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, 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.
A virtual tour of Jiří Kovanda's exhibition - Ten minutes earlier can be found here.
 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.
Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
11. 10. 2017 - 13. 1. 2018
Opening: 11. 10. 2017 at 19:00
Curators: Beata Jablonská, Denisa Kujelová and Jana Písaříková
The arrival of conceptual art in the mid-1960s was associated with the shift of interest from aesthetic and material qualities of artworks towards personal, social, historical and often also theoreticizing contexts. In contrast to the art scene in the West, the conceptual approach of artists in Czechoslovakia was motivated by a more personal search for the essence of the relationship between artist and art, at the artistic level as well as the political-ethical, social or even ecological level. The turn towards conceptual art was thus not viewed as dematerialization and iconoclastic efforts but, rather, as a utopian escape from the official, state-controlled culture. It provided the artists with a free space which they worked with a wide range of media and subjects.
The exhibition “CS CONCEPTUAL ART OF THE 70s” charts the trends that were first distinctly employed in the art of ideas, records of projects and actions in the late 1960s and faded in the early 1980s. It presents different forms of conceptual work with drawing and photography, conceptual art exploring the relationship between type and image, and also futurological, action and environmental projects.
The exhibition observes, through its interconnected themes, the closeness of the Czech and Slovak art scenes that have been approached, since the breakup of Czechoslovakia, as two separate entities. The exhibition concept is rooted in a quest for their intersections and joint points of departure. Never in the history of Czech and Slovak art was the need for a mutual dialogue cultivated and developed as much as in the 1970s.
WORD AND SIGN AS A CONCEPTUAL MESSAGE
While concrete poetry of the 1960s reduced the semantic component of language to a minimum, the 1970s saw the return to its meaning. Words were placed in contrast with other types of communication in the form of pictograms, pictorial symbols and numerals, which resulted in a tension between different types of representations.
Graphic music with its formalized language came to the fore in the 1970s. Visual and acoustic art was produced both by musicians active in the field of new music and artists who observed the visual order and the semantic potential of musical scores.
GEOMETRY, ORDER AND ITS DISRUPTION
Under the influence of conceptual art, the geometry of the body, space, area and form grew more sensitive and started to involve aspects placed by the modernist order outside its boundaries. It became a platform for interventions challenging the distinctive nature of geometrical compositions, the relationship between order and randomness, while being enriched with a social, anthropological and political dimension.
ART AS A RECORD AND EXPERIENCE OF EXISTENCE, PERSONAL RITUALS, INTROSPECTION
Reflections of everyday activities and gestures, perception of their stereotypical nature and escape from it in the form of ritual and through the intense experience of one’s existence. Reflections of a person’s immediate surroundings and the passing of time.
REFERENCES TO THE RUSSIAN AVANT-GARDE, CONCEPTUALIZATION OF PAINTING, DRAWING AND POINT ZERO OF A PICTURE
Search for the point zero of a picture, a moment when the invisible becomes visible. The picture medium refers to itself, to its area, colour and matter. It makes its elementary properties present or, conversely, induces their gradual dematerialization. Frequent references to the black square, an important symbol of the Russian avant-garde, to the belief that the art experience leads to a more intense perception of reality.
PROJECTS, MANUALS, INSTRUCTIONS, OBSERVATIONS AND COSMOLOGY
The emancipation efforts of art in the sense of exploiting scientific and rational thinking are, to a certain degree, subversive as they apply a pseudo-scientific language even to the phenomena of a personal, spiritual and transcendental character. The artists were inspired and fascinated by scientific progress, by the language of natural sciences and statistics.
NATURE AS A MEDIUM, EXPLORATION OF THE LAWS OF PHYSICS, NATURE AND ZEN BUDDHISM, EPHEMERAL MATERIAL DEMONSTRATIONS, ENVIRONMENTAL SUBJECTS
The natural environment as a place where one can hide from the estranged and impersonal urban space, a territory beyond the state’s control, a place suitable for art activities. Many of them echoed ecological and ethical issues that were frequent subjects of unofficial discussions and meetings.
CARTOGRAPHY AS AN INSTRUMENT OF RECORDING A PERSONAL JOURNEY
Artists appropriated the rationalizing language of topographic drafts, plans and maps, and through them made visible phenomena and spatial relations that cannot otherwise be mediated to the human perception. They emphasise the objective and factual aspect of real phenomena; at the same time, they lend validity to those that have a utopian character.
In the 1970s, artists’ books became alternatives for gallery and exhibition rooms. With the post medium, they were among the key ways of mediating and distributing conceptual art. In addition, many artists pushed through their work the very limits of the definition of books. They created books-objects, accentuated the haptic qualities of paper and the principles of browsing, and made the reading process complicated. Conceptual art of the 1970s was often the subject of personal communication between the artist and the recipient, or a group of friends.
QUOTATIONS, INTERPRETATIONS, APPROPRIATIONS
Interest in the analysis of the art medium, its intellectual reflection. The hierarchy between original and copy was disrupted in favour of the concept of art as a changing structure open to interpretations. The majority of artworks produced as quotations are actually visual reflections on the functioning and continuity of art and its lasting values.
Artists represented at the exhibition: Milan Adamčiak, Karel Adamus, Vladimír Ambroz, Peter Bartoš, Juraj Bartusz, Ján Budaj, Pavel Büchler, Robert Cyprich, Hugo Demartini, Milan Dobeš, Ľubomír Ďurček, Rudolf Fila, Stano Filko, Daniel Fischer, Peter Graham, Milan Grygar, Sonny Halas, Olaf Hanel, Vladimír Havlík, Vladimír Havrilla, Pavel Holouš, Dalibor Chatrný, Jozef Jankovič, Ivan Kafka, Olga Karlíková, Michal Kern, Martin Klimeš, Svatopluk Klimeš, Milan Knížák, J. H. Kocman, Július Koller, Vladimír Kordoš, Inge Kosková, Jan Kotík, Jiří Kovanda, Milan Kozelka, Miloš Laky, Milan Lasota, Dáša Lasotová, Otis Laubert, Milan Maur, Juraj Meliš, Karel Miler, Jan Mlčoch, Alex Mlynárčik, Marian Mudroch, Eduard Ovčáček, Květa Pacovská, Marian Palla, Vladimír Popovič, Pavel Rudolf, Tomáš Ruller, Jan Ságl, Zorka Ságlová, Rudolf Sikora, Jan Steklík, Miloš Šejn, Petr Ševčík, Petr Štembera, Ivan Štěpán, Margita Titlová Ylovsky, Monogramista T.D/Dezider Tóth, Jiří Valoch, Jan Wojnar, Ján Zavarský, Jana Želibská