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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Impermanent Collection

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

After National Gallery’s permanent exhibition “1918-1938: First Czechoslovak Republic”, which gave a very good insight into the art produced in this time period including the representation of the wider cultural framework that influenced production, distribution and reception of the art, we visited the exhibition “1930-Present:Czech Modern Art“ with a gallery curator Adéla Janíčková. Intended to present progress and development of nation’s art— singling out important figures of the interwar avant-garde, the unofficial art of the 1950s, neo-avant garde, i.e., neo-constructivist tendencies, action art, new sensitivity to postmodernism — this permanent exhibition gave us a somewhat fragmented and homogenic view of a very complex history. There was a lack of narrative between official and unofficial art (also no Socialist Realism in the display) as well as the information on the socialist time or the social, cultural and political context that shaped these practices (in comparison to the First Czechoslovak Republic exhibition). In fact, this exhibition layout was indicative that the National gallery is in some kind of transition, suspended between past practices and future possibilities. For us, however, it successfully set the scene for the next event “Questioning National Collection”, the discussion dealing with issues on how to represent national identity as well as plurality and diversity of identity through its permanent displays.

(Asja Mandić)

 

Speculative Futures

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

An open seminar at the Academy of Fine Arts set out to bring together feminist, post-socialist and decolonial perspectives on post-war national art collections, with a particular focus on the case of the National Gallery in Prague. Participants in the panel included Daniela Kramerová, who had been involved in preparing a far advanced proposal for rehanging the modern and contemporary collection of the gallery that was eventually cancelled. She used the opportunity to present her working version in public and disclose the curatorial processes behind such a task, as well as the pressure exerted by the museum management. Julia Bailey, as a representative of the National Gallery, shared her delicate perspective as a non-native curator working on the Czech national collection, as well as attempts to bring in international experience of diversifying arts funding. Karina Kottová represented the views of the collectively founded Feminist Art Institution, encouraging the audience to imagine what a feminist approach would mean in terms of the praxis of the National Gallery, while also extending solidarity to unrepresented groups within the national canon, such as Roma artists. Finally Jan Skřivánek also contributed to the discussion of how to incorporate diverse art practise into museum collections and offer new interpretations of Czech art history through non-traditional exhibition displays.

(Maja & Reuben Fowkes)

The panel discussion ‘Questioning the National Collection’ demonstrated the difficulties and to some extent the failure to establish a discourse or narration of the post war period. It became obvious that the shadows of the present are overlapping with the past and vice versa. Once again, this panel discussion revealed the process of constructing history and history as a construction. It also showed that the construction of history reflects much more the present and its actual debates. Therefore, it draws much more a picture of the present than of the past.

(Constanze Fritzsch)

Brno: Art Was There

MajaFowkes5 November 2019

In the middle of Confrontations seminar, on the way between Prague and Bratislava, we spent the whole day in Brno, that turned out to be not just a transit point between Czech and Slovak art scenes, but also an inspiring place to explore some episodes and protagonists of these scenes more closely. ‘Art is Here’ claimed the title of the exhibition at Moravian Gallery in Brno. After the large premises of the Trade Fair Palace, National Gallery in Prague, which even through its architecture revealed the complexities of dealing with the art history of the recent past, the Moravian Gallery in Brno was pleasantly approachable and appealing with unconventional details of the display design. For instance, in the modern and inter-war-avant-garde art section, under each painting, right on the wall is a black and white reproduction of the work in question – so that if works are out of the gallery premises, on loan or restauration, visitors can still see them.

Most striking was the diversity and uncompromising character of these nonofficial art scenes in spite of political pressure after 1968, and the connections Valoch had with Czech, Slovak and international artists. Each of the exposition rooms maps the different roles Jiří Valoch had – the ones of curator, organizer, artist, theoretician, networker or collector. For me the most telling was the room that introduces Valoch as a collector: a reconstruction of the situation in his flat that is overcrowded with artworks, commenting on Valoch’s very passionate engagement, where the boundaries between life and art are more than blurred.

(Ieva Astahovska)

The group’s visit to Brno revolved around the figure of the artist, curator, and theoretician Jiří Valoch, who played a central role in the development and promotion of experimental art from the mid-1960s onwards, in Brno itself and also in a broader context. Thanks to the curator Ondřej Chrobák, we were able to see how Valoch’s collection (consisting of documents, artworks and objects) is featured in the new permanent exhibition “ART IS HERE: New Art” at the Moravian Gallery-Prazak Palace. The discussions focused on the display, artists’ strategies to enable interaction in the context of political normalisation in Czechoslovakia, as well as Valoch’s less known facet as an art collector. As he was actively involved both in local organisations such as the Brno House of Arts and in international networks, Valoch’s activities were particularly emblematic of the overlapping or coexistence of the official and unofficial spheres, a subject that was at the heart of the discussions in this second session of Confrontations.

This was followed by another fascinating visit, this time to the part of the Jiří Valoch Archive that is conserved at the Moravian Gallery’s Governor’s Palace. The curator Jana Písaříková offered us an overview of the large amount of material held at the gallery, reflecting the artist’s connections and interests over more than four decades. One of the challenges the Archive currently faces is the need to design an organizational structure for materials from an artist who was never interested in self-archiving. There is no doubt that the whole complex is fertile ground still to be explored!

(Juliane Debeusscher)