150 x 150 cm
Acrylic on canvas
Collection Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Donated by Sammlung Rolf und Friedel Gutmann
Nr. 17 [No. 17]
Zdeněk Sýkora (born 1920 and died 2011 in Louny, Czech Republic) was one of the most innovative and well-known Czech painters of his generation. He began using a computer as a tool in his compositions already in 1964. His artworks revolve around one of the central themes of Concrete Art: calculated chance.
Sýkora’s picture “Nr. 17” in the collection of Museum Haus Konstruktiv resembles a swirl of colorful paper streamers. Although it is not dated, we know, not least due to its numbering, that it was created sometime in 1981–1982. This is because it fits in a series of similar pictures with lines that the artist began in 1973 in which he no longer painted the strict grids found in his previous structural pictures. The painting, which seems playful, cheery, and light, is based on random numbers generated by a software program on a computer. Sýkora used these numbers to determine the forms, lengths, widths, colors, and points where lines converge in the painting. In this way, he took the often-expressed principle in Concrete Art of objectivity through the rejection of the artistic subject to a radical extreme, while also undermining the strictness of mathematically and objectively composed pictures.
In the years from 1963 to 1973, just before he began the series of pictures with lines, the artist worked on a large series of primarily black and white paintings and objects in which whole as well as partial circular forms were embedded in a regular grid of squares. The painting “Struktur” from 1964 is an example of this and was the first time a computer played a role in his artistic process. With the assistance of the mathematician Jaroslav Blažek, Sýkora used the computer to exhaust as many potential combinations as possible.
What is fascinating and unusual about Sýkora, who was a celebrated Concrete artist and a representative of non-figurative painting all over the world, is that he continued to paint landscapes even in his old age. He began landscape painting early in his career in the 1950s, after briefly flirting with Surrealism and Cubism. He had studied art education, descriptive geometry, and sculpture at the Charles University in Prague from 1945 to 1947 and went on to teach there for many years. Then he discovered Henri Matisse in 1959. This was a turning point in his career, and it motivated him to continue to reduce and abstract forms until they ultimately culminated in pure geometric structures. Yet all the while, painting from nature also remained an integral part of his work.
Sýkora made a significant contribution to contemporary art and took part in many international exhibitions from the late 1960s on, including documenta 4 in Kassel in 1968. His first major retrospective outside the Czech Republic was at the Josef Albers Museum Quadrat in Bottrop in 1986. His works can also be found in many famous collections, such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the MUMOK – Museum moderner Kunst Wien.