Tuesday, August 16, 2011


"Lives of the Artists" from Calvin Tomkins gives a view of ten artists personal lives. With the material gathered during interviews, casual visits, the art critic who sometimes shadows the artists during their daily activities let the reader "meet the artist".

We learn that Damien Hirst's mind is clearer after a night of drinking, Cindy Sherman is nice, Richard Serra is irascible and ruthless. These artists have nothing in common other than "their works and lifestyles embody the future of contemporary art" Each chapter is the length of an article from the New Yorker, they were initially published in the magazine.

The author's friendly relationship with the artists does not preclude him from making critical remarks about their works.

A glimpse into their lives feeds our thirst for celebrities. What made these ten artists famous? Circumstances, talent, tenacity, pure luck...

Peaking into the lives of Julian Schnabel, Richard Serra, Matthew Barney, make them accessible and also vulnerable. These articles are not biographies, they focus on the "petite histoire".

The ten artists include: Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman,Julian Schnable, Richard Serra, James Turrell, Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, John Currin.

After reading this book, we understand their world better and ultimately their creations.

photographs by the author

Friday, August 12, 2011

Old Palace, Young Artists

Artbanka Museum of Young Art is presenting a temporary exhibition during the Summer months in the empty Colloredo-Mansfeld palace built in the 18th Century, just off Charles Bridge on the Vltava River in Prague.

The crowd is thick in this area full of tourists. Everyone is taking a peek at "Guns", the installation from David Cerny in the courtyard and the cameras are clicking. Sculptures of nudes peaking out of the windows greet the visitors and give a human presence to the facade. It is a great introduction. Most of the crowd walks by and retreats to the streets. I decide to pursue the visit which is organized in three parts for each wing surrounding the courtyard: renowned artists, fine art schools, and the third dedicated to groups and contemporary young artists.

It is an adventure, climbing stairs, getting lost in living rooms with faded mirrors, giant fireplaces and painted ceilings, backrooms, corridors, more stairs... and a flurry of Czech and Slovac young artists works: a flavor of decadence in sink with the art pieces. Works from known artists like Jiri Cernicky, Jiri Davis, Ugo Rondinone and more are side by side with works from less known young artists. The visit is full of surprises like on the top floor, lost , forgotten, a sculpture "Merda d'Artista", provocative, so unexpected, hidden so it can be discovered. The second wing holds works from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Ostrava, Faculty of Fine Arts, Brno University of Technology, Faculty of Arts, Technical University in Kosice and at the upper level, Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. I cannot remember all the works, so I took a lot of pictures."Superstar" from the group Kamera Skura occupies the stairwell of the third wing and a whole floor is dedicated to graffiti also works from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava and solo shows. To top this off, in an adjacent building, the installation from David Cerny, "Shark", a sculpture of Saddam Hussein handcuffed in a glass tank, a parody of Damien Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living".

The number of works is such that it is overwhelming. All major art schools from the Czech and Slovac Republic are represented in a dilapidated palace which is in itself another side of the visit. The result is eclectic, in some areas the works are labelled, in others the name of the artist is missing, most likely due to hasty preparations. The overall impression is an exhibition full of energy, surprises, bursting with ideas, stimulating and fun. It is rare to see the works from art professors, well known artists, students, unknown young artists, group works displayed at the same event.

The combination of location, timing, size and content are predicting a huge success for this exhibition.

Let's not forget Artbanka's goal to promote young artists. This exhibition gives them an opportunity to display their works mostly related to eternal themes of love, death, war but treated with originality, humor, passion, in an historical setting.

The art world in the Czech Republic is alive and well with this new generation of artists.

photographs by the author:

"Guns" David Cerny

"Pegasus Semtex", Jiri Cernicky, 1997

"Superstar", Kamera Skura art group

"Live Your Life", Vladimir Skrepl, 2011

"Fucking 15 Minutes" Reality art group

"All My Bad Thoughts", Kristof Kintera