(1921-1987) lived and worked in Zagreb, Croatia where he was an art historian, a respected art critic, a museum curator, and an artist who signed his works with the pseudonym Mangelos. Although he was a member of the Croatian neo-avant garde art group Gorgona, active in Zagreb from 1959 to 1966, Mangelos was little known as an artist until the late 1960s when, encouraged by the younger generation of conceptual artists and critics, he gradually began to exhibit. As both an art historian and artist, Mangelos was interested in systems of thought which prompted him to use letters and words as his main tools. Fine calligraphy executed with thin brushes and a scribe-like discipline, the careful composition of letters and words, the equilibrium of only four colors–black, red, white and, rarely, gold–together with the tactile quality of paper and globes, infuse his work with an aura of precious objects. Although the text bears the meaning, the visual quality is undeniable.

Starting in the 1950s, Mangelos began creating artworks with letters from the theoretical position of anti-art. In turning a painting into a word or piece of text, Mangelos was negating the irrational quality of a painting by emphasizing letters as an element of rational thinking. To this purpose, he spelled out entire alphabets–Greek, Latin, Old Slavonic Glagolitic, Cyrillic and Runic–on paper and boards.

Some of his early text-based works that he called Les paysages des mots (Landscapes of words) further address Mangelos’s own philosophy of “no-art” by replacing metaphorical thinking rooted in a past naive age with the functional thinking suited to a newer, technology-dominated age. One example from this series, Pythagoras (1951-56), a painting of just this title word, names the ancient Greek philosopher whom for Mangelos represented a rational world view. The revision of these concepts was further elaborated in two series of drawings from the early 1960s, Abfälle (Junk) and Noun-Facts. With Abfälle, Mangelos used words and phrases like “friendship,” “hope,” and “spirit as obsolete” to represent metaphorical thinking and those associated ideas and words which should be discarded, or thrown away as junk. Conversely, for Noun-Facts, he selected words such as “hand,” “leaf,” and “horse” which he believed to be directly related to concrete concepts and were therefore fundamental properties of functional thinking.

A later work in the exhibition, Manifest de la relations (1977-1978), a globe painted with the inscription “mutabor-le penser fonctionnel” is particularly paradigmatic of Mangelos’s philosophy. Loosely translated, “mutabor” is a fairytale magic word for “I will change,” while “le penser fonctionnel” refers to a functional way of thinking. Together, these two concepts incorporate the primary scope of Mangelos’s early theories and suggest a moving away from intuitive thinking toward the opposite pole of functional thinking–a concept that helped him to later articulate his manifestos in which he questioned ideas, definitions, hierarchies and, ultimately, values.

In addition to recently being featured in The 54th Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, Mangelos has had solo exhibitions at such prestigious institutions as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb; Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto; Neue Galerie, Graz; Fundacío Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; and Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel. opens in a new window