East Contemporary

National Gallery in Prague “František Kupka 1871 – 1957”

Prague, Wallenstein Riding Hall, Sep 9, 2018 – Jan 20, 2019, https://www.ngprague.cz/

The National Gallery in Prague prepared a retrospective exhibition of the Czech artist František Kupka. It is the second stop of the exhibition, which was already presented in the summer in the Grand Palais in Paris. The exhibition in the Wallenstein Riding hall presents, according to the curator of the exhibition Anna Pravdová, most of the important works, which were exhibited already in Paris, but the Prague version of the exhibition is a little bit squeezed because of the smaller exhibition space.

František Kupka, Diagonal Planes, 1931, oil, canvas, 90 × 110 cm, National Gallery Prague

The exhibition is presented in a chronological manner, it starts with the Symbolist works of Kupka, for example the Last Dream of the Dying Heine, which was still painted in Vienna. The very first works from the times of Kupka´s childhood in Dobruška are not present in the exhibition.

From the figurative period, we can admire the painting Biblioman, which is now-a-days in the collection of the Prague Castle. The very interesting artwork The Spirit of the Nenuphar is also exhibited. It witnesses the spiritual life of the young artist. The painting The Beginning of Life is inspired by the artworks of the Parisian symbolist artist Odilon Redon. There are several painting from the series The Way of Silence in the exhibition, which represent alleys of Egyptian Sphinx.

In the beginning of the exhibition we can see also a very interesting artwork Anthropoides, where Kupka represented the Darwinian topic of the fight for a woman. It is a pity, that the painting has lost its original modernist frame, in which it looked much better and more interesting.

The painting Ballada (Joys of life) represents the two women of Kupka, how they sit on horses and how they are sunbathing at the seashore. The very interesting series Gigolettes is inspired by the ancient painting in Crete, but also by prostitutes in Paris. It is a pity, that we cannot admire the very interesting composition The Dream in Prague. This was presented in Paris, and it is possessed by the Kunsthalle in Bochum in Germany.

However, the exhibition in Prague presents a lot of very interesting loans from the whole world. The big nude from the Guggenheim museum in New York is to be admired in the show. The painting The First Pace from the MOMA in New York in unfortunately not in the exhibition. It is the starting point for Kupka´s most famous composition Amorpha. It is a big pity that we cannot admire it in Prague, because the painting is due to the geographical distance very difficult to access for Czech audiences.

What is perfect, we can enjoy the paintings of Newton´s circles, which witness Kupka´s interest in the theory of colors. It is also positive, that we can see more versions of the Vertical Planes, which anticipated the most monumental version from the National Gallery in Prague. The big success of the present exhibition of Kupka are loans from Paris, for example the painting Around a Point or Animated lines. There are also Kupka´s machinist paintings in the retrospective. In the end of the exhibition, the visitor finds Kupka´s paintings from the 30ies, when he was a member of the group Abstraction-Création and in the very end, there are also compositions from the years after the II. World War.

The Prague exhibition of Kupka is without any doubt a big event. We hope, that it will not be only temporary, but that the important works by Kupka from the possesion of the National Gallery will stay in Prague permanently and that they will not be always on loan elsewhere. If we could criticize the conception of the exhibition, it is a pity, that the show is only monographical, and that it does not try to contextualize the works by Kupka in a context, at least in such a measure as we have seen it in the last Kupka exhibition in Prague in the Salm Palace on the Prague Castle. It would be very interesting to show Kupka´s relationships with the prints of Odilon Redon or with the paintings by Jean Hélion and the fellows from the group Abstraction-Création. Maybe it would be much more interesting that to try to squeeze in the Wallenstein Riding Hall a maximum number of abstract paintings, which can in the end give a monotone and tiring impression.

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