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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Popularising Pištěk

By Maja Fowkes, on 5 November 2019

A visit to the Brno House of Arts gave the Confrontations participants the chance to encounter an artistic oeuvre that sits uneasily within the dichotomies of official and unofficial art, as well as the divide between experimental and mainstream taste. A large-scale solo show of the work of Theodor Pištěk elicited mostly bemusement on the part of the group, encountering unexpectedly the sculpture and paintings of an artist who was educated in the Prague Academy of Applied Arts at the height of Socialist Realism, had a parallel career as a racing car driver, and is best known by the Czech public for his achievements as a costume designer in the film industry. Presented here were both his glossy and futuristic abstract canvases from the 1960s and his equally glossy, hyperrealist paintings from the 1970s and 1980s. These tableaus are filled with racing car drivers, unsettling depictions of exotic natives and pin up girls, as well as streamlined machines and other icons of the technological sublime; a fantasy world that posed no threat to the Normalisation regime, but still tugged at the sub-conscious of socialist citizens. Indicative of changing artworld criteria is the fact that a popular figure like Pištěk could get the full retrospective treatment in a hallowed venue of progressive and conceptual art, where Valoch worked as a curator from the early 1970s.

(Maja & Reuben Fowkes)

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