Though throughout the 20th century Czech art often faced censorship and as such was not given the international stage it deserved, the new wave of contemporary Czech artists are proving their worth and gaining global recognition. From the controversial creations of renowned sculptor David Černý to the street art inspired paintings of rising talent Jakub Matuška, we take you on a journey of the careers of the best Czech artists working today.
Marek Schovánek | Spreeviera Galerie
Born into the then socialist Czechoslovakia of 1965, Marek Schovánek emigrated to Canada in his youth – though later resettled in Europe – and now divides his time between Prague and Berlin, where he regularly curates exhibitions at the project space Spreeviera Gallery. It is this multicultural experience and immersion into many forms of art that informs many of Schovánek’s paintings, sculptures, installations and photographs – his art traverses cultural and temporal boundaries and raises questions as to the purity of identity and art itself, while offering insightful commentary on the human consequences of globalization, as with his 2014 exhibition Pharmatopia at Prague’s DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, examining notions of utopia peddled by the global pharmaceutical industry.
Alena Kotzmannová | Hunt Kastner
Photographer and video installation artist Alena Kotzmannová burst onto the Czech contemporary art scene following her graduation from Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1998, developing her signature style – black and white scenes of seemingly everyday subjects that are somehow poetic in their examination of how we perceive time and space. A two-time nominee for the prestigious Jindřich Chalupecký Award for young Czech artists, Kotzmannová has had her work exhibited at galleries in New York City, Vienna and Dresden and in 2014 collaborated with London-born performance artist William Hunt on a project titled ‘Ship, Ship, Slip and Drip’ shown at Prague’s Hunt Kastner gallery.
Barbora Maštrlova | The Chemistry Gallery
Barbora Maštrlova, born in 1985 in the northern Czech city of Liberec, is an exciting, emerging young artist working in sculptures and a 2010 graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague where she studied under the acclaimed Czech sculptor Kurt Gebauer. Maštrlova has been showing her works in group exhibitions since 2005, and in 2009 received her first solo exhibition at Prague’s Chemistry Gallery with Half-life. The artist blends her practice of conceptual sculpture with a wry sense of humor while experimenting with themes of gender and sexuality, producing amusingly provocative pieces like her 2012 bronze sculpture ‘I Feel It’, combining cardiovascular and sexual anatomy.
Hynek Martinec | Parafin
Young London-based painter Hynek Martinec is known for his hyperrealist paintings that, whilst very contemporary in theme and reference, also demonstrate a deep-rooted loyalty to historic traditions in painting. Martinec first gained widespread attention for a series of photorealistic portraits he created of his partner, though his most recent show Every Minute You Are Closer To Death, the inaugural exhibition of London’s new gallery Parafin, is a series of large-scale grisaille paintings – haunting, foreboding scenes mixing death-related imagery with contemporary art references depicting distorted subjects that leave the viewer questioning the reality in the painting. The talented artist won the National Portrait Gallery’s 2007 Young Artist Award and his work currently appears in collections in Prague and London.
David Černý | FUTURA Centre for Contemporary Art
Perhaps the Czech Republic’s best-known contemporary artist, David Černý has received international recognition for his often controversial sculptures and socio-political commentary. The artist first gained notoriety in 1991 when he painted a tank in Prague’s Kinský Square, commemorating the 1945 Soviet emancipation of Czechoslovakia pink. Many more of Černý’s sculptures can be found around his native city, like ‘Tower Babies’, a series of baby-like figures climbing the Žižkov TV Tower, and the humorous ‘Piss’ – two bronze statues urinating in front of the Franz Kafka Museum. Černý’s ‘Brownnosers’, two large human sculptures bending over that invite viewers to climb a ladder to view a video of politicians spoon-feeding each other, is on permanent view at FUTURA Center for Contemporary Art.
Jakub Matuška | Galerie Dukan
Also known by his alias Masker, Jakub Matuška was born in Prague in 1981 and is widely regarded in the Czech Republic as one of the most important up-and-coming painters of his generation, both gaining traction in the European contemporary art world and transforming perceptions of street art with his striking canvasses that mix graffiti styles with modern Czech art traditions like surrealism. The artist has completed residencies in London and New York City and in 2011 Jakub Matuška was the recipient of the National Gallery 333 Award which recognizes budding, young Czech and Slovak artists, and the year previously, represented the Czech Republic at the Shanghai art fair Expo 2010.
Jan Vytiska | Jiri Svestka Gallery
A recent graduate of the University of Ostrava, where he studied under performance and new media artist Jiři Surůvka, Jan Vytiska is an up-and-coming young talent in the Czech contemporary art world, already winning prizes including the country’s 2010 Start Point prize for emerging artists and the 2011 Art Prague fair’s award for young artists. Working mostly in painting, Vytiska takes pointers from pop surrealism and street art and, combining with a dark sense of humor, crafts fantastical canvasses full of surreal characters and themes of horror folklore, mythology and pop culture creating landscapes and scenes reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic future.
Martin Kocourek | Galerie Peron
A sculptor working mainly with a combination of metal and wood, Martin Kocourek largely eschews allegories and tropes instead preferring to create simple objects and installations with straightforward meaning, much of Kocourek’s works are crafted from found objects and scrap items, yet all are imbued with a sense of urgency, power and emotion – like his 2010 piece ‘Shrine’, crafted from tin cans and nails fused together, or any of his flower-themed sculptures, in which he produces from scrap metal something that is delicate, poignant and almost animate. His works have been frequently exhibited in the Czech Republic and were shown at Bologna’s 2009 Arte Fiera.
Michaela Pospíšilova Králová | Leica Gallery
A 2012 graduate of The Institute of Creative Photography in Opava, photographer Michaela Pospíšilova Králová started out as a freelance graphic designer and this background no doubt informs the artists’ practice today, evident in her incorporation of printing, graphics and typography. Králová largely works in photography and collage however and it is this for which she attracted attention during the Czech Republic’s 2012 photographic competition FRAME. She was subsequently exhibited at and awarded a prize by Leica Gallery in Prague. Preferring the medium of photography for its openness to transformation and its ability to trigger human memory, Králová’s collage works are often ethereal and evocative.
Pavel Baňka | Russian Tea Room Gallery
Born in Prague in 1941, Pavel Baňka has been practicing photography since the late 1970s and over his nearly forty year career has experimented with various photographic techniques and styles, including documentary and portraiture, but is perhaps best known for his intimate and subtly surreal black and white photographs of landscapes, human subjects and his exploration of light and shadow. Baňka, who has taught at universities in the UK and USA, has exhibited his works internationally and in 2001 received his first major career retrospective held at the Rudolfinum in Prague – the same city where he would later establish the Fotograf Gallery – an art space dedicated to the exhibiting Czech and foreign photographic art.
By Helen Armitage