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How the history of contemporary art in Middle Europe developed …


The Forties / Fifties

July 1, the Slovak National Council decided to establish the Slovak National Gallery (SNG) in Bratislava. The first exhibition was the Exhibition of old masters paintings from the collections of SNG (1949).
Foundation of the journal Výtvarný život (Art Life) by the Association of Slovak Fine Artists and the Association of Slovak Architects, which was published in Slovakia until 1995.
After some release in 1956, censorship was sharpened again. December 19-20, there was a meeting of the Association of Slovak Writers in Bratislava, which signed up for the ‘ideologicality of literature,’ which was assessed as a great success by the management of the KSČ (Communist Party of Czechoslovakia). A similar position was adopted at its meeting on June 9-11, 1959 by the extraordinary Congress of Socialist Culture (opinion after the historian Jan Rychlík).
• In Bratislava, the Galéria Mladých (Gallery of Young) was established, later renamed the Cyprian Majerník Gallery, presenting the work of a young generation of fine artists. The gallery in the city center was managed by the Slovak Central Committee of the Socialist Union of Youth in Bratislava (SÚV SZM).

• December 1, the first public presentation of the Mikuláš Galanda Group in the exhibition room of the Regional Forest Administration in Žilina marked an emergence of a young incoming generation of artists who rejected the dogmas of Socialist Realism by returning to the principles of modern art and the domestic pre-war avant-garde tradition (Mikuláš Galanda, Ľudovít Fulla, Miloš Alexander Bazovský and Cyprian Majerník).


The Sixties

• Establishment of an informal association of artists called Confrontations, devoted to structural abstraction and Informel. Initially, they presented their works at the non-public group exhibitions in studios and apartments, later in the official galleries (Rudolf Fila, Marián Čunderlík, Eduard Ovčáček, Miloš Urbásek, Jozef Jankovič, Jaroslav Kočiš, Pavol Maňka, Andrej Rudavský, and others).

• The first manifest of Milan Dobeš was published in the journal Výtvarná práce (Art Work), in which he captured his main program principles of geometric, light and kinetic abstract art: “The basic means of expression for me is light and movement. To continuously monitor light and movement in time and the emerging emotional artistic experiences arbitrarily repeat creates the possibility of another creative means – space-time… I am now working on the designs of the environment – dwelling (environment), where the perception of the viewer is attacked by the whole interior, provoking the atmosphere and the required tension in it.“

November, Ladislav Mňačko’s book Oneskorené reportáže (Delayed Reports) was published in a huge expense. The author mapped out some fabricated cases at a lower level in the fifties, as well as efforts to rehabilitate the disabled. The book is composed of eleven short novels, each of which is a story about how state power, represented by party officials, was able to enter people’s lives and often destroy them completely. It belongs to the most important prosaic works in Slovak literature and in 1963 in a sense it opened a new stage of Slovak literature. The publishing house of political literature made two prints immediately after the first edition. The total circulation of the book was 103,420 copies.
• March, Vladimír Popovič carried out the action Launching the Boat in Petržalka district by the Danube river, as the end of his solo exhibition in the Galéria Mladých (Gallery of Young) in Bratislava, for a small circle of friends and without wider publicity: “Participants launched (according to his description and photographs) into the stream of Danube a large enlargement of the paper boat.” (after art historian Radislav Matuštík).

• Peter Bartoš realized action Handing out, semi-optional for a circle of friends. The author called the presenters to select from his academic papers from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava (on Gorazdova Street), thus breaking with the academy, tradition and painting.

• Alex Mlynárčik, Stano Filko and art historian Zita Kostrová prepared the Manifesto HAPPSOC, signed on May 1, 1965. It was created as a theoretical component for the first of the series of conceptual projects Happsoc I and Happsoc II by artists Stano Filko and Alex Mlynárčik. It belongs to the key projects of conceptual art in Slovakia, based on the appropriation of the found reality (of capital Bratislava), planned for seven days from May 1 (Labor Day) to May 9 (anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops in 1945). Happsoc I pointed to Bratislava in the form of a text announcement (7 days of the fact of Bratislava), real and fictitious statistics on the realities and inhabitants of the city (1 castle, 1 Danube, 142 090 street lamps, 128 729 television antennas, 6 cemeteries, 138 936 women, 128 727 men, 49 991 dogs etc.). For the first time in the history of Slovak art, it was a conscious renunciation of artistic materialization, the project was realized in the form of an invitation calling on the audience to participate mentally (after art historian, critic and curator Jana Geržová).

• The ‘zero year’ of so-called pre-symposium, International Sculpture Symposium in Vyšné Ružbachy, in which sculptors from all over the world worked with travertine. The symposiums took place in the travertine quarry and were carried out during the summer months until the nineties. The initiative followed similar symposia founded and led by the Austrian sculptor Karl Prantl, and he also participated in the first, introductory year in Vyšné Ružbachy.

• The ‘zero year’ of the International Symposium in Metal steel plant in Košice, organized in cooperation with eastern Slovak ironworks. The ambition of the project was to place modern sculptures in nature and urban spaces, inviting important artists from all over the world. The last year took place in 1973.

• Since 1967, tours under the name Socha Piešťanských Parkov (The Sculptures of Piešťany Parks) have been held regularly during the summer months. The beginning of a strong tradition of presentations of sculptural art in natural and urban surroundings, meant a radical ‘step out’ of the sculpture from the interior of the galleries to the exterior, the spa town of Piešťany, with its vast park and water areas of the Spa Island, provided the sculptures with an ideal space, one of the initiators of the idea of Piešťany plein-air exhibitions was the sculptor Alexander Trizuljak.

Július Koller together with Peter Bartoš created the concept of Anti-gallery in the interpretation of the fast-repair stockings shop on Klobučnícka Street in Bratislava, in which between advertising and goods they exhibited their paintings. Koller’s anti-paintings significantly ironize the work with the object and with painting of paintings-apartment accessories. The Anti-gallery only existed until 1969, when its initiators were forced to close this ‘exhibition space.’
June, Manifest of Interpretation in fine art was created by Alex Mlynárčik and Miloš Urbásek, which states: “Interpretation in fine art is a new creative dimension. It opens up other spaces as fertile starting points from the so-called authentic gestures, which we have so far anxiously adhered to. It is a creative realization of a project or realization of an existing work of art. The interpretation is based on the form and ideological nature of the origin …“

The Seventies

• February, I. Snow Festival, Alex Mlynárčik, Milan Adamčiak, Róbert Cyprich and Miloš Urbásek held the festival as the first demonstration of artistic interpretation on the occasion of the World Ski Championships in the High Tatras – artists performed individual and group land-art interpretations of works by Pieter Bruegel st., Erik Dittmann, Claes Oldenburg, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Peter Brüning, Sanejouand, Miloš Urbásek, Dias, Nagasawa, Tobas and others

• Polymusical Space I. Sculpture, object, light, music in Piešťany, in 1969 a newly conceived idea of the tour of the Statue of Piešťany Parks was designed by Ľubor Kára, organizer of important presentations with international participants (Danuvius, Bratislava, 1968; Statue of Piešťany Parks, Piešťany, 1969). The exhibition presented contemporary tendencies as a synthesis of various art disciplines, not only of visual arts but of all media, music, film, theater and literature included. Legendary site-specific installations were created there, many of them as temporary, closely linked to the place of its making. Furthermore, objects, more traditional sculpture works, but also various types of Action Art like happening, performance, sign-based concept. The exhibition embraced and accepted current trends in a democratic and pluralistic way, but at the same time it was the last free art exhibition. The show presented ca sixty works by forty artists (for example Alex Mlynárčik, Július Koller, Stano Filko, Jana Želibská, Juraj Bartusz, Vladimír Popovič and others).

• November 19, 1. Open Studio of Rudolf Sikora on Tehelná street 32 in Bratislava. The semi-public meeting of fine artists, initiated by the youngest generation of artists, recent graduates or even students, started to see the limited possibilities of free expression, lack of opportunities and spaces for exhibiting, meeting and open communication. The idea originated among artists and friends, Rudolf Sikora and Villam Jakubík, in cooperation with other invited artists both established and complete newcomers, prepared a group exhibition in a small house in the former workers’ quarter. The number of participating authors has grown to nineteen by gradually reaching out to the organizers: Milan Adamčiak, Peter Bartoš, Václav Cigler, Róbert Cyprich, Milan Dobeš, Villam Jakubík, Július Koller, Vladimír Kordoš, Ivan Kříž-Vyrubiš, Otis Laubert, Juraj Meliš, Alex Mlynárčik, Marián Mudroch, Jana Želibská, Rudolf Sikora, Ivan Štěpán, Dezider Tóth, Miloš Urbásek and Igor Gazdík. The works of art of the authors, in some cases also multiple, were created by a collective as well as individual approach, counting on the participation of the audience and with the physical temporality, which ended with the handing out, donation, call for entry and cooperation. There was a distinct criticism of the traditional artifact, on a small area they presented a whole range of forms of new, alternative art – music and poetry, action forms, Body Art, site specific installations, spatial interventions, object art, light art, using non-permanent materials and objects, applying also principles of accumulation, play and cooperation. The exhibition lasted two days, the next day the organizers were questioned by the State Security (ŠTB).

June 12, Alex Mlynárčik conceived and organized in cooperation with the extensive collective a spectacular event If All Trains of the World / Day of Joy in Zakamenné. The event was attended by: Milan Adamčiak, Erik Dietmann, Milan Dobeš, Viliam Jakubík, Vladimír Kordoš, A. Miralda, Marián Mudroch, H. Nagasawa, Lev Nussberg, D. Selzová, Jana Želibská, Ch. Tobas and Miloš Urbásek.
The creation of the White Space in the White Space project by the trio: Stano Filko, Ján Zavarský and Miloš Laky. The project was accompanied by text manifestos and spatial installations: “We subscribe to a free ‘pure sensitivity,’ which is absolute and is the only option of ‘pure sensitive art’.” According to art theorist Aurel Hrabušický, as their method, the authors determine “pure sensibility,” by which they “create an infinite emptiness” and thus created a “white intangible space in a white infinite space.”
• Action Week of Fictional Culture, Ján Budaj and the Temporary Society of Intensive Survival distributed billboards in several places in Bratislava (a hanging textile advertisements and paper posters) for non-existent events or concerts of bands that performance in the age of socialism was impossible (for example exhibition of Salvadore Dalí, or René Magritte, concert of Bob Dylan, or ABBA and others).

• From 1979 to 1986, the Bratislava Artefact Shift Championship was organized regularly by Dezider Tóth in the apartments and studios of the participants of the Championship. The status of an unofficially organized event included the conditions of a nine-month thematic shift, lasting from March 8 (International Women’s Day) to December 6 (Santa Claus day). Each participant should have created a ‘shift’ (paraphrase, interpretation, application, approximation, citation, etc.) of any work from the history of art, containing the specified theme to which the shift was bound, the assumptions allowed variability and heterogeneity of artistic proceeding: 1979 – Sensuality; 1980 – Touch; 1981 – Doubling; 1982 – Mystery, Myster; 1983 – Connection; 1984 – Myth; 1985 –Transformation (after art historian Ján Kralovič).


The Eighties

Július Koller founded a gallery-idea, Galéria Ganku (Ganek Gallery). The Ganek (porch) is the name of a natural mountain formation in the High Tatras, where he organized non-existing exhibitions. This gallery was part of his projects on non-existent phenomena such as UFOs or futurology, the cosmos, and thus he practiced non-existent art (or existing as a document of this idea). It was the use of the assumptions of Conceptual Art as well as Land Art. At the same time, it was a political commentary on the situation in the country, where practicing forms of contemporary art was impossible.
Július Koller, Radislav Matuštík and Peter Meluzin initiated the informal actions by The Terrain group, focused on specific problems of the realizations and analysis of events in the fields, in nature, which derived from the need to communicate about the limitations of development of Action Art on the Slovak un-official artscene. The last event was the Burial of The Terrain on February 16, 1985, which was performed by Peter Meluzin and the collective. Excerpt from the program of the group: “The Terrain is a suggestion that you take your action, the realization of which assumes and uses the free landscape, nature and human intervention in it, within a defined period of time in space; The terrain is a request respecting the principles and goals of your creation and therefore offering only a common space and time for individual realization of any type of event or for direct inspiration by specifying the region and the season…” In addition, apart from the founding members, actively participated in The Terrain: Ľubomír Ďurček, Dezider Tóth, Michal Kern, Jana Želibská, Vladimír Kordoš, Róbert Cyprich and others.
October, Studio Erté was founded in Nové Zámky as an association dealing with the organization of art events, mostly from the area of performance art; organizes festivals, exhibitions, symposia, internet conferences, concerts of contemporary music, and publishes catalogs, books and multimedia editions on art. Founded by Jozsef R. Juhász and Ilona Németh, Ottó Mészáros, Attila Simon.
June 17-19, Transart Communication Festival of Experimental Art and Literature, first edition was held in Csemadok House, Nové Zámky, curated by Jozsef R. Juhász. The festival had a great impact on art in this part of Europe as a place of international meetings for artists from all over the world and was a sign of a new opening after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Thirty editions took place until 2018. However, the tradition of performance still continues at the Kassak Centre in Nové Zámky (Performance Box 2020).

The Nineties

The magazine Profile of contemporary fine art was founded and still is the oldest specialized professional periodical in the field of fine arts in Slovakia. It focuses on analysis of current topics of fine art practices, but above all theories and criticism of contemporary fine art with overlaps to visual culture, which are mediated by the views of domestic and other experts, as well as translations of selected texts of foreign specialists. The editor-in-chief is Jana Geržová.
The first exhibition in Slovakia presenting Czech and Slovak avant-garde and post-avant-garde trends: Action Art, Body Art and Land Art at the Považská Art Gallery in Žilina under the name Umění akce, curator: Vlasta Čiháková Noshiro. Among the Slovak authors presented works by Milan Adamčiak, Peter Bartoš, Juraj Bartusz, Ján Budaj, Róbert Cyprich, Ľubomír Ďurček, Stano Filko, Vladimír Havrilla, Michal Kern, Július Koller, Vladimír Kordoš, Matej Krén, Radislav Matuštík, Peter Meluzin, Alex Mlynárčik, Marián Mudroch, Artprospekt P.O.P group, Peter Rónai, Rudolf Sikora, Ľubo Stacho, Dezider Tóth and Jana Želibská. Exhibition was realized in cooperation with Mánes Association of Fine Artists in Prague.

The Two-thousands

The exhibition Action Art 1965-1989 at the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava, in the curatorial concept of Zora Rusinová, prepared a comprehensive mapping and presentation of Action Art, accompanied by an extensive catalog with rich figurative documentation. The basis of the exhibition were photographs (enlarged reproductions, new prints) and other visual and textual recordings of action works, supplemented by authentic or author reconstructed props and objects. First such an overview of the Action Art in post-Yalta countries presenting the importance of this art form for the un-official artscene.

(compiled by Vladimíra Büngerová)

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