Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos: Documents of an Experiment


Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos: Documents of an Experiment

15.09.2021 - 16.10.2021 / Zbirka Richter

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of birth of Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos (1921 – 1987), the exhibition Documents of an Experiment will be opened at the Vjenceslav Richter and Nada Kareš Richter Collection.

The exhibition’s title has been drawn from one of Mangelos’s works produced in the blackened catalogue of the group EXAT 51 – whose co-founder and member was also Richter – in which this artist expressed his attitude towards their 1953 exhibition at the Association of Architects, which he supported with his critical and theoretical work.

The exhibition will present all topics from Mangelos’s vast oeuvre: Landscapes of War and Death, Tabulae Rasae, Negations of Painting, Alphabets, Nostories, The Picasso Phaenomenon, as well as Manifestos, so as to recall the great artist whose last larger-scale retrospective in Zagreb  was held in the bygone year of 1990, while a smaller thematic exhibition dedicated to the cycle Manifestos was organised at Nova Gallery in 2019.

Dimitrije Bašičević was a Zagreb-based art historian, critic, and curator; at the same time, albeit less publicly, he was also an artist who kept his work a secret and signed it with the pseudonym Mangelos. He took this name from a village in the vicinity of Šid, his birthplace (today’s Serbia). He graduated in Art History in Zagreb in 1949,  obtaining his PhD in 1957. In the early post-war period, he was an active art critic engaged in the promotion of abstract and primitive art. Later, he worked at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, and managed the Gallery of Primitive Art in the 1960s and the Centre for Film, Photography and Television in the 1970s. He was a member of the Gorgona Group, which operated on the positions of anti-art in Zagreb between 1959 and 1966.

It is hard to say with certainty how and when Mangelos’s artistic project, which he termed no-art, began. Specifically, after his passing in Zagreb in 1987, his work was still insufficiently elucidated and evaluated. Already an esteemed curator and critic, he did not step out on the stage as an artist until the late 1960s, supported by colleagues and younger-generation artists. Gradually, and especially after the exhibition Gorgona at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 1977, audiences began familiarising themselves with Mangelos’s oeuvre. What followed were exhibitions-projects, which he conceived himself and organised mainly in Zagreb’s alternative spaces such as Podroom and the Tošo Dabac Atelier. He acquired a well-deserved reputation with large solo exhibitions in Zagreb, Berlin, New York, London, Gent, Porto, Barcelona, Graz, Kassel, Vienna, Paris, Ljubljana, as well as by participating in notable international exhibitions at the New York Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, Pompidou Centre, Kröller-Müller Museum, Venice Biennale, Carnegie International, and many others. His works are found today in eminent museum and private collections.

Mangelos belonged to a generation who in their youth experienced the Second World War, a period of occupation, violence, poverty, and moral collapse. When writing of his beginnings in "Introduction to No-Art" (1979), he stressed that the origin of his no-art had been in the Landscapes of Death, which he recorded as black stains – symbolising the absence of the deceased, friends and relatives – in school notebooks during the war. Later, these "black rectangles, these ‘graves" became something else, initially Tabulae Rasae, and then School Slates, on which gradually appeared letters, triangles, words, and concise thoughts.

The numerous blackened tables and books in which he inscribed Glagolitic, Latin, Cyrillic, Runic and other scripts, one letter at a time as in the first stage of mastering writing, as well as the homage to Pythagoras, whom he gave a special place in his work, marked a "new beginning" since, as he himself stated, one should start with something elementary and rational.

Even though his works are visually attractive in their unison of red, black, and white, with geometricized letters, and words he inscribed between lines drawn on boards, globes and in books, we do not consider his work in the context of form purification and reductionism in art, as Mangelos was not a painter. Quite the contrary, he negated a painting with various methods. One of such is evident in the series Antipeinture.  With his statements negation de la peinture, antipeinture inscribed underneath crossed-out or tempera-blackened reproductions of paintings, Mangelos built on an entire array of negations present in 20th century art: from Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte to Marcel Broodthaers.

As curator of the Gallery of Contemporary Art, he participated in the organisation of international exhibitions and symposia that took place in Zagreb between 1961 and 1973 under the title New Tendencies. In the essay "Actuality of Functional Art" (1965), he formed for the first time his thesis on "functional thinking," which helps to explain many of his then existing and forthcoming works. When examining the new social role of artists and art, he accentuated that Man’s most crucial relationship is that with matter, while technical revolution is historically the most resolute revolution in art. According to him, history originated on the basis of this relationship, including art history, in which he saw two phases: "instinctive" and "functional." This idea served as the foundation for the majority of Mangelos’s manifestos created in the 1970s, the main thesis of which was that society went through progress, but was not followed by art. Therefore he sought ways to approach art, and found his modus in the theoretical-artistic form which he termed "speech-thinking."

Mangelos’s no-art definitely contains an iconoclastic gesture. In art, he saw meaning instead of matter and used words as a constitutive element. By redirecting art from psychological to logical and by introducing into own practice the discourse of philosophy and literature, he crossed borders between artistic practice and theory. Mangelos himself abandoned a painting and negated it in different manners. He approached art with methods that were entirely different from those that had been customary until the emergence of conceptualism. However, by prioritising mental work, he nevertheless did not abandon "manual work." He used paint and brushes, so one dares say that he never gave up painting, which was his means and not his goal. His intellectual struggle, his striving to shape the system, to find new proposals and solutions, makes Mangelos’s work particularly relevant.

(Branka Stipančić)


This exhibition is the first public event organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the project Adrinetbook, dedicated to the digitalisation of cultural heritage with focus on books. In his curatorial and artistic work, Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos gave to the artist book – an art object between the image and the word – all of the features that make it an origin of a new way of deliberating art, authorship, and the function of art in society at large.

During the exhibition, two lectures will be held – on Mangelos the artist, by Branka Stipančić, curator of the exhibition and author of the monograph Mangelos no. 1-9 1/2, on 22 September at 6 p.m., and on Dimitrije Bašičević, art theoretician, critic and curator of the City of Zagreb Galleries and the Gallery of Contemporary Art, by Vesna Meštrić, manager of the Richter Collection, and Jasna Jakšić, head of the Documentation and Information Department at the MSU, on 6 October at 6 p.m.


Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos 
1921 – 2021 
Documents of an Experiment 

Richter Collection, Vrhovec 38, Zagreb

15 September – 13 October 2021


Curator: Branka Stipančić

Exhibition concept and setup: Branka Stipančić

Coordinators: Jasna Jakšić, Vesna Meštrić

Technical support: Ivan Tudek, Filip Zima, Aleksandar Milošević

Conservaton and restoration: Kristina Matković, Mirta Pavić

Visual identity: Sanja Kuzmanović

The exhibition Documents of an Experiment and its accompanying programme have been organised within the international project Adrinetbook, funded by the European Union and the City of Zagreb as part of the programme Interreg Adrion.

Acknowledgements: Mario and Cynthia Bruketa, Aleksandar Battista Ilić, Vlado Martek, Darko Šimičić, Zoran Senta