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.
Fait Gallery, Ve Vaňkovce 2, Brno
Opening: 27 March 2019 at 7pm
Curator: Denisa Kujelová
The presentation of artists of several generations and diverse artistic approaches is always an opportunity to revise established categories and the vocabulary of practice tested by history. The relations between the works from the most extensive selection from the Fait Gallery collection so far are thus showed in regard to the relative borders of defining terms, the works of art and the viewer. Although the attitudes of the individual artists differ at many levels, in most cases they share the reduction of shapes and their fragmentarization, the incorporation of letters and signs into visual compositions and experimental work, and the conceptual precision of ideas.
Owing to the extent of the collection, and despite the generous space, the selected works naturally make only a sample, not a comprehensive one but one that demonstrates its direction. The chosen categories of subjects, the borders of which are blurred with many of the pieces by their blending, serve to link the Czech avant-garde, Czechoslovak art of the second half of the 20th century and their reverberations in contemporary art. A major part of the exhibition is devoted to artists whose work features collage, assemblage and installation, or whose output often manifests the principle of layering and assembling different fragments, symbols and letters. The majority of the artworks thus employ the strategies of repetition, juxtaposition and dislocation of the original shapes and signs.
The shifting of objects or texts from one context to another generating new meanings is one of the defining characteristics of modernism and a procedure which was formerly only employed in art. At present, however, it is a process that has become a determining principle affecting social and cultural life, as well as man as an individual, his identity and personal integrity. Creative procedures of fragmentarization and appropriation have given art a great deal of freedom, which is also why collage and the use of graphemes have counted among the most distinct techniques and means of expression in art since the early 20th century until now, especially for their ability to find connections faster and more spontaneously through the use of reduction and paradox.
The discovery of the possibilities of fragment both in image and typography and its ability to produce metaphors endowed modern art with new possibilities of hidden creative potential such as work with coincidence in dadaism, automatism and free associations insurrealism. Typography only entered visual art in the early 20th century, first in the form of the use of fragments of letters in cubism, later in futurism, dadaism, constructivism, surrealism, lettrism, abstract expressionism, pop art and conceptual art, and it finally became a natural artistic means.
Although the typewriter started to be used in typographic experiments with language as early as the 1920s, it was not fully used until the 1950s and 1960s during a worldwide wave of experimental poetry. Word ceased to be a semantic unit, being replaced by any sign on the keyboard including punctuation and diacritics. In contrast to the avant-garde and post-war neo-avant-garde tendencies, experimental poetry of the 1960s and conceptual tendencies were inspired by the linguistic system and the attribution of new semantic properties to grapheme. Conceptual poetry was in the Czechoslovak milieu enriched by further possibilities of the semiotic play with letters, and several artists developed in parallel the concepts of tautology, semantic shifts, associative links and complications, repetitive monotonous texts and semantic drawings.
In general terms, the discovery of fragmentarization opened new possibilities in work with symbols, archetypes and cultural stereotypes, and created a template for the redefinition of the existing constructs and the evolution of new approaches defying the previous ones. This possibility also points out the link between works on different levels, despite the fact that the artists represented approach all these creative strategies from different perspectives and with different motivation. The displayed works present the principle of collage, the use of letters, abstraction and reduction not only as means for the search of autonomous artistic form, often with apparent modernist morphology, and a point of departure rich in associations, but also as an element critically related through its essence to various manners of the isolation and separation of individual segments from a whole. Reflecting the origin of visual, verbal, and acoustic entities, the current selection aims at their reconstruction, thus closing a circle of subjects typified by their validity in the history of art and by a universal value in its introspective role.