East Contemporary

Pragovka Gallery: “Ko-laborace”

Prague, May 9 – August 26, 2021, https://x.pragovka.com/cs/pragovka-gallery, https://www.facebook.com/pragovkagallery

Pragovka Gallery is an art space in a large old factory complex on the outskirts of Prague that houses many artist studios. Once a year, all the artists come out of their studios to create a large group show, which is what this exhibition was. Generally speaking, the works on display were usually quite large, showing that the artists made good use of their industrial studio spaces, and also that they are no newbies to the art game. The big exhibition space also called for big works. The artists participating in this show were mostly well known names on the Czech art scene. Painting and sculpture dominated the show. There was a video section, but it was quite weak. Probably there was no budget for any large scale installations. Most artists simply hauled over some large piece from their studio. There were exceptions to this generalization. And some very beautiful installations were to be found in the space. Some of them I will mention later.

As it was a large show where the artist selection was mainly based on who the tenants were, there was quite a variety of work. The curator (Petr Vanous) was more of a coordinator, who tried to group the artworks given to him into certain sub-groups suitable for specific sections of the exhibition space.

I did not try to grasp everything on display in this mega show, but rather took photos of a few works that attracted my attention for one reason or another.

Near the entrance, I was greeted by a diptych by Filip Cerny. This was significant to me, as Cerny is someone I wrote about in one of the early entries in this blog, more than ten years ago. How did his work change since then? If I can judge based on this one painting, it became more relaxed. The hand guiding the brush became more visible. Yet the underlying questioning of representation of reality remained. The two canvases on display are based around skeleton sketches of “real” scenes, just to be filled up like a children´d coloring book with large surfaces of blue or black spray paint that both obscures what should be there while also highlighting the background in relation to the foreground. The painting feels nervous and unstable, as a work in progress that will never be finished, because there is so much more to work on, so much more too see and take in. Next, next, next. Keep scrolling.

Next a painting by Veronika Landa that consisted more of lines than surfaces caught my eye. Somewhere between cute comics and folk art. Interesting for me was the “ruyi” in the background. Was it an inspiration or a coincidence?

A sculpture by Vaclav Litvan looked like a materialization of an octopus tentacle from a 3D design software. The metal was rusty, the dismembered octopus tentacle in a rusty red too. It looked unstable. Unfinished. A glitch in reality.

Anna Hulacova showed two busts facing each other. Made from her by now almost signature concrete with a flat shiny glazed surface instead of the face. Seems to be drawing on the Czech surrealist tradition. In the duo show with Zsofie Keresztes at GHMP, a variety of approaches of Hulacova could be seen. Concrete with a cut surface was one of the approaches that probably proved popular with art buyers. The motive of a bust/head is a very typical one in the history of sculpture. People are familiar with it. Which makes them like it. Add a bit of modernist (concrete) and surrealist (no face) touch. And voila. East European surrealism is hot. The busts looked fascinating, especially as it was not possible to observe both missing faces at the same time. But… I felt a bit suspicious about what, if anything new, Hulacova is trying to say.

Martin Silhan was one of the artists who did simple yet very attractive installation to complement his paintings. I call it simple, as it managed to create an impact with almost no color, relying simply on a gray-scale and lines. The complexity was in the lines, copying precisely natural shapes, but being more than just realist, being otherworldly. There was an ambiguity between depth and flatness, something the eye had to constantly negotiate. The three-dimensional object hanging from the ceiling further enforced this feeling. When does something that is flat appear three dimensional? And when does something that is three-dimensional appear flat?

Martin Janovsky, who is usually more known for a comic-style line painting, often in the form of murals surprised with a monochrome video projection. Quite a radical change, I would say. Or was it just a technical error?

Terezie K. Kolarova´s corona-viruses’ hiding in the basement of a semi-finished building construction were… a bit superficial, but I still found it funny and worthy to take a snap of.

Martin Kana´s robot heads looked sleek and metallic, seductive like the hood of a new car on an automobile trade fair. In the background, I know its a bit unfair, is Ladislav Vlna´s dark industrial figurative canvas: a touch of social realism, but under dark layers of coal dust and decades of decay.

A bigger view of a spatial installation, with works by Pasta Oner (foreground), Anezka Hoskova (white shapes) and Jana Babincova together with Pavla Zabranska (background).

Another (…) surrealist bust by Anna Hulacova.

A different kind of surrealism from Martin Hrbek.

Last but definitely not least: A large immersive installation by Michaela Munzarova and Marcel Rozhon. Munzarova seemed to be more a sculptor, responsible for the tree-dimensional works in the installation. Rozhon seemed to be more of a graphic artist, responsible for large size prints. The artists made really a great effort to not just install their works, but to transform the whole space assigned to them into an otherworldly experience. Something between a spa, a swimming pool and a club lounge. It immediately created a feeling of pleasant relaxation. It was inviting. Those who accepted the invitation could dive deeper and explore small details or background meanings encoded in the works. And the great light design. One part of the installation was also invaded by David Helan (poems written on white tiles that were part of the original architecture of the space.

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