Jiří Kovanda

Ten Minutes Earlier

Karel Adamus

Minimal Metaphors

Tomáš Absolon


Jiří Kovanda / Ten Minutes Earlier

08.10.2020 - 17.04.2021

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[1], 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.[2] Thanks to his work in the National Gallery depository[3] 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[4]. 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. 


A virtual tour of Jiří Kovanda's exhibition - Ten minutes earlier can be found here.

[1] 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. 

[2] 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. 

[3] 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.

[4] 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.


Karel Adamus / Minimal Metaphors


Fait Gallery, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno

Curator: Denisa Kujelová

Special opening day: October 8, 4 pm–9 pm


The conceptual approach first came to the fore in the work of Karel Adamus in 1974, in an extensive cycle entitled Minimal Metaphors exploring the relations between verbal or visual elements and their subsequent reassessed meaning in the title. The artist developed this distinctive type of conceptual poetry from 1976 onwards in the Copies series in which he, apart from a play with the terms “original” and “copy,” also articulated or modified the meaning of the original work by means of watercolour and drawing. 


The theme of Minimal Metaphors created on the common A4 format is the relationship between a typewritten title and a subject of a poem, expressed with the use of a typewriter and a minimalist drawing, an assemblage or the colour and material properties of paper. Verbal metaphors are the most plentifully represented in this impressive cycle; their material is words where the semantic nature is born by both the signifier and the signified. The relationship between these two components produces a metaphor, i.e. a relationship on the basis of an analogy which the artist presents to the recipient on whose active collaboration strong emphasis is laid in the final execution of the work. The majority of these verbal metaphors go back to the aesthetics of typewritten letters that the artist used in his previous prolific phase of visual poetry, and are thus exclusively executed in typewritten form. However, there are also several poems working with a handwritten text, the stamping technique close to stamp art, poems-drawings and drawings working with “zero experience” in a maximum reduction of the elements employed. 

In the following Copies series closely linked with Minimal Metaphors, and sometimes even formally attached to it, the relationship between the title and the subject of a poem, between the signifying component and the signified component, be it a text or a picture, a key element of this part of Adamus’s oeuvre, is accentuated even more. However, to get a full picture, it is also necessary to study other aspects of the work. While the Minimal Metaphors series is limited, with a few exceptions, to the ordinary A4 format, with Copies the format was enlarged in an equal proportion in order to demonstrate the size of the originals. 

Subject Poems and Poems – Objects are also based on preset and consciously created associative links, inducing in the viewer a transfer of meaning expected by the artist. The meaning is often anchored in the title which makes up an integral part of the work and leads the observer in a direction set by the artist. In view of this, the frequently voiced connection with ready made art appears incorrect. 

Adamus’s art characterised by concentrated communication with minimalized visual expression and work with actually non-artistic means is in this case not a purely intellectual construct on a rational base; nonetheless, its main subject is lyrical stimuli rooted in his inherently poetic nature. This is also illustrated by the fact that Adamus consistently refers to his works including objects as poems. Karel Adamus as a visual poetry artist was introduced to the general public in the early 1970s by the art theorist and artist Jiří Valoch on whose essays this text is based. Valoch also included Adamus in the so-called Brno Circle, along with other artists working on the periphery of the art scene. The main feature shared by these artists was the conceptualization of art, the accent on visual and experimental poetry and the processuality of their work. 

The process character of drawing started to manifest itself in Adamus’s art in 1980 in the Flosages cycle. Although chronologically they rank with Minimal Metaphors and to a large extent are also metaphorical, these works can’t be classified with Minimal Metaphors due to their completely different structure and point of departure. The Flosages series consists of sequences of mostly connected lines which are of different thickness but are always in monochrome black pencil of different hardness, or an ink felt-tip pen. They always culminate in one line in colour, and there exist different time intervals between the drawings of the individual black lines (weeks, months but also years). The closing of the growth process with a colour line which gave the cycle its name symbolizes flower (flos in Latin). Despite the fact that Flosages have different shapes, they typically show a repeatedly connected line the phases of which take place in different time periods, and many of them are frozen in the process of growth, awaiting the next phase or the final stage - flower.


Lucie Rohanová. Soupis autorského archivu a analýza díla. Brno 2012. Magisterská práce. Fakulta výtvarných umění VUT v Brně.
Jiří Valoch. Karel Adamus. Brno: Student klub, 1978. (kat. výst.)
Jiří Valoch. Karel Adamus – Vizuální poezie: kresby, koláže, objekty. Opava: Klub mladých MDKPB, 1988. (kat. výst.)
Jiří Valoch. Karel Adamus / objekty a kresby. Brno: Galerie Jaroslav Krále, 1994. (kat. výst.)
Jiří Valoch. Karel Adamus – Vizuální poezie. Český Těšín: Kulturní a společenské středisko Střelnice, 2000. (kat. výst.)
Jiří Valoch. Karel Adamus – Vizuální poezie. Opava: Dům umění v Opavě, 2002. (kat. výst.)

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