Thursday, February 16, 2012

Art Review: Critics' Award at Gallery of Art Critics

Fifth annual Critics' Award has theme of 'expanded painting'

Art Review: Critics' Award at Gallery of Art Critics
Vytiska's A Burning Home is Warm is one of the show's more traditional paintings.
Half a decade ago, the Czech art scene saw a sudden proliferation of young artists' prizes. In addition to the Jindřich Chalupecký Award for artists under 35, established in 1990, the National Gallery jumped in five years ago with the NG 333 Award for under-33s, and that same year the Association of Czech Art Critics founded the Critics' Award for Painting, which recognizes the upcoming generation of painters under 30.
An exhibition of the eight finalists for this year's Critics' Award is now at the Gallery of Art Critics (Galerie Kritiků). Josef Achrer (born in 1982) won this year's award, but there was plenty of acknowledgment to go around, as there was also a two-way tie for second place, a third-place award and a Viewers' Choice Award. Additionally, Czech Centers will offer one artist an exhibition abroad.
This year's theme was "Expanded Painting," which has also been the major theme at every Prague Biennial so far. What does this mean? Essentially, it extends the medium beyond the classical borders of pigment applied with a brush to a rectangular surface that is displayed on a wall. Traditional painting didn't include three-dimensionality, movement, and so on.
Among these eight artists, we see, for example, how installation can explore some of the same areas as painting traditionally does, such as composition, color and space. The spectrum of "expanded painting" is quite broad.
Critics' Award
at Gallery of Art Critics (Galerie Kritiků) Ends Feb. 26. Jungmannova 31 (in Palác Adria), Prague 1-New Town. Open Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

As long as there is at least something painterly in it, "expanded painting" might be a three-dimensional canvas whose materiality connects painterly space and architectural space; it can be mainly drawing, or installations combining painting and objects, or cut-out paper silhouettes collaged, or mixed-media objects shaped like canvases.
Paradoxically, the winner of the 2012 Critics' Award is showing canvases that at least on the surface resemble traditional paintings. Two of Achrer's three canvases here are strongly reminiscent of traditional Chinese landscape painting. A sparsely painted mountain landscape breaks apart into pixels when viewed at close range, while another one, with white paths leading through a murky gray landscape, takes on the appearance of a lithograph when viewed from a distance. His third painting is a paean to Modernism's love of geometry and primary colors.
Achrer was a founding member of the art group Obr. (an abbreviation for obraz, or painting, and also meaning giant) with another of this year's finalists, Martin Krajc (b. 1984) - who placed third in the competition. Krajc's most attention-grabbing piece in the show, Every Sunday Morning I Like Milk for Breakfast, features a sculptural white spiral that seemingly originates outside the space of the canvas and whose dynamic is rushing toward the canvas, where it splashes over the face of a realistically rendered female figure. The two-dimensional surface is broken into Mondrian-like rectangles with yellow and orange lines. His second piece, an abstract painted in primary and secondary colors, is painterly and expressive. Krajc is now having his first solo show in Prague at Galerie Via Art.
Placing second were two artists in a tie: Kamila Rýparová (b. 1987) and Tomáš Bárta (who was born in 1982 and also currently has a solo show in Prague, at the Chodov Fort Gallery). Rýparová presents a new perspective on the humble domestic interior with an installation combining monochromatic room interiors and objects. The paintings blend rigid geometry and a smudgy gray surface - as if soot and hazy light were simultaneously streaming into the rooms through the windows. Nearby the paintings are small furnishings, books covered in wax and a column of gold-rimmed porcelain dishes.
In Bárta's group of five untitled works on paper, painting seems secondary to drawing. There is no lack of color, but the painting takes a back seat to the drawing, which he leaves in places without any overpainting. The drawings are a riot of spontaneous geometry while playing with illusional and negative space.
The Viewers' Choice award went to Dana Sahánková (b. 1984). Her diptych made with ink and brush on canvas is a studio interior crawling with cats. In fact, the entire scene seems to have sprouted fur, from the shelves and tables to the floor. In places she leaves pencil drawing unadorned, which creates a contrast between the immediacy of her drawing and the skilled and painstaking brushwork.
Five out of eight finalists are formally recognized as prize-winners, but the other young artists - Svetlana Fialová (b. 1985), Patrik Kriššák (b. 1986) and Jan Vytiska (b. 1985) - are also names to watch.
The Critics' Award annually affirms that painting - so many times declared dead - continues to be a lively form of communication in Czech art, especially in the zone where painting meets other media.


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