The Journey of Michal Bauer’s Art – Jiří Valoch; for the quarterly Prostor Zlin (4 / 2009).

Michal Bauer: Paintings (in the author's concept)

Centrum Kolomana Sokola, Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia

The Gallery in Liptovský Mikuláš has chosen an artist whose importance has recently been confirmed by exhibitions and catalogues in Prague, Brno and Zlín, the town he naturally feels professionally and institutionally linked with, having a permanent place of operation in the family house at Ostrožská Nová Ves. For technical reasons, the exhibition was organized according to the author's concept, and it turned out that this was entirely appropriate.

Michal Bauer (born in 1969 in Uherské Hradiště) has been developing his art quite consistently since his studies, although he had to devote a lot of time also to the equally demanding design. Eventually he managed to devote himself only to painting and to live in his beautifully and efficiently renovated studio. The interest in his paintings is growing, although we know how tenaciously he has worked his way to autonomous topics. Today there is no doubt about the legitimacy of his place in the realm of the contemporary Czech abstraction and his qualities in the broader context.

Michal Bauer is well aware that the post–modernism is already over and that we can now relate to the problems and phenomena that used to be identified only with the individual concept of the author, e.g. in the art of Václav Boštík and Zdeněk Sýkora in the 1960s. Today a similar game with a great sense of humour is played especially by Antonín Kopp (born in 1962). At first glance we can see that Michal Bauer's path and its results are different and more subtle, although we can find deliberate references to other important artists in his art, too.

The exhibition in Liptovský Mikuláš was indeed a compelling exhibition of his effort in the recent years. Bauer's art is conceptual in two aspects – his paintings are recognizable at first glance: he accepted the structure phenomenon as it has been formed since the sixties up to this day, but he managed to find his own, unique, extremely delicate, elaborate and relatively complex way of its articulation. The characteristic elements that Bauer had discovered and gradually modified about ten years ago are obvious immediately: tiny spatial loaves of acrylic matter on which he places another colour touch with a single tool (a spatula, I think), each time a slightly different one, so that each track is slightly, yet visibly different. This original method itself ensures that Bauer’s paintings are absolutely authentic. This is one form of his concept: he discovered a truly unique way of articulating colours on canvas which enters into interaction with the substrate surface – another phenomenon.

The other great concept is the relationship between the area covered only with a monochromatic colour and a range of possible syntactic solutions of applying relief elements, structures or their variants. It was not a coincidence when Bauer called one of his paintings “Manifesto”: it confronted a clean white space that seems to be one of the defining components of his work with a horizontal structure of a monochromatic red stripe and a vertical structure of characteristic convex elements with a few touches of yellow. This second conceptual relationship has become a theme in a wide range of possible solutions, which are the author’s peculiar, albeit substantial contribution to the sphere of current artistic aspirations in the Czech Republic.

Michal Bauer has created a series of paintings with various elementary – “minimalist” – geometric shapes of always monochromatic areas confronted with typical structures (e.g. “Spatial Objects”, 2008). This is probably one of the author's major themes distinctively articulated in a subtler, yet impressive form in circular areas of “his” typical colours (e.g. “The Great Order and a Little Chance”, 2008, where the classical phenomenon of geometric art of the past decades, a pure coincidence or its modification, were re-articulated in its syntax and manner of articulation).

Recently Michal Bauer has been more and more oscillating between at least two extreme poles of the contemporary geometric art: a sort of procedural variability articulated usually only in the change of the colour touch on the top of his “little loaves” (e.g. “The Two”, 2008) and the strictest possible way of a new articulation of the monochrome – obviously the white one – in his own elements. A whole cycle of such paintings was created on wooden plates (20 x 20 cm) which actually represent a kind of sketchbook where the painter searches for new possibilities: they do not appear at exhibitions unless he wants to clearly demonstrate his creative journey or present a certain specific phenomenon in a detail. These squares present different syntax possibilities but the articulation is the same: a white background is covered with various clusters of white drops with more touches of white colour on their tops.

This principle of pure white monochrome has become a principle of a number of Bauer’s paintings. The painting “White Square on White“ (2008) presents a relationship of a basic, intact surface and the articulation development in the form of ordered relief drops that are overlapping a much denser structure of touches extending beyond a square defined by the drops, thus bringing a disruption of a regular, pre-formulated order en detail into the whole. The painting “White Square on White – 2,401 Touches of Minimalism" (2008), on the contrary, preserves the syntax accuracy. Thus Michal Bauer consciously paraphrases Kazimir Malevich and his legendary “White Square on White”, one of the icons of the avant-gardes. Thanks to the author's new and unique articulation, the development of a series of white monochromes is a valuable contribution to the discourses about the permanent importance of monochrome that we practically tend to overlook. In Michal Bauer’s art, white monochromes represent of course only one, although important sphere – this fact, however, does not alter the importance of other methods of his exploration of other, visually more attractive forms of using the language of geometry for our contemporary art scene.

In the gallery, the author made the most of the light and clean space: in the first room he presented basically “clean” structures (and eighteen “Fragments”, installed horizontally in the middle of the room), in the second one a set of interrelated “Verticals”, and in the third room structures combined with colourful surfaces. In this way, Bauer adequately introduced all his topics, a new beauty of the current forms of creating the language of geometry).

Jiří Valoch, curator of the National Gallery in Prague.