Islands of Resistance: Between the First and Second Modern 1985–2012
Exhibition project of the National Gallery in Prague in cooperation with the Academic Research Centre of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague
Project authors: Jiří Ševčík, Edith Jeřábková and Jana Ševčíková
They appeared as a reaction to uniformity, prevailing conventions and boredom - this sentence seems the most fitting description of more than 200 artworks done in 1985-2012 and presented by the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and the National Gallery in Prague at the joint exhibition Islands of Resistance held from March 9 till July 1, 2012. This demanding project is one outcome of five years of work of the Academic Research Centre of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Exhibition curators Jiří Ševčík, Jana Ševčíková and Edith Jeřábková sought to present the most interesting works on the Czech art scene of the last two decades.
The manner in which Islands of Resistance was installed in the Veletržní Palace evokes many associations. Some parts of the exhibition space enable us to look back in time, to the mid-1980s, when improvised exhibitions in cultural centres in Opatov, Blatiny or the Macromolecular Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Prague's Petřiny quarter seemed to be from another world. Young artists - with their playfulness, new form of drawing and painting, references to forbidden chapters of history and hidden polemics with the aesthetic canon of the conventionalized avant-garde and abstract art - were publicly presented for the first time outside official galleries and exhibition halls.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this generation, whose artworks heralded the intoxicating atmosphere of change, set out to travel to major European galleries to become part of the great confrontation of art of recent decades that was underway on both sides of the former Iron Curtain.
The post-modern predilection for archives, reminiscences and implicit and explicit allusions makes Island of Resistance an especially attractive exhibition of Czech art of the last two decades. Outlined reconstructions of former popular exhibitions add a stamp of authenticity owing to the well-preserved paintings, sculptures and other artefacts that have not been displayed for more than twenty years. In a representative manner, the exhibition presents the work of more than 70 artists who came into their own under the gradually decaying regime of "normalization". This work, however, did not culminate before the 1990s. The generation that introduced its way of seeing the world in art after 2000 is also presented - Islands of Resistance acquaints the visitor with the most active figures of the contemporary art scene. The curators sought to ensure that style-and form-creating artworks whose influence is still apparent prevailed in their selection of exhibits. Items from the National Gallery in Prague collections are joined by paintings and sculptures from the City of Prague Gallery, the Benedikt Rejt Gallery in Louny, the Moravian Gallery in Brno, the Museum of Art Olomouc and the Klatovy/Klenová Gallery as well as many private collectors.
Any summary or assessment of the art of the last twenty-five years will inevitably be subjective. The same is true of Islands of Resistance, whose name alludes to a contemporary essay by philosopher Václav Bělohradský. The project Between the First and Second Modern 1985-2012, however, is also based on extensive documentation presented in the exhibition catalogue and a voluminous anthology of contemporary texts by art historians, critics, philosophers and sociologists that has been published to mark the opening of the exhibition.
It is a uniquely complex and erudite undertaking that represents a new phase in the process of learning about recent developments in art in Bohemia. Islands of Resistance is a courageous creative exploit showing the public that the search for a new art vocabulary has remained at one and the same time a complex, inspiring, ever surprising and often amusing process.
"With Islands of Resistance, the National Gallery in Prague paves the way for presentations of contemporary art in exhibitions curated by strong personalities. We see it as the first event of its kind, to be followed by other similar projects," said Vladimír Rösel, General Director of the National Gallery in Prague.