Under the kind invitation of Czech Centre Vienna and the director Martin Krafl, I travel to Prague, a fairytale setting par excellence, a sophisticated city where time does not seem to matter, but tourism does. I am trying to read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (a native Czech writer) so I can be forgiven for confusing the memories of the trip with the spell of déjà vu.
“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.”
I meet a legendary art dealer, Jiri Svestka – whose outfit proclaims that “everything is open again” – for a slice of a deluxe cake (exquisite even by Viennese standards) in a landmark culinary and social establishment: The Cafe Imperial, an opulent Art Deco restaurant featured in many films, from Hollywood’s “The Illusionist” to more obscure Bollywood productions. Since Jiri entertains his clients or eats his lunch here almost every day, we get the treatment fit for movie stars. We discuss the business, changes, transformations, regressions, and time capsules in contemporary Czech culture. I overhear an American couple bitching about the slow-motion speed of the “Middle Europe”.
The newly opened gallery in town, Polansky Gallery, awakes me from the sugary daydreaming. The space and the choice of the program with young Czech artists appear very convincing to me. Chapeau!
A floor below Polansky’s Gallery, the smiley owner of Svit Gallery, Michal Manek, welcomes me to his minimalist space – another art treasure cave for me. The laconic exhibition “From dust you shall return” (Michal Kalhous: My Father Is a Star) keeps me pondering about the future of Eastern European photography.
“The most noticeable feature of Michal Kalhous’ photographs is his loyalty to material – both in the sense of an artist’s loyalty to the traditional method as well as in the sense of a reliable traditional medium, which guarantees the continuity of substance in time and space. We do not see mere visuals; we see castings or imprints, which are carrying grains of dust from their originals. It is like when Christ’s face, in all its human corporeality, was transferred onto the absorbent material of the Shroud of Turin in order for its tangible dimensions (sweat, tears and blood) to become the keeper of the spiritual significance, which exceeds it.”
Michal takes me to the largest stadium in the world, The Great Strahov Stadium (Czech: Velký strahovský stadion). Today, it is no longer in use for sports events, but it hosts pop concerts and is used as a training center for Sparta Prague. In the 90s The Rolling Stones performed there. “Tanks are rolling out, the Stones are rolling in” was the slogan with which this concert was promoted.
We decide to take a walk through this historic area to the FUTURA. It is a private non-profit institution funded exclusively by grant applications. In the Czech Republic there are two large exhibition spaces and a residency program in Prague, in a renaissance castle in Třebešice near Kutná Hora with a collection of Czech and international contemporary art. Additionally there is a residency programme in a three-floor building in Brooklyn, New York.
The FUTURA exhibition space has three-floors with a total area of 1,000 m² located in Prague’s Smíchov quarter. Works from numerous renowned and internationally respected artists from the Czech Republic and abroad have been presented here since 2003 in large collective and solo exhibitions. Among them are Lawrence Weiner, Bas Jan Ader, Betrand Lavier or Carsten Nicolai, Mircea Cantor and Hubert Duprat.
The curator Michal Novotny explains and interacts with the new work by a young artist Matej Al-Ali, created site specifically for Futura.
“Chiara Fumai (1978), dOCUMENTA 13 participant let real historical figures speaks as medium through her body. Although attitudes of feminism are immanently present in her work, it ceases to remain in any category and rather simultaneously joins fantastic with real, contemporary with passed and serious with ironic.”
And finally I meet up with Lucie Drdova, the owner of Drdova Gallery and a shooting star in the Czech art scene, in her new gallery space at Krizkovskeho 10 CZ – Prague 3.
“Drdova Gallery works to support the future of its artists; the continually evolving practice of established artists, and the wide–ranging potential of emerging and new talents. Gallerist Lucie Drdova (1982) graduated in art history and German literature from Masaryk University in Brno where she presently continues her PhD studies. In 2007, she studied at the Institute of Cultural Management and Cultural Studies (IKM) at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. In 2007 to 2008, she attended a residency programme in the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna. In 2008 to 2010, she worked as curator of the Jiri Svestka Gallery in Prague and as director of its Berlin branch. From 2010, she is co–organizer of the Jindrich Chalupecky Award; from 2011, she is lecturer at the Studio of New Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.”
Lucie takes me to MeetFactory, International Center For Contemporary Art. “MeetFactory was founded in 2001 by David Černý. The purpose of this organisation is to support and develop contemporary art and culture and to make it accessible to the public. MeetFactory is unique in its attempt to to connect art, theatre, film, music and educational programs. It also provides its facilities to its resident artists, who come from all around the world, thereby connecting the domestic and international art scenes.”
Pussy Riot and The Russian Tradition of Art Rebellion – travelling Exhibition of Russian Politically Engaged Art. “The exhibition curated by the Moscow-based art critic Andrey Erofeev and his co-workers Alexandra Kondrashova and artist Elizaveta Konovalova presents the development of Russian politically engaged art from performance to art activism, illustrated by leading examples of artworks, video clips, documents and props from particular mass actions. For the MeetFactory the authors present recent reflections of the Pussy Riot action in a wide historical and contemporary context of the Russian art and activist scene.“
One of the owners of Hunt Kastner introduces me to the exhibition “The Earth Turns and All Things Slip Away“: “an examination of space-time metaphysics, the conceptual universe, negative turned into positive, absence reversed into presence, all sinking into a landscape of melancholy, eternal frost and diffused light, where we vainly search for the horizon and a point of reference. The surface of the clouds blends into a snowy landscape so much so that the alpinist cannot distinguish between firm ground and a cloud-covered abyss.”
Now I am off to Dvorak Sec Contemporary.
A former building of City Electric, later a transport company of the City of Prague, was opened to the public in 1935.
The last appointment is with one of my favorite galleries, Galerie Laboratorio, which is run by Jolanta Trojak and Klára Ulrichová. The exhibition presented there is by Agnieszka Grodzinska, who is also represented by Starter Gallery in Poland. Click here to read VIENNAFAIR Diary from Warsaw.
Too much beauty for today. Time to catch a train back to Vienna…