Mikuláš Medek: Reality, Existence, Nothingness

Reality, Existence, Nothingness

A Bounded Angel peers out from the canvas in cold hues. Mikuláš Medek stood for the freedom of art in oppressive times, and etched his original, spiritually infused œuvre into the annals of Czech post-war art history.

In a 1951 essay, the Czech artist Mikuláš Medek and his partner Emila Medková argued that pictures in the imagination, those conjurings of the mind’s eye, are not an autonomous product of the subconscious, but rather a reality “encompassing our trembling subjects, a reality seen through our whole body, reality, existence, nothingness, reality of the consciousness.” Mikuláš Medek (1926–1974) produced an œuvre of almost 400 works during his lifetime. His output ranges from early Expressionist paintings and those tinged with elements of Cubism to an exploration of Surrealism and Existentialism, through to Art Informel – a style based on abstraction and gesture – before ultimately circling back to a figuration steeped in architectural morphology. Medek’s paintings only became known to a wider public after the fall of the communist regime in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

Mikuláš Medek
Bounded Angel, 1971
oil, enamel on canvas,
170 x 120 cm
estimate €200,000–300,000

During his lifetime, he – like many others – was politically sanctioned as a painter; his works were repeatedly blacklisted by authorities for standing in “blatant contradiction to the role of art in a socialist society”. At times, the only public spaces able to display Medek’s art were churches, for which the painter created large-scale altarpieces. After 1970, he exhibited exclusively abroad. Medek’s painting Bounded Angel was completed in 1971, three years before his early death due to illness. The work is part of a multi-part series depicting Angels, the heads of which are overlaid with a pattern resembling biomorphic, microscopic cross-sections of plant tissue. With their crystalline, translucent compositions bathed in metallic blues and golden reds, the paintings draw the viewer into an orphic realm in which sacred, hallucinogenic and symbolic parables reign supreme. They resemble kaleidoscopes of human suffering, existential anguish and physical pain. And yet they also show the free spirit ensconced in a mechanically bound shell, defiant against confinement despite the frosty environment all around – recalling in that sense the vibrant, soaring stained glass windows of stone churches.


Contemporary Art I, 23 May 2024, 6 pm
Palais Dorotheum, Dorotheergasse 17, 1010 Vienna

Tel. +43-1-515 60-358, 386

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