Czech Republic: Mirabilia in Czech Land

Contemporary Artists from Czech Republic

Mirabilia in Czech Land (2016) by Contemporary Artists from Czech RepublicImago Mundi

Mirabilia in Czech Land

The greeting in perfect Italian of the boy who appeared before me, in a street of Staré Město, is accompanied by a broad smile and a dramatic bow. “Are you Italian?” I ask him. “No, but I can speak ten languages,” he replies. Ten languages to offer “matryoshkas” that sometimes barely resemble a matryoshka since they can also take the form of the most famous footballers.

Pavel Šmíd - Stars, Pavel Šmíd, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Pavel Šmíd - Stars (2016)

This is Magic Prague: a shouting babel that bewilders as I try to fight my way among the crowds of tourists, the knick-knack sellers, touts outside restaurants, menu in hand, offering “rissoti alla milanese” and “spaghetti alla bolognese”; young black sailors, in white and blue uniforms, inviting visitors to take an unforgettable boat trip on the Vlatva river; vintage cars carrying around tourists in the grip of selfie mania. Along the road are a host of money change huts and Thai massage centres abound, all with tanks of hungry Garra Rufa at their entrance, awaiting clients in search of a fish pedicure to soak their feet; there is no shortage of signs that promise, in Italian, “fresh ice cream (sic!), homemade, delicious.” This is Magic Prague, turned into a Disneyland, more so than any other landmark city of Western Europe, including... Venice!

Ivana Štenclova - Descendant, Ivana Štenclova, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Ivana Štenclova - Descendant (2016)

It is hard not to be horrified. But if you make an effort to disengage and turn your eyes skywards, just above the human anthill lies the splendor, the elegance, the uniqueness of a city that seems born from the mind and hand of a brilliant artist.
So precious that it does not seem real and, at every glance, you fear it may dissolve.

Andrea Demek - Demarcation, Andrea Demek, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Andrea Demek - Demarcation (2016)

Traveling to Brno. The dense and fascinating Bohemian forest, is followed by the harmonious and welcoming Moravian countryside, with its cherry and apple trees laden with fruits on the roadside. The appointment with Jiří Štourač is in the modern Moravian Library in Brno: an interesting meeting with an artist whose paint- ing is inspired by Piero della Francesca and the twentieth-century trends related to the great Renaissance artist (New Figuration, Metaphysics, Magic Realism).

Martina Chloupa - Dreaming, Martina Chloupa, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Martina Chloupa - Dreaming (2016)

Before leaving Prague I meet Federico Diaz in his hyper technological stu- dio: for the creation of his interactive installations, alongside assistants in the flesh, he uses two robots: “outstretched hand of our senses”, as he calls them, “because they allow human capabilities to extend beyond the limits of the body”.

Marek Čihal - Polar bear with crown, Marek Čihal, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Marek Čihal - Polar bear with crown (2016)

I mention these two artists, without wishing to do an injustice to the many other noteworthy authors I met on my trip, as they represent two poles of Czech con- temporary art and through their language, reveal its richness.

Petr Chalabala - The morning sky, Petr Chalabala, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Petr Chalabala - The morning sky (2016)

If, on one hand, the strong connection to tradition, the influence of the his- torical avant-garde, of the conceptual trends of the second half of the 20th century, are clearly visible in contemporary Czech art, equally evident is an openness to the new techno-media systems, which for many artists have become the instrument par excellence for getting to grips with the changes and contradictions of Czech society.

František Matoušek - Fisherman, František Matoušek, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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František Matoušek - Fisherman (2016)

Prague has been, over the course of its history, one of the great centres of European culture, particularly since Rudolf II and his entourage of artists and scien- tists (but also charlatans, adventurers, mediums...) moved to the Bohemian city (1583). Thanks to the emperor’s passion for occult practices and art, the traditional magical characterization of the city and a taste for formal hybridizations that distinguished Bohemian art in the twentieth century emerged, earning it the reputation of a cen- tre of the avant-garge, although, more than other avant-garde places, it was strong- ly linked to the past. Angelo Maria Ripellino, in his famous book Magic Prague, focus- es on this extraordinary cultural originality which brings into the 20th century an edgy and gloomy Gothic and a sumptuous golden and black Baroque, weaving them with the new avant-garde from Paris, Berlin and Moscow. This original Czech art then en- counters Surrealism, of which Toyen is one of the leading figures, and continues on to the experiments of visual and concrete poetry by Jiří Kolář, Ladislav Novák and Edu- ard Ovčáček finding an exceptional protagonist in Václav Havel and his Anticodes.1

Pavel Hayek - Allspice, Pavel Hayek, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Pavel Hayek - Allspice (2016)

Monika Horčicová - Perplexity, Monika Horčicová, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Monika Horčicová - Perplexity (2016)

In the works for Imago Mundi, there is an extreme technical and linguistic versatility, a mixture and fusion of styles, whatever the content or the type of inves- tigation: a legacy, almost, an inclination toward the hybrid buildup that belongs to the great Renaissance, Baroque and modern tradition (Rudolf II can be partially at- tributed with the first and most surprising Wunderkammer of art history).

Eduard Ovčáček - EM, Eduard Ovčáček, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Eduard Ovčáček - EM (2016)

There is a constant search for paradox, a frequent use of black humor, iro- ny, hyperbole: probably survival skills in the most gloomy periods of Czech history, of which, as is known, there have been many. It is, in my opinion, the memory of these periods that motivates the often apocalyptic – veiled or explicitly declared – vision that pervades the work of many Czech artists.

Pavel Pecina - Christmas scene, Pavel Pecina, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Pavel Pecina - Christmas scene (2016)

On the back of the entrenchment of the experiences of concrete, visual and sound poetry, some artists make extensive use of text and speech. An important role is played by music, almost in a Schopenhauerian manner, as a language to which all others tend. Many Czech artists are in fact also musicians, their work is set between sculpture and sound art, by creating sculptural sound objects, which give life to im- provisations, visual-sound installations, true concerts. As elsewhere in contemporary art, sociological investigation as a language of the work is clearly evident, as is an attention to nature, to landscape, achieved both accurately and academically, and through the use of new media.

Petr Johanus - Censorship, Petr Johanus, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Petr Johanus - Censorship (2016)

There is “a before and after the revolution” in the discourses of most of the artists involved. The Czech Republic is, in fact, the former Warsaw Pact country in which the dramatic events of 1989 assumed the appearance of a true revolution. The one-party state of the previous decades was followed by a clear break: the Charter 77 semi-clandestine opposition, headed by Václav Havel, took power, and the well- known dissident became President of Czechoslovakia. In this way, a level of radical- ism, unexpected just a few years earlier, materialized; the dream of the Prague Spring (1969), suppressed by Soviet intervention. Soon after the revolution, the secession of Slovakia led to the emergence of the Czech Republic. We are therefore in the pres- ence of an epochal schism that has taken the form of an historic and social divide. Czech contemporary art very clearly highlights that this divide was also aesthetic.

Liliana Malta Artist and Curator

Richard Maly - The world is zoo, Richard Maly, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Richard Maly - The world is zoo (2016)

Credits: Story

Art Direction, Photography and Production

Project Management
—La Biennale di Malindi Ltd.

—Liliana Malta

Project Coordinator
—Oriano Mabellini

—Barbara Liverotti

Editorial coordination
—Enrico Bossan

—Luciano Benetton
—Lenka Lindaurová
—Liliana Malta
—Giovanni Sciola

Editing and translation
—Emma Cole —Sara Favilla —Valentina Granzotto —Letizia Kostner —Chiara Longhi —Pietro Valdatta

Art Direction
—Marcello Piccinini (tribute to L. Sutnar)

—Liliana Malta (artists)
—Marco Zanin (artworks)

—Marco Pavan

—Jiří Černický (Dolby)

Special thanks to:
—Fondazione Sarenco
—Oksana Ignatush
—Radka Neumannová (Director of the Czech Centre in Italy)
—Veronika Řeháčková (Coordinator of Cultural Projects, Czech Centre Prague)
—Ondrej Stupal (Director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts Prague)
—Giovanni Sciola (Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Prague)
—Jitka Michalčíková (Secretary of the Italian Cultural Institute in Prague)
—Lenka Lindaurová
—Pavel Zurav (Peron Gallery)
—Lucie Crocro
—Michal Bouzek
—Irena Jůzová
—Anna Tereza Vogeltanz
—Ivana Štenclová
—Jan Karpíšek
—Eva Spěváčková
—Jan Spěváček
—Eleonora Iori Salaroli
—Francesca Tirabassi

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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