Chalupecky in the World

What is the meaning of art? Does this meaning change when we cross state borders or political systems? What happens if art exceeds its own definitions? An international online symposium with the title Chalupecky in the world was aiming to answer these questions. It took place on Friday November 27, 2020 in the Moravian Gallery in Brno and it was examining the work of Jindřich Chalupecký (1910-1990) in an international context, and challenging his work with that of similar personalities working in Central Europe during the same era.
The symposium was part of the long-term project The World of Jindřich Chalupecký, in which the Jindřich Chalupecký Society is engaged in researching, completing the store of archival materials, and curatorial and theoretical work connected to the prominent Czech theorist and curator Jindřich Chalupecký.

01 Tomáš Pospiszyl: Jindřich Chalupecký in the duality of his home and international interests

Jindřich Chalupecký (1910–1990) is considered one of the key figures of Czech art of the second half of the 20th century. As a theoretician he asked new questions about the essence of art, aspired to become the spokesperson of his and the upcoming generation; in favourable times he organised exhibitions and other art-related events. Chalupecký has become a respected interpreter of Czech art, formulated its specificities and values, told its story convincingly. Despite having limited opportunities of public engagement at certain times, his influence kept growing. To what extent has Chalupecký’s international activity helped him to reach the position of an unquestioned authority on Czech fine arts? What was the shape of his network of international contacts and how did he use it? And last but not least: did he succeed to mediate the story of Czech art on global level?

Tomáš Pospiszyl is a Czech art historian, curator and educator. He has researched art of the 20th and 21st century. He is interested in relations between Western art and art in Eastern Europe, as well as relations between high and popular culture. He has published articles on so called official art in socialist Czechoslovakia, and collection of his essays An Associative Art History (JRP Ringier & Les Presses du Réel, 2017). He is a head of the Department of Theory and History of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.

02 Ieva Astahovska: Valdis Āboliņš and his creative legacy in context of cultural relations between West and East during Cold War period

“The greatest happening, the richest décollage, the most active action is life,” in the manifesto of Fluxus Festival of New Art in 1964 wrote Valdis Āboliņš (1939–1983) Latvian-born curator and mail-art artist who lived all his life in West Germany and shook the perceptions about creativity and the role of art and culture, and their entanglements with political reality during Cold War period. He was driven by an idealistic desire to change political reality through culture, and the Prague Spring for him was the moment when, combining his Western leftist ideas and his Latvian exile identity, he actively engaged and steered the cultural relations and exchanges between the West and Latvia.
In the symposium that reflects on the legacy of Jindřich Chalupecký and aims to widen perspective towards other personalities in Eastern European art who had similar impact on the art scenes, the context of Valdis Āboliņš’ work and legacy may seem radically different. Yet it brings in the understanding how complex and diverse were the artistic and cultural scenes and their strategies in the Central- and Eastern European countries during the years of the Cold War. Āboliņš was not an art critic, although he has written a lot. He had published only a few reviews in the printed press, though his most relevant writings were his mailart and letters that in 2019 were collected and published in a comprehensive volume. These letters no only introduce to his intellectual legacy but also to his role in stimulating events, processes and a flow and exchange of information in the Cold War era and in tying together the separated narratives of the Western and Eastern blocs. His archive offers one a chance to see the Cold War era life not only in confrontations but also in relationships and contacts.

Ieva Astahovska is an art scholar, critic and curator. She works at the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, where she leads research projects related to modern and contemporary art from the socialist period, and her long-term interest is in issues of post-socialist and East European contexts. Her recent projects among others include the West-East relations during Cold War period through the life and work of exile Latvian curator Valdis Āboliņš (1939-1984), anthology “NSRD. Juris Boiko and Hardijs Lediņš” (2016), exhibitions “Archaeology of Kinetics” by the artist Valdis Celms and restorer Ieva Alksne (2016), “Visionary Structures. From Johansons to Johansons” in Brussels (2015) and Riga (2014) and the research project and essay collection “Recuperating the Invisible Past” (2010–2012).

03 Magdalena Ziolkowska: “Perhaps, even today, we do not deal with art”. On Jerzy Ludwiński’s philosophy of art.

„Perhaps, even today, we do not deal with art. We might have overlooked the moment when it transformed itself into something else, something which we cannot yet name. It is certain, however, that what we deal with offers greater possibilities“– wrote Jerzy Ludwiński in his essay Art in the Post-Artistic Era in 1970. This quite provocative sentence dated for more than 40 years ago, I would like to read as a futuristic harbinger for various models of art institutions that have been declaring their involvement in important present-day issues. Looking for the exhibiting strategies and practices of Jerzy Ludwiński (1930–2000) introduced in his theoretical concepts of Museum of Current Art (1966), Gallery of the Mona Lisa (since 1967) and Centre for Artistic Research (1970), I would like to draw trajectories between the historical reforms and formats that existed within the institutional field from late 1960s when artists started to use new materials, technologies and reshaped the meaning of the artwork, and Ludwiński’s interest for calling for new categories and notions based on the continuous artistic process, also including movements and activities from beyond the immediate field of art.

Magdalena Ziółkowska holds a PhD in art history, graduate of the Curatorial Training Programme at de appel arts centre in Amsterdam (2006–07). From 2006 to 2010, she was a guest curator at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, where she curated: Notes From the Future of Art: Selected Writings of Jerzy Ludwiński (2007) and Andrzej Wróblewski: To the Margins and Back (2010). She worked at Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź from 2008 to 2014, where she organised projects including Art Always Has Its Consequences (2008–10), Working Title: Archive (2008–2009), Sanja Iveković: Practice Makes the Master (2009), Eyes Looking for a Head to Inhabit (co-curator, 2011), and Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin: Incidents, Events, Circumstances, Accidents, Situations (co-curator, 2013–14) among others. Since 2012, she has been a co-founder and vice president of the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation. She co-curated Andrzej Wróblewski: Constantly Looking Ahead (National Museum, Krakow, 2012–13) and co-wrote of artist’s monograph, Avoiding Intermediary States: Andrzej Wróblewski (1927–1957) (2014). In 2015–18, she was director of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art in Krakow, where she curated Ines Doujak: Masterless Voices (2017), among other projects.
Her most recent projects include the exhibition Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room at the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana (15.10.2020 – 10.01.2021) accompanied with a publication. She is also z contributor to Artforum magazine, and currently appointed a chief of the Textile Art Department at the Central Museum of Textiles in Lodz.

04 Zuzana Wagner: Chalupecky and his activities in Italy

In the 1960s, art and literary theoretician Jindřich Chalupecký (Prague, 1910–1990) met Arturo Schwarz, Italian writer, gallerist and collector of Marcel Duchamp. They started a regular correspondence that lasted until Chalupecký’s death. The most interesting part of their letters is that from years 1968–1974 when they decided to co-organize Czech-Italian exhibitions and publish catalogues. J. Chalupecký worked as a director of the Václav Špála Gallery in Prague and in 1968 began organising an exhibition by Enrico Baje and Marcel Duchamp, made possible thanks to the loan of a part of Scharz’s private collection. This collaboration resulted in an invitation for four Czech artists, Jiří Balcar, František Janoušek, Jiří Kolář and Ladislav Novák, to exhibit their works in Arturo Schwarz’s gallery in Milan. Back then Chalupecký also corresponded with art historian Carlo Giulio Argano and Palma Bucarelli, director of the National Museum of Modern Art in Rome. With their help he opened a retrospective Contemporary Art in Czechoslovakia in Rome in 1969.
Chalupecký’s correspondence describes how complicated its organisation was and the conditions in which exhibitions in important galleries were organised, as well as the cultural and political situation in the turning years of 1968 and 1969. He thus testifies not only about the development of Prague Spring events that helped to enlarge the network of contacts between Czech and Italian artists and critics, but also about how fast normalization changed the setting and reduced international art events. Following the Soviet invasion to Czechoslovakia, Chalupecký continued writing letters and described the difficult political situation in magazines. Arturo Schwarz reacted by publishing Chalupecký’s articles on Czech art and society in Italy.
Another sharp critic of this period was Arsén Pohribný (Prešov, 1928 – Darmstadt, 2012), one of the founders of the Klub konkretistů KK (1967–1971). Pohribný sojourned regularly in Italy where he succeeded in organising several exhibitions presenting Czech artists, including the Concretists, and wrote articles on Czech art for the NAC magazine. The importance of Chalupecký and Pohribný’s role in Czechoslovakia was placing the Czech art scene in the wider European context by means of exhibitions and comparisons with artists from other countries.

Zuzana Wagner, formerly Horvatovičová, studied art history in Rome (La Sapienza University), where she worked with the Czech Center as a curator. She completed her doctoral studies in Prague at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University (ÚDU FF UK, 2016), collaborated on the Jiří Hůla abART database at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art, then began organizing Italian-Czech exhibitions and teaching as an external lecturer: history of Italian art, later Italian language for art historians at Masaryk University in Brno (ÚRJL FF MU and SDU FF MU) and museology at the Art & Design Institute ADI in Prague. Since 2020, she has joined the National Gallery in Prague as a curator of the collection of modern and contemporary art.

05 Tomáš Glanc: Chalupecký’s Russian Vector

In the second half of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s Chalupecký made several trips to the USSR visiting studios of local artists. These journeys initiated a creation of a network of relationship, personal and pen ones, as well as information acts and flows, and acts of interpretation and evaluation. Chalupecký eventually met over thirty artists with whom he was in touch over years, studied the relation of their practice to the international context of contemporary art, introduced them to their counterparts in Czechoslovakia, offered them his view of their work, and last but not least informed about their works via his publications in Czech and English. In many cases, this was the first reflection by international art critique describing the aesthetics of artists marginalised in the Soviet cultural space. These artists held exhibitions seldom only and worked beyond the scope of the state-run system of fine arts, at which some participated as children books illustrators, graphic designers etc. Not speaking Russian himself, Chalupecký used translators and interpreters and from a wider cultural-semiotic perspective his activities can be viewed as demonstrations of cultural translation and transfer, where sharp intuition, erudition and empathy are just as remarkable from today’s perspective as is the misunderstanding and use of exterior criteria that helped Chalupecký to fit those hard-to-grasp events into frames he knew from elsewhere. This paper describes some parts and issues of Chalupecký’s “Russian adventure”.

Tomáš Glanc, born in Prague, is a professor at Zurich University. Topics of his research include modern slavic literature, Russian culture, samizdat and unofficial media, Russian and Czech modernism, Slavic ideology, and contemporary Russian art and literature. He has organized numerous exhibitions of contemporary Russian art and 6 editions of the exhibition Poetry & Performance: The Eastern European Perspective (with Sabine Hänsgen). He has also been a visiting professor at Humboldt University, Berlin; visiting professor at Basel University; senior fellow at Bremen University; director of the Czech Cultural Center in Moscow; and director of the Institute of Slavic and East European Studies, Charles University, Prague.

06 Anežka Bartlová: Availability and Unsolved Problems of Art

Jindřich Chalupecký is usually considered one of the most important Czech art critics and curators, but it is not clear what does it mean to be an art critic in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.
In my paper I focus on a few characteristics Chalupecký himself proposes to art criticism while asking what is specific for his own writing? On one hand critique is to him a philosophical praxis; more specifically a connecting link between art and reality. The question which must follow is: which art and which reality concept is the one that counts for Chalupecký?
Beside that I will briefly discuss questions like: Which topics did he choose and what approach to the critical writing could we read between the lines?
Based on his own metacritical thoughts I will develop the comparison with texts he published in the fruitful period of the 1960s.

Anežka Bartlová (*1988) lives and works in Prague, gained Master degree on Charles University (Dept. of Art History) and Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague (Dept. Theory and History of Art), currently working on her PhD. at Dept of Art history and theory of Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Anežka Bartlová won Věra Jirousová Award for emerging art critics in 2014; she is an editor of handbook Manual of the monuments (2016) and art critic (Art Antiques, A2, FlashArt CZ/SK,, She worked as editorial staff in leading print Czech art magazine Art Antiques 06/2016–9/2019. She is an editor-in-chief of academic journal The Notebook for Art, Theory and Related Zones (VVP AVU). Anežka Bartlová is a member of solidary artistic platform for communication Spolek Skutek and an independent initiative Feminist (art) institution.

07 Credits

Symposium Concept: Tomáš Pospiszyl, Tereza Jindrová
Production: Sára Davidová
Project Partner: Moravian Gallery in Brno, Brno City Hall
The event is supported by the National Theater Brno and FFA BUT.
Illustration: Tereza Bartůňková