|Dum Umeni/ House of Contemporary Art, Brno|
So in the past week I've been in Moravia and Silesia in the Czech Republic, staying with old friends. My base has been Brno, the capital of Moravia and the second largest city in the country. Brno is like many larger towns here; a city centre where the Hapsburg architectural influence is still very strong, which quickly gives way to inter war housing on the outskirts of the city centre, then a random jumble of Communist-era sprawl, in various states of use and disuse.
At the bottom of the hill where my friends stay, there is a gargantuan four story factory, which has lain empty for as long as anyone can remember; the windows are panned in and there seems a fair amount of smokestack industry detritus lying about inside. However, this would make a truly phenomenal exhibition and artists studio space. It's hard to find out who owns it or what its status is; it would probably also take about 1.5 million euros to bring it up to a reasonable level of functionality again. Sadly, my uninformed suspicion is that the old place is being allowed to fall down, so that one day it can be dynamited and replaced by a more modern block of flats.
|Pavla Scerankova installation at Raum : Selbst|
Moving quickly away from idle daydreaming with non-existant huge sums of money, I've seen some art here. The most impressive showing was in Brno at the Gallery of Contemporary Art ( Dum Umeni). Here, a young Berlin curator called Fredereike Hauffe has pulled together nine youngish artists from Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in a show entitled Raum: Selbst (Space : Self). The themes include how a room operates, innovative use of space, and the relationship between an individual and their personal surroundings. There were a number of particularly exciting results, most notably from the quirky imagination of Pavla Scerankova, from Kosice in Slovakia. Scerankova, amngst other things, produced an extraordinary piece featuring an old mass-produced Comminust era desk, half a dozen fishing rods, and a weighted down sheet; producing a perfect sense of balance and harmony from these distinctly unpromising ingredients. The fishing rods were as taught and elegant as the strings in a Naum Gabo.
Berlin-based Markus Weiss also stood out with his paintings of curtains. He paints in microscopic detail and exploits the natural linear folds of the fabric, producing a real sense of dislocation in the otherwise pristine white cube space. Weiss' was perhaps the most subtle intervention in a show crackling with energy and enthusiasm; a real pleasure, this. The Raum: Selbst project is meant to be ongoing and to tour a number of different venues, so it will be worth keeping an eye on.
I'd been to the Moravian Gallery in Husova Street on a previous visit. It is a major collection of art and historical objects spread over five buildings; elsewhere, they have a very good Rubens, as well as a large collection of Czech art from earlier centuries. I confined myself to the modern gallery, however. On the ground floor, there is a very large installation show by the well travelled Milena Dopitova. Dopitova is a well known artist in the Czech Republic and teaches at the art school in Plzen, as well as maintaining a significant international practice, both in Europe and the US. However, this show fell well short of the mark for me. It extended over ten rooms, when three would seem to have been adequate; the pieces were over-resolved, and given trite titles that caused more than the occasional internal groan. Dopitova modestly set herself the task of conveying the full spectrum of human emotions in their totality, and whilst some pieces such as I Think I'll Stay A While Longer, featuring draped furniture, were quite interesting, the majority seemed to bear little relation to the subject announced in the title, in the same way that a Big Mac bears little relation to actual nourishment.
|Emil Filla, Still Life with Fruit, Bottle and Cup of Oil|
|A Communist took a dump in the Habsburg graveyard. Random brutalist "Billa" shopping centres are a common sight.|
|Paintings on steel by Marek Sibirsky|
|...and the pile that inspired them|
It's been a quiet couple of days before I move on from here. The Czech Republic is changing exponentially every time I come here. When I first visited in 2007, old Skodas, Trabants and Wartburgs were still a common sight; now they have all but disappeared, to be replaced by gleaming new Octavias. Companies like PWC and KPMG have moved into Ostrava, a proposition that would have seemed frankly insane four years ago. There is a slowly developing affluent change here, and a sense of general easy well-being; nothing ostentatious as in Swtizerland or Austria, but it's there nonetheless.
With an art school, a good cultural life, pals, and a varied list of things to do, Brno is looking like a quite likely destination for me once this big trip has come to an end. I'd had it in the back of my mind for a while, but it seems all a bit more likely after this enjoyable week. Vienna, Bratislava, Prague are a mere two hours away if one gets bored; Leipzig and Dresden only a little bit further away. We'll see.
Tomorrow I bid farewell- for now- to the Czech Republic, and head for a couple of days in Bratislava. After that, I'm having a day in Klagenfurt, in Austria, to see the Contemporary Art museum there, and also the home of Robert Musil, one of my personal literary favourites. And who knows, maybe Trieste for the weekend? After that, next week will see the beginning of the long descent into Macedonia, the end of the holiday phase of this trip, and the beginning of my work here.