Exhibitions

The group exhibition entitled Figures and Prefigurations is structured in line with the spatial dispositions and institutional format available to City Gallery Prague.

On the institutional level, it aims at bringing together and elaborating the two major tendencies in art embraced by the gallery: namely, the reflection of Czech modern art, with an emphasis on its Avant-garde and neo-Avant-garde programmes, and the reflection of contemporary art production. On the plane of spatial arrangement, the show is designed with a view to making full use of the architectural disposition of the Municipal Library, with its floor plan divided into a series of exhibition halls and rooms destined for the display of prints. The exhibition is divided into various interconnected sections, with the exhibition halls serving for the display of works by contemporary international artists – Nairy Baghramian, Henrik Olesen, Florian Plumhösl, and Mathias Poledna – centered around the study of elements of modern art and design, and the print display rooms featuring examples of Modernist exhibition design, Surrealist typography, and Functionalist glassware.

Mathias Poledna (b. in Vienna, 1965, currently living in Los Angeles) styles his films in terms of an archaeological probe analysing fragments of art and entertainment industry. The starting point of Poledna´s 16mm film Double Old Fashion is a crystal glassware set designed by Adolf Loos and first manufactured in 1929 by the Viennese glassmakers L&J Lobmeyr. In it, Loos realized his philosophical ideas about the progress of culture, which he embedded into the simplicity and precision of the drinking glass set´s formal design. In the interplay between typological recording, detail shot, and shifting dramaturgy, this representation aims at a certain kind of choreography of objects which explores the boundaries and transitions between abstraction, historical documentation, and a hyperaesthetic mise-en-scène of a commercial product.

Florian Pumhösl (b. in Vienna, 1971) develops in his paintings on glass the reductive idiom of modern art. He began his series by finding continual variations of a single motif, using the object of a market barrow and its properties. Such a barrow is designed to be pulled by a single person and consists of a crate on an axle with handles, usually equipped with a metal brace to prevent it from tipping over. Those were also the only elements he used in his paintings: a barrow handle, its stand, and its gradient. Although not directly representational, the angles of the lines relate to variations in the barrow´s mechanics, i.e., of either being pulled, or being stationary. In the artist´s understanding, this involves a primeval capitalization of the human individual as a basic and unchanging mechanism.

Henrik Olesen (b. in Esbjerg, Denmark, 1967, currently living in Berlin) deals in his collages and installations with aspects of power implicit in the structuring of corporeality. For the current exhibition, he created an installation which continues this line of critique, examining the notion of a “body in pieces”, i.e., a body which mirrors the fragmentation of reality. The artist tries to build narrative links between images that are not explicitly related, and to open up conversations between images that are alienating, and the actual human body which is dissected into pieces. The ego is thus always an inauthentic agent functioning to conceal a disturbing lack of unity.

Nairy Baghramian (b. in Isfahan, Iran, 1971, currently living in Berlin) has centered her sculptural output around the political implications of interior design and architecture. In her installation entitled Fluffing the Pillows, she abstracts materials and forms derived from utilitarian and maritime objects, bringing out of their combination formal and creative processes that define the notions of the “sculptural.” The installation is centered around groups of forms, including silos, gurneys, and moorings, each of which is installed so as to communicate in its own way with the gallery´s architecture. The artist brings these forms (along with their complex contextual associations – to boating and yachting, trade and cargo transportation, industrial production, services, and dockyard activities) into the gallery space as means of examining gender notions associated with industrial labour and crafts.

As each of these artists manifests a keen interest in scholarly, investigative approaches to work, coupled with equal interest in the format of exhibition as an art medium, their works can be regarded as sharing a prefiguration in a uniquely preserved Modernist exhibition designed by Ladislav Sutnar, dating from 1934, which has come to serve as a key element of the present show, along with collages of Jindřich Štyrský and illustrations by Toyen, both of which share with the contemporary artists´ output a primary concern with the structure of corporeality; and in juxtaposition with a drinking set designed by Adolf Loos, a prefiguration in its own right of the reductionist tendencies in contemporary art.

On the whole thus, the current exhibition aims at setting up a purposefully designed space within whose limits one is invited to pose questions about relations between seemingly incompatible art works, as well as about the role played by art in the past and present, but also about its prospective future impact.

Karel Císař

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