Red Painting, 1959 – 1960
oil on canvas
195 x 130 cm
Ferdinand Kulmer (1925-1998) was a modernist and postmodernist painter who changed styles at Mercury’s speed of travel. He is a descendant of the noble Kulmer family – Styrian barons who moved to Croatia in the 18th c., the most influential of which being the lawyer and politician Franjo Kulmer (19th c.). Tonko Maroević drew a comparison that pinpoints the very essence of Kulmer’s life, drawing a parallel with how Picasso first painted and then bought castles, while with Ferdinand Kulmer it was the other way around. He studied painting during WWII and in the post-war period: in Budapest from 1942 and in Zagreb until 1948 (under Lj. Babić and O. Mujadžić), and worked as an associate in K. Hegedušić’s Master Workshop until 1957. During the course of his three-decade long art career, the range of styles that he painted in is impressive, with the styles always up-to-date and fused into a hybrid of sorts: from (post)fauvist Figurative art and Picasso, Abstract art (from 1957), Art Informel, Tachisme, monochrome painting with elements of Action Painting and calligraphy, to postmodern New Figuration in the 1980s. In the 1960s, he was close to gestural Art Informel in the vein of Heinrich Hartung and Pierre Soulages, and in the 1970s to Japanese calligraphy. Ferdinand Kulmer’s Red Painting from 1959-1960 presents him as a painter who is aware of existential anxiety and absurdity embodied by the corporeality of the painting, which signifies the physical factuality of Art Informel. By having combined Art Informel and the controlled automatism of Tachisme, Kulmer created a painting of polarised properties. The painting is a material fact, but the reds, interspersed with white traces, create an atmosphere of uneasy, impure aesthetics of the visual composition.
Text: Željko Marciuš, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023