduction of it to a number of physical parts, which are rationally displayed in so many Kunc's pictures, often set in a female landscape, as though in contrast to their raw 'rational' look. In general, image after image shows Milan Kunc's obsession with woman, in disguised or undisguised form. (One of my favorites is Miracle [1990], in which an udder in the sky drips milk, forming a path on the earth.) Even Kunc's early Communist-proletariat works show males and females erotically involved with one another, despite being in uniform. In the last analysis, the Club Med and Penetration of the Dialectic (mentioned above) are about the power of Eros that binds man and woman, not about ideology – or rather about the power of sex to undermine ideology, to show it to be beside the human point. In the end, we all make greater fools of ourselves when we fall in love, than when we commit ourselves to an ideology.

Thus Milan Kunc's works, while a comic critique of ideology, suggest that we return to the naiveté of love, which is part of their 'divine comedy'. They remind us that we are creatures of natural instinct as well as citizens ready to ruin our lives, even die for an ideology. In reminding us of this basic fact of life, Kunc's pictures show they are statements of conscience in more ways than one. And in using the pseudo-naive mode of kitsch to express his conscience, Kunc shows that he has the profound conscience of a clown, indeed, shows that conscience has become a clown. That is, it has to put on a clown's face to have any kind of effect. Only the fool could make Lear aware of his folly. Also, the clown's funny face suggests that joie de vivre, in whatever distorted form, is still possible, however banal and insane society is. Indeed, the good humor of joie de vivre always seems foolish and out-of-place, yet is always necessary, in a sick world that is more absurd than it.
Milan Kunc shows us such a world, in all its necrophiliac folly. Many of his images deal explicitly with death, and all implicitly deal with the death of the imagination in kitsch. At the same time he shows us the 'foolish' vital alternative to it (which includes making good imaginative use of kitsch).

Donald Kuspit

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

© Milan Kunc