The series of exhibitions called Grey Brick was organized by the gallery U Bílého jednorožce (At the White Unicorn) in Klatovy in course of the years 1991 – 1994 when the gallery was run by Helena Hrdličková. The initial idea behind this project was to show the work of artists who were not allowed to display their work freely before 1989 or who belonged to the semi-official art scene. Shortly after the aim was to transform the exhibition into a representative show of contemporary art.
First, let us explain the interesting background of this event which began ten years before. The series of exhibitions in Klatovy was a follow-up to the black-and-white samizdat book published in 1987 (in preparation since about 1983) which included the work of artists of the older, middle and younger generation, most of them living in Prague – ranging from Václav Boštík to Margita Titlová Ylovsky. Contemporary artists were selected by an editorial board which consisted of active artists and the art historian Jiří Šetlík. The board was divided into two sections – one focused on sculpture (Hugo Demartini, Vladimír Janoušek, Jiří Šetlík) and the other on painting (Čestmír Kafka, Ivan Kafka, Vladimír Novák, Petr Pavlík); the layout was the work of Joska Skalník and Ivan Kafka. Seventy eight artists were introduced by a reproduction of their work and a short text. This team aimed at confronting the artists and creating a parallel to work of artists who could exhibit their work officially. However, there were different limiting factors. As Jiří Šetlík recalled later in the already legally published catalogue Grey Brick 78/1991 while aiming at „the most objective“ selection of artists the board had to take into account for example the artists´ traits of character – some artists were not included for instance because the editors of the book feared that they would let out the secret about the prepared book. The book was supposed to come out as „a private copy for private needs“ in concourse with the activities of the Jazz Section, however, the publishing was complicated by the imprisonment of Joska Skalník before the forthcoming trial with the Jazz Section. (The Jazz Section was a cultural group promoting independent music, art and literature, it balanced on the verge of legal and parallel culture and in 1986 its leaders were arrested and taken to court. For safety reasons Skalník was the only person who communicated with the printing works. Finally, they suceeded in publishing the book, which was called The Grey Brick due to its size, bad quality cheap paper and imperfect print.
A revised version, printed in colour, was published in 1991 as a catalogue of the exhibition The Grey Brick 78/1991. The exhibition was a success and a year later the gallery in Klatovy decided to continue. A jury of Czech and Slovak experts was established (Zuzana Bartošová, Josef Hlaváček, Vlasta Čiháková-Noshiro, Jana Ševčíková, Jiří Ševčík, Jiří Valoch), who were all one generation younger than those who prepared the first Grey Brick. The Grey Brick 35/1992 introduced works by 35 artists and became a survey of contemporary Czechoslovak art, which was displayed also in Senica and Košice. The next exhibition, The Grey Brick 34/1993, included works by 34 artists born between 1941 and 1964 chosen by the jury whose members were Jana Geržová, Mahulena Nešlehová and Petr Nedoma. This successful summer exhibition took place in the gallery U Bílého jednorožce (At the White Unicorn) in the square in Klatovy and also in the Chateau Klenová and its park. A subsequent show took place in Bratislava, Senica and Trnava. The last exhibition of this series was called The Grey Brick 66/1994 Exil and it broke the existing concept by focusing only on Czech artists in exile. This was an important initiative since the work of Czech artists in exile had not been shown before to such an extent. The members of the jury were Marcela Pánková, Jiří Šetlík and Jiří Valoch. This comprehensive exhibition was followed by a text by Marcela Pánková, based on extensive research and dealing with art in exile, entitled Zakázané umění II. (Forbidden Art II) (1996). Together with her first text Forbidden Art I (1995) it represented the first comprehensive overview of Czech art in the period of the so-called normalization (editors Marcela Pánková and Milena Slavická). However, the gallery in Klatovy ceased to continue organizing the „Grey Brick exhibitions“ and the state gallery in Zlín (today KGVU) took over and began exhibiting contemporary Czech art in 1996 by renewing art salons organized during the first republic by the Baťa company. The Klatovy initiative had an important impact since it aimed at showing the current state of art development not only in Bohemia but also in Slovakia and it took place outside renowned art centres.
We may get more detailed information about the exhibitions thanks to the quite unique intiative of the Jednorožec (Unicorn), Society of Friends of Fine Arts, in Klatovy who had all the events recorded on video by Ing. Miloš Svoboda. Digitalization from VHS VVP AVU.
Acknowledgements: Rudolf Samohejl and Edith Jeřábková
In the Window to the VVP AVU videoarchive programme the AVU Research Center in Prague (VVP AVU) in conjunction with Artyčok.tv regularly release works from the VVP AVU video archive. The selection for Artyčok.tv focuses on older works (materials from the end of the 20th century), works bordering on video art, film and documentation, or on purely documentary materials related to the recent development of Czech and Slovak visual art.
Exhibiting Artists see:
Grey Brick 34/1993