08.10.2020 - 10.04.2021
Fait Gallery, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Curator: Denisa Kujelová
Special opening day: October 8, 4 pm–9 pm
Jiří Kovanda’s work is typified by several trademark aspects which manifest themselves continuously, from early actions and installations through postmodern drawings and paintings, collages, assemblages and objects of the 1990s to the current interventions, installations and performances: inconspicuousness, efforts at contact, humbleness, simplicity, spontaneity, sensitivity, humour and manipulation with ego.
The austere rendering of low-key, almost indiscernible installations and interventions is already apparent in Kovanda’s early actions in which he examined the most elementary possibilities of nonverbal communication. Back in the 1970s, the philosopher and art theorist Petr Rezek pointed out an interesting fact, saying that Kovanda’s actions signified, above all, a desire for contact. At the same time, they are set not to be fulfilled: they were often conceived so that they forced the artist to work with his natural shyness and to go beyond this mental barrier. The participants were placed in unknown situations outside the framework of art, or situations which through their non-diversion from normal behaviour remained invisible for viewers, and were only made visible by their subsequent documentation by means of photography and presentations in gallery contexts.
Photodocumentation was crucial in the next phase of Kovanda’s work in which his physical presence was gradually replaced by mere records of his activity. With installations intervening in private and public environments without the presence of viewers, photography presented the only possibility of recording the artist’s traces in the form of various objects of daily use and trivial materials installed completely inconspicuously in different places, both outdoors and indoors, also regarding the indiscernibility and ephemerality of these interventions. The artist already articulated his completely natural strategy of creating an unexpected context for an object and leaving a trace of his activity in his early works such as fallen leaves stuck to the ground with a sellotape, wooden wedges inserted between cobblestones and a pile of pine needles and nails in the forest, or interventions in interiors, for example, a flower pot hidden behind a pillar, a string tied around the same pillar two months later and a white string stretched across a room in Kovanda’s home.
Kovanda’s actions frequently involved banal situations, ordinary activities and mundane tasks that we do automatically, yet acted out in a shifted context. Likewise, in his installations and interventions the artist shifts ordinary, routinely used objects to a completely new, unexpected level by removing them from their original situation and taking away their primary utility function. Thanks to his work in the National Gallery depository Jiří Kovanda first started to use in his installations material related to installation practice in the everyday gallery run, for example strings, paper, glass and wooden wedges. He also employs things of daily use and household objects including foods in his current installations and interventions, along with objects typical of a particular place. Through them he makes a space more visible and defines its individual parts, and thus also slightly manipulatively determines how a particular space and its layout is perceived by viewers and sets a new manner of movement in this space. Jiří Kovanda’s installations are not rooted in an idea of a certain place suitable for or adjustable to a particular work; instead, he executes an idea and the preparation of a situation which is to make up the base of a new project, or of the employment of some of his older works, directly on the spot. This is also the case with the central installation Gold Ring which, perhaps most of all the works on display, prompts a reflection of values, in a metaphorical comparison of a string and a ring, an ordinary thing and an exceptional object. Everything has the same value, all depends on context and interpretation.
 It was a provisional gallery space in Provaznická Street. The basement room of the Odeon publishers where Jan Mlčoch worked from 1978 was originally designed as an archive, and until Mlčoch’s resignation in 1980 was used by three Prague body artists (Karel Miler, Petr Štembera and Jan Mlčoch) as a meeting place. They staged there their own performances as well as those by their close friends, including Jiří Kovanda.
 In this respect, a key role in Kovanda’s art was played by Marcel Duchamp’s exhibition in the Václav Špála Gallery in 1969, prepared by the chief curator Jindřich Chalupecký in collaboration with the Milan art collector, gallery owner and art theorist Arturo Schwarz.
 In 1977 Karel Miler got Kovanda a job in the National Gallery in Prague; he was responsible for a depository housed in the Municipal Library. Kovanda worked there until 1995 when he became an assistant professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, in a studio headed by Vladimír Skrepl.
 Not surprisingly, the artist’s installations tend to be confused with ordinary things accidentally left in a space, and as such must be carefully protected from the over-enthusiastic cleaning staff.
Fait Gallery MEM
Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Vernissage: 21.2.2018 at 7 pm
Curator: Jan Zálešák
“It’s a man’s world,” James Brown sang fifty years ago, a world of strong men who give and take, and to which the ultimate sense is only given by a woman’s love. I realise that I inadvertently experienced the slow decline of this world as a boy and later as a teenager when watching TV series with David Hasselhoff. Detective Michael Knight, the hero of the Knight Rider series, became Mitch Buchannon, a Baywatch lifeguard chief, self-confident on the beach but a failure at home. The truth is that the images of the crisis of the western man flashing between the slow-motion takes of luscious female lifeguards seemed as unreal to me in the post-socialist universe of the 1990s as KITT the talking car.
When discussing the exhibition with Peter Puklus and Radek Brousil, we didn’t talk about these TV series. However, I’m sure they had watched them as well, at least occasionally, and found in them the prefigurations of manhood that they were later forced to reassess and throw away, along with many other men who no longer feel part of the “man’s world”. I want to believe that this world is steadily declining, yet its images, perpetuated on and on, still dominate the imagination of most people. With this exhibition centred around counter-hegemonic images of manhood Brousil and Puklus enter an imaginary battlefield. Raising questions about the nature of the modern man, which is the leitmotiv of the show, is general on the one hand, while on the other it is anchored in the personal experience of the artists.
They were both born in 1980, and their work is rooted in the photographic medium, without being bound by conventions of what a photograph is and what it should look like. They learnt about each other through an artists’ residence centre in Banská Štiavnica, and a certain fascination with the similarity of their work – which at some moments had an air of them being each other’s creative double – has culminated in a joint exhibition in the Mem gallery. This, however, also brought to light distinct differences between the artists: while Radek Brousil seeks the most up-to-date language for his works, Péter Puklus has long focused on the fine-tuning of his own idiolect.
The exhibition entitled briefly Stupid can be viewed as a double introspection developed in a dialogue. Specific experience and attitudes, particular concerns, uncertainties and desires are transformed into symbolic contents that are more universal and leave space for an empathetic identification. In a divided world in which listening to others seems more difficult than flying to the Moon, the understanding born of empathy appears to be the highest purpose of art.