Compression and Riddlecraft: On Pavel Büchler's 'small Sculptures'

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This article provides the first sustained exploration of an important group of works by the Czech artist, Pavel Büchler. Büchler’s ‘small sculptures’, produced between 2006 and 2015, employ remarkably modest means to bear tellingly upon a wide range of cultural, political, and philosophical problems. The works are composed of simple, everyday found objects – a pencil stub, a coin, a cigarette lighter, a discarded paint tube – all of which are inscribed with language and with traces of their former use. Enigmatic and elliptical, these works draw their significance from the shared histories, cultural traditions and social experiences to which they make reference, serving to pose precise questions regarding the meanings of such collective formations, and their relationship to art’s particular kind of work.

Developing the idea of ‘compression’, a term borrowed from the analysis of poetry, the article elucidates the ways in which the ‘small sculptures’ open onto some of the most pressing problems for contemporary art: the relationship between art and aesthetic experience after the readymade and conceptualism; the transactions between visual art and literature, and particularly modern poetry; the problem of interpretation, its movements and its limits; and the tense relationship between artistic autonomy and political engagement.

The ‘small sculptures,’ four of which are engaged with closely here, constitute a critique of both the reliance of much contemporary art upon big budgets and spectacular effects, and of the insistence that art directly articulate statements of ideological commitment. Drawing upon theoretical resources developed by Georges Perec, Theodor Adorno and Václav Havel, for example, I articulate the ways in which Büchler’s works possess a strange kind of density, in the manner of a rebus or a riddle. They embody art’s capacity to speak otherwise and demonstrate how much can be done with what is apparently very little indeed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-46
Number of pages17
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • Pavel Büchler
  • Kafka
  • Ed Ruscha
  • Czech Republic
  • Contemporary Art
  • Sculpture
  • Havel
  • Perec
  • Il Castello
  • Adorno

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