Milan Knížák

Milan Knížák

Born April 19 1940, Plzeň
Lived in Prague

An action artist, performer, creator of objects, and teacher. Since he dealt with painting, sculpture, architecture, furniture and fashion design, music, literature, and journalism he was known as a multimedia artist. In addition to contemporary art and culture, he commented on other areas of society, including politics.
(Olga Staníková)

action art, happening, performance, object, sculpture, painting, installation, design


He grew up in Blovice from where he and his family moved to Mariánské Lázně. Milan Knížák's father was a secondary school teacher of mathematics and art education. The father’s activity and creativity in a great many areas, including music, could have significantly influenced his teenage son, who started to become interested in the arts. Knížák’s first paintings were strongly influenced by expressionism (Běsnění slunce / Fury of the Sun, 1958).


The book of documents
The book of documents (artist's book)


He joined the Pedagogical College of Prague. However, he was disappointed with his choice of subject


(Milan Knížák) (solo exhibition, Mariánské Lázně)


Having completed his military service, he started to experiment with various technological methods of Informel. This intensive stage of his lively canvases was only temporary, and with his typical ease, his work became increasingly simplified, finally resulting in him turning to reality and its translation into fine arts. Knížák created assemblages into which he incorporated various objects and materials that he found. His paintings reflected the influence of American Pop-Art and New Realism. Even though his concise sketches were called portraits they were more like posters. He organized events in which he aimed to dissolve the boundary between arts and life and, by doing so, change human life. He tried to enliven passive spectators by engaging them in the ongoing events. Knížák wanted to free people from prevailing artistic conventions and liberate them from their everyday lives. Good examples of his efforts were the short-term exhibitions (approximating environments) held in front of his house. He confronted audiences with something unexpected in an urban environment. He deliberately used unusual objects. He considered his activities to be vital for the revival of the entire society (Akční dílna na ulici / Action Workshop on a Street, Prague).


Demonstrace objektů / Demonstration of Objects became his eccentric response to the need to exhibit. Due to insufficient space in his small apartment in Nový Svět, he created his works on the street in front of the building (Seance/ Séance, Prague
(Milan Knížák) (solo exhibition, Prague)


He depicted hanging trousers or trousers placed over a back rest as monochromatic sculptures. He also made sculptures of a chair and a table. První manifestace Aktuálního umění / The First Manifestation of Aktual Art in Prague was the first of a number of his demonstrations which were carried out on the streets of Prague (Individuální demonstrace / Individual Demonstration, Totální demonstrace / Total Demonstration, Aktuální procházka po Novém Světě – Demonstrace pro všechny smysly / Aktual walk through Nový Svět - Demonstration for all the senses). One of his most significant demonstrations was the Demonstrace jednoho / Demonstration of One. The artist became a witch-doctor using a special costume and had the people of Prague experience something extraordinary during his performance which approximated a ritual. Knížák equated the role of artist to that of a god or a wizard. He tried to set people free from their standard way of life. He attacked their senses. His activities took various forms
He joined the Association of Czechoslovak Visual Artists. In the 1960's he did a number of jobs
Untitled (mixed media)

(Milan Knížák) (solo exhibition, Prague)


He dealt with activities which were playful and unprejudiced. He gave instructions which encouraged creativity, similar to children's games and rituals. (In the Procházka Prahou / Walk in Prague action people were to walk on the perimeter of a drawn circle). Conceptual art influenced his thinking as it did in the west.


The Klub Aktual / Aktual Club was established and it built on the ideas of the Aktual Art group. The former members were joined by Robert Wittmann, who drew attention to himself with the Výstava skutečností ulice / Exhibition of Street Actualities (1966) which was reminiscent of Vladimír Boudník's street actions. Similar to Boudník some years before, Wittmann hung empty frames on peeling walls and encouraged passers-by to develop their creativity. Milan Knížák was one of the few action artists who kept in touch with artists from the west. For example he exchanged various works of art through his correspondence with George Maciunas, the founder of the Fluxus Group. Since his activities and thinking were similar to those of foreign artists, he later became a member of the Fluxus Group (George Maciunas appointed him the director of Fluxus East). The movement, as well as Knížák and the Aktual Club, tried to change the world and dissolve the restrictive boundaries between art and life. They were also well-known for organizing festivals and it was thanks to Knížák that one was held in Prague in 1966. Milana Knížák's activities were under the continuous surveillance of the State Security Police, even during the festival. His name was on the register of "enemies of the socialist regime." He was repeatedly in conflict with the political powers, he was often interrogated and temporarily arrested.


After his forced departure from Prague, Knížák settled in Krásná near Mariánské Lázně and, at the urging of his friends, he founded the Aktual music band. He wrote his own music without any profound knowledge of the global music of that time. He also had to take into account the inexperience of some members of his band with whom he struggled during rehearsals. Apart from regular instruments, they also produced music with violins, sirens, drills and a motorcycle as accompaniment. The distinctive live performances and texts parodying the experienced reality as well as themselves in a jumble of various sounds resulted in problems for them in acquiring permission for concerts, even in the most liberal year of 1968.


He was invited to stay with George Maciunas in the U.S.A. He received the invitation as early as 1966 but it took him two years to be granted a passport and to leave for the U.S.A. During his stay in the USA, he organized events and gave lectures at universities (Rudgers University NY, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY., University in Los Angeles where he established the Elephant Work Company). He experienced a totally different life-style. He communicated his feelings about his stay in letters to Jindřich Chalupecký. From then on, his performances had the nature of personal rituals. Their implementation took place inside individual participants (Ležící obřad/Laying Rite, 1968, USA).
Aktual (photography)


On his return from the USA, he continued his activities in Aktual (for example Kamenný obřad / Stone Rite in a quarry near to Mariánské Lázně in 1971) until 1973. Not only were his artistic activities under the continuous surveillance of the authorities, they were also misunderstood by other people. His actions became more abstract over the course of time and most of them were only intended to be implemented in the viewer’s own mind. The social tendency runs through his works like a red line. He always tried to change and improve human life through art.
Since he could not give public exhibitions, he expressed his ideas in a number of other areas: fashion designs like psychological jewels or invisible clothes. They were later replaced by contemplations on invisible architecture which he summarized in the Sny o architektuře / Dreams about Architecture (1962–1975) and the Pokus o nesoustavný úvod do nehmotné architektury / Attempted unsystematic introduction to immaterial architecture (1970–1985) papers, which supported his utopian visions and a change in the traditional understanding of architecture (for example in the Města v poušti / Cities in Desert project). Instead of musical performances with the Aktual Group, he dealt with more modest musical experiments (music on the mind). He changed sheet music in order to open classical compositions to new understandings and approaches which examined the process of their creation. He also dealt with broken music and the destruction of gramophone records. Music was then played from their destroyed and eroded surfaces (issued under the name of Broken Music, Milan, 1979).
(Milan Knížák) (solo exhibition, Cologne)


(Milan Knížák) (solo exhibition, Dortmund)


(Milan Knížák) (solo exhibition, Amsterdam)


He became fascinated by the rituality of a stone. He decided to involve found stones in his rituals. It was documented by the artist's ritual of getting to know a particular stone called Poznávání kamene /Familiarization with a Stone. His familiarization activities also dealt, for example, with air. In 1977–1980, he carried out the Přátelství se stromem / Friendship with a Tree rite.
Received award from Jiří Kolář Prize


In the early 1980's, his ideas about architecture, furniture, and fashion attained particular dimensions and were placed in particular environments. Paintings returned to the scene in order to support such ideas
(Milan Knížák) (solo exhibition, Oldenburg)
Milan Knížák. Happening: "A March". "Arbeiten". (solo exhibition, Bochum)


During his stay in West Germany (1982–1983 Worpswede, 1985 Bleckede, 1988 West Berlin [DAAD], 1989 Preunschen), he created installations and exhibitions for particular premises in the spirit of Gesamtkunswerk, which also involved action and entertainment. The use of the artist's clothes, jewellery, and other accessories in the form of a fashion show alternated with exhibitions and the playing of broken music. He documented the actions from the 1960's using traces of what had been preserved. He created artifacts in the form of books, using concrete, wood, and iron.
Process for the body
Process for the body (mixed media)

Partituren sind Handlungsweisen... (group exhibition, Bochum)


He published collections of poems in Czech and English in which he could use freedom of expression.


He responded to postmodernism by his deliberate choice of large-scale canvases for his paintings and by simplifying his brushwork in an effort to trivialize the expression. Later, he also introduced a story. The emphasis on colours and freedom of the artist's gesture made his canvases into a painted performance. Paintings became the materialization of his mind collages and unusual connections (Zmatené obrazy / Confused Paintings, Počítačové obrazy / Computer Paintings).


Burning mind projects (solo exhibition, Bochum)
Clothes painted on the body (solo exhibition, Hannover)
Rockfest 87 (public program, Prague)
Milan Knížák: Part of Visual Arts from the last time (solo exhibition, Prague)


During his private scholarship in Preunschen, Germany, he created a series of paintings of prismatic colours. He later called them Neospoerri after the early works of Danielle Spoerri. The only difference was that he painted the surface without regard to fixed objects.
Czech Painting Today (group exhibition, Esslingen am Neckar)
Milan Knížák: 1953 – 1988 (solo exhibition, Brno)


He was appointed President of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague where he established and managed the Studio of Intermedia Art. His Cestopisy / Travel Books were published. He had started to write them in the late 1960's during his stay in the USA. He published theoretical texts, essays and comments in newspapers as well as in books.


Received grant from Akademie Schloss Solitude
Art of Action (group exhibition, Prague)
Tradition and Avant-garde in Prague (group exhibition, Bonn)
State Portrait (group exhibition, Cologne)
Grey Brick 78/1991 (group exhibition, Opava)
Art, Europe, Czechoslovakia (group exhibition, Lingen (Ems))
Détente (group exhibition, Brno)


Received award from The International Drawing Triennial in Wroclaw
Received award from Grand Prix
Milan Knížák: Something (solo exhibition, Klatovy)
Czech and Slovak Contemporary Art 1950 - 1992 (group exhibition, Novara)
Prague - Bratislava, D´une géneration, l´autre (group exhibition, Paris)
Insights - Czech and Slovak Contemporary Art (group exhibition, Cologne)
UFO–OFU (solo exhibition, Prague)
Czech Fine Art 1960-1990 (group exhibition, Prague)
Font in the Picture (group exhibition, Brno)


Second Exit (group exhibition, Aachen)
Landscape in Contemporary Art (group exhibition, Prague)
Milan Knížák: Castle in Castle (solo exhibition, Sovinec)
Situation Prague - Dialog Second Generations (group exhibition, Hamburg )
Milan Knížák: BMC (solo exhibition, Prague)


Confused Pictures (solo exhibition, Prague)
Zwischen Zeit Raum I (group exhibition, Düsseldorf)
Europe, Europe. The Century of the Avant-garde in Central and Eastern Europe (group exhibition, Bonn)
Partitury (group exhibition, )


Fineart ´96 (group exhibition, Prague)
New Paradise (solo exhibition, Prague)
Fatal liking. Collectors of Modern Art I. 1900 - 1996 (group exhibition, Prague)
Milan Knížák: Without Reason (solo exhibition, Ostrava)
Art when Time Stood Still. Czech Art Scene 1969-1985 (group exhibition, Prague)


He completed his post-graduate studies in the form of self-instruction at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.


Holidays with Alien (solo exhibition, Prague)


Memories of Memories (solo exhibition, Ostrava)
The End of the World? (group exhibition, Prague)
Art in Central Europe 1949–1999 (group exhibition, Barcelona)
100th Exhibition of Caesar Gallery (group exhibition, Olomouc)
90 Years of the Brno House of Arts (group exhibition, Brno)
Happily to Nowhere (solo exhibition, Prague)
Light of Birth (group exhibition, Benešov u Prahy)
Enough smoke? (group exhibition, Prague)


Girls from my Head (solo exhibition, Prague)
Photography as Art in Czechoslovakia 1959 - 1968 (group exhibition, Brno)
Jiří Kolář the Collector (group exhibition, Prague)
Object - Object: Metamorphoses in Time (group exhibition, Prague)


Typical Picture (group exhibition, Prague)
Contemporary watercolour painting (group exhibition, Prague)


Milan Knížák: Art is a Crutch (solo exhibition, Plzeň)
Czech Performance Art of the 1960s and 1990s (group exhibition, Berlin)
Czech Contemporary Art - Parallel Lines (group exhibition, Moscow)


Fluxus. European Festivals 1962–1977 (group exhibition, Prague)


Milan Knížák│30 Portraits (solo exhibition, Blansko)
Difficult Ceremony (group exhibition, Prague)
Milan Knížák│To Live Otherwise (solo exhibition, Karlovy Vary)

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