In the Czech artist Jiří Kovanda, the Secession once again presents an artist in an advanced stage of his career who is currently considered an important point of reference for younger artists. For his first solo show at an institution in Vienna, he has conceived a new installation specifically designed for the main hall at the Secession. In this new work, he continues his subtle praxis of minimal and offhand gestures.
The public perception of Jiří Kovandas work often focuses on his early interventions in the public space. During the second half of the 1970s, he implemented a series of performances in Prague that examined the socially familiar on the edge of invisibility, probing the leeway everyday life leaves the individual. For instance, he would stare, as though spellbound, in the eyes of people standing behind him on an escalator, or stand, arms spread wide, on the citys central Wenceslas Square. In other works, he staged perfectly humble materials, such as piles of leaves or small towers made of sugar cubes, at selected sites in the city. After focusing on creating collages and assemblages during the1980s and 1990s, he has in recent years increasingly returned to ephemeral and situation-specific actions and installations. In Kissing Through Glass (2007), for instance, visitors to the Tate Modern, London, were invited to interact with the artist in the way indicated by the title; during the opening of the art fair Fiac (2007), he smuggled candies into visitors handbags; and on the occasion of an exhibition in Santiago de Compostela, he cut an antique round table into four parts, which he fitted into the corners of the room (2008).
The central element in Kovandas site-specific installation for the main hall at the Secession
is a wall rising to the viewers eye level that divides the exhibition space into two halves; its layout includes a series of bays and salients. It creates tensions on various levels: between the empty space it leaves wide open and the niches it circumscribes, between sculptural autonomy and architectural function, between the exposed space in front and the concealed space behind. With the shape of the wall, and in particular with its height designed such that visitors can just barely look over it, Kovanda actively involves them in the play of hide and seek that is characteristic of his oeuvre. Within this architecture, he places, with an almost offhand gesture, various objectsthough they are taken from domestic life, their subtexts readily suggest erotic connotations: white blankets, a blue orchid, a red lamp, a yellow broom
In their presentation, Kovanda applies the poetic-Surrealist principle of transforming objects and situations by means of small alterations that displace them into more open significative contexts.
Jiří Kovanda (*1953) lives and works in Prague.