Kurt Gebauer and Eugen Jindra aka Morgenabendtot
Galerie SmetanaQ / SmetanaQ Gallery
21. 8. 2018 - 28. 9. 2018
Authors: Tomáš Zapletal, David Železný
Eugen Jindra did not exhibit his work for 86 years. But recently, under the pseudonym Morgenabendtot (tomorrow evening dead) he displayed his iron objects in the center of Prague. Alongside them Professor Kurt Gebauer of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design displayed his drawings from the 50s, objects found in nature at the end of the last century, contemporary installations of toilet paper roles and napkin boxes. As part of a joint exhibition, the works of both artists did not merge with one another (perhaps deliberately, perhaps unintentionally). How do they stand invidually? Did Kurt Gebauer introduce anything unexpected? What do the works of Eugen Jindra suggest? These questions answered the sculptor and artistic blacksmith Petr Císařovský:
ART IS NEITHER DESIGN NOR CONSTRUCITON
With sculptor Petr Císařovský on the exhibit Kugemat and Art
Christian Morgenstern said that we should characterize things rather than criticize them. So how would you characterize the works of Eugen Jindra?
That’s a nice thought, but it’s quite difficult not to criticize and to be specific. I had the sense that Jindra’s work was more architectural rather than sculptural, which was how it was presented. In the spiritual sense, I expect from the artist more of his own inner experience. With Mr. Jindra it’s more about the formal basis. That means that it presents a play of forms and adds to it some kind of accent, which should serve as a symbol or key. Usually, however, this is in a grafted and anecdotal form. If I had to characterize the work of Eugen Jindra in a single sentence, I’d say that it’s not about sculpture, but rather design.
How are the installations of Eugen Jindra composed with respect to craftmanship?
The method corresponds to “cold” locksmith’s work with metals. This is opposed to the “hot” method of the blacksmith, which is characteristic for construction and design work. To force iron to serve the expression of the principles of visual art is extremely difficult. Metal has always been used in the best case as a constructive material, and in the worst case as an instrument of destruction. There are many other more suitable materials for artistic purposes, but the technical revolution has reversed traditional approaches, and that which was until recently unthinkable is now readily available and feasible. I have in mind not only the development of metallurgy and with it a wide range of machines and instruments, but primarily the resultant mass production on a global scale — today we see iron everywhere. The two horrific European wars were conducted by means of it. Since the second half of the 20th century, gigantic construction projects of iron, such as bridges and towers, were supplemented by the monumental artistic creations of Caldera, Serry, or, say, Chillida. With the resources which a contemporary sculptor working with metals has at his disposal, it is possible to realize previously unthinkable works.
Mr. Jindra believes that the value of an artistic work is directly proportional to its ability to defy analysis. What do you think?
Discussions concerning sculpture are largely just literary parallels, which do nothing to explain the work itself. A statue that doesn’t speak on its own, that is, in its own language, is silent and communicates nothing. It is naturally very difficult to interpret a statue — a nonverbal artifact by means of verbal form. I know from my own experience how difficult it is to draw near even the threshold of a thing. I don’t really like it when sculpture is discussed in definitions, because every first-rate work transcends definition. But what can I say without blushing, without losing face, is that sculpture is first of all a transformation of spiritual experience into material via the composition of forms, and secondly the ability to express monumentality. Monumentality is not a matter of size, but of the relationships of the forms to each other. Miró said in his time that painting was something like a glass of red wine, which is obviously nonsense. The surrealists also immediately made fun of him.
In a couple of his works, Mr. Jindra encoded verses from Mácha’s May or Goethe. Have you been able to make them out?
I haven’t seen them there, but others probably could.
In your opinion, what do people expect from art?
It’s varies quite a lot and depends primarily on our own personal arsenal, that is, our education, upbringing, and what kind of era and environment we live in. Someone might shiver or even be moved to tears upon seeing a beautiful image. Some things touch you so deeply inside that you amass a reservoir of perceptions which you can always return to and access. Certainly there are people who don’t feel anything, and their sensitivity is based on experiences of a different order. I have several such friends. We get along despite the fact that they are completely insensitive when it comes to visual art. What remains is what appeals to a lot of people, what will pass through generations, but you cannot guess ahead of time what it will be because we don’t know what is just around the corner, let alone what tomorrow will bring, what people will be like in the future, what will they aspire to, what will speak to them, what will be in fashion. Gothic images, for example, scenes of the Crucifixion, have period clothing. And during the Renaissance, they have Renaissance clothing...
Doesn’t culture degenerate into entertainment through such an emphasis on “appeal and fashion”?
If we compare, say, Leonardo with Michaelangelo and if we know that they wouldn’t like each other, we know why they wouldn’t like each other as well. Each proceeded in an entirely different way, as his nature commanded him, his abilities, his outlook, his desire. We know that Leonardo dedicated himself more to science, as opposed to Michaelangelo, who was an essentially a craftsman, stonemason and painter who depicted everything entirely nonliterally, purely artistically. Artistically it was a matter of the conflict between modernity and traditionalism. Of course what they both had in common was an utter dedication to their art! The fact is that most contemporary things in art serve as a temporary distraction and entertainment for the public. Notice how over the last decade there has been an increase in the number of statues in public spaces with an obviously shallow anecdotal subject matter, objects of an absurdist character. Although da Vinci did the same thing in his own time—for his patrons he designed fireworks and masks for carnivals or decorated carnival wagons—but he did not consider this art, but rather entertainment and a “mere” means to make a living. Art can certainly fulfill, on the one hand, the demand for entertainment, and as a matter of fact the most serious works, for example, by Michaelangelo are to a certain extent entertaining. The imagined walls that divide the terrestrial and spiritual spheres are permeable and the transformation of one into the other is hardly perceptible. It must always hold true that the earthly, material part does not prevail, because art is the most important manifestation of the spiritual life of a person, not merely some kind of “superstructure.” And that is the fundamental difference, which separates the average, that is, the mere whimsical game from something that is higher and unquantifiable. It’s always been that way and always will be.
Is the outlook for art dire?
Not at all, it’s just that there’s a terrible lot of everything. Those who know how to assert themselves have people backing them and are more visible. And people don’t live with art as much as they used to because of television, the internet, in short, all the junk of civilization, which distracts us from seeing and differentiating things. It’s difficult for people glutted with distractions to discriminate. Nevertheless, from the past it’s evident that quality always breaks through in the end.
We’re losing our ability to distinguish the fundamental from the secondary...
It’s a society-wide problem and concerns not only art. That glut of pseudo-information and surplus of trash is like a deluge. The mass media is annihilating human consciousness, shifting, lying, simulating things. We see this in the elections, how buffoons are now able to appeal to anyone. It’s happening in all spheres including, unfortunately, art. Serious and substantial things are always being created, but they are not visible in this deluge. The commonplace surrounds us, but it’s important to go beyond that wall, which is within each of us, beyond it is a miracle, and whoever doesn’t see it is so afflicted by it that he creates mediocre things. And a mediocre thing is actually a useless thing because it will very soon be replaced. Even though people gladly get used to mediocre things quickly, they even more quickly give them up like worn-out clothes. Whereas things which exceed the time in which we are given to live and which stretch the imaginary keyhole further, these always appeal to us.
Kurt Gebauer became a professor of the sculpture atelier at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design at the beginning of the 90s. He claims that his whole life he made sculptures only as a hobby. After him, the conceptual artist Dominik Lang and the theoretician Edith Jeřábková took over the studio. Does this worry you?
I always took Kurt as specific person, not at all as some kind of model figure.
Did he train a lot of students in his own particular methods?
In general today, students have great opportunities. They can travel, study abroad, go through various ateliers. What's worse is that sculpture schools (such as at Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design or at the Academy of Art) don’t teach enough of the craft. And flawless craftsmanship is the essential foundation of all art. Spontaneity must be restrained with knowledge and control of the material. The environment of art schools itself creates imagination and freedom. These do not need to be taught. In my opinion, teachers should above all teach the craft, as well as how to distinguish the character of particular materials, how to know exactly how to use them.
Did you see anything unexpected at Kurt Gebauer’s “Kugemat” exhibition?
Not at all. They are more like these little games. I liked his hanging people because they accentuated the spirit of the time and were at the same time fun.
They don’t have bones...
...inflatable like balloons. Kurt approached the sculpture from an entirely different direction, which is certainly enchanting. It’s something like sleight of hand, which is not to say anything against it. I saw his first exhibit on Neruda St., it was very good. Under the communists, we were exhibiting together Vojan Gardens. At that time he had these hanging people in the trees, but he had to take them down because the comrades saw them as a provocation. And then I saw his clever installation of fruits and vegetables—such a beautiful heap of ephemerality. Fluttering around it were wasps, bees, butterflies... But here at this exhibit I didn’t see anything that grabbed me, unfortunately.
How do the exhibits of Mr. Gebauer and Jindra go together?
In my opinion, they don’t go together at all, they’re two different worlds. Kurt plays at being a playful, frivolous person. He’s an outstanding man of the theatre, he always knew how to enchant.
That’s a gift for a pedagogue.
Yes, that’s why he teaches at The Academy of Applied Arts and Design. He’s playful and after those escapades, when it wasn’t possible to do anything but greasy heads and boring figures, it was refreshing.
Mr. Jindra works with a divining rod, which he has used to determine the date of Putin’s death (in the year 2021). He has even determined the date of his own death. Are you interested in similar techniques?
No, not really. I don’t want to say I’m afraid of that, but I do have a little concern. I had a studio on Lucemburská St. and around the corner was Baranova St., where the poet Nezval lived toward the end of his life. There is a plaque and portrait there. He predicted his own death with the exact same techniques, and, as he was an emotionally based person, his belief won out over his body. I’ve been doing yoga for years and believe that this world is one big, mysterious miracle. There are an awful lot of people who meddle around that mystery, and not all of them are authentic and selfless. I prefer to be cautious. Though I have my own yoga gurus, they’re generally very realistic. They’re people who don’t allow themselves to be photographed, keep to the background, and don’t importune others. That’s how you can tell those who take it seriously. I don’t necessarily have anything against divining rods and so forth. Let them have fun with it if they enjoy it (laughs), but my path leads elsewhere. I’m happy when we each have our own individual life, our own destiny to resolve. And if we find out what we’re supposed to do, that is the greatest gift. For that we don’t need any divining rod. We’ve simply received something, and now we’ll do something with it.
At the exhibit there are a few iron tributes, for example, Hommmage á Morandi. Do you like tributes in the fine arts?
Morandi was a very subtle, discreet person. He was a magnificent painter who, by means of ordinary objects—in his case bottles and mugs—to mediate a simple but deep, experience. I don’t especially like tributes, even if they aren’t always bad. I am, however, very wary because the creator can hide behind them, cuddle up to someone or something and warm themselves up a little next to someone else’s flame.
What about the artist’s desire for fame, admiration, or at least recognition?
Naturally, recognition pleases each of us, and in a corner of our soul we sometimes crave at least a little touch of admiration. I would never want to let those chew toys off the chain, however, and allow them to take control of my own desires. Fame is an excessively intoxicating herb, and its enticement has led more than one talent astray. For me, privacy and peace are incomparably the most important things for focused work.
What if an artist takes a shortcut?
Whenever I make something easier for myself or try to creep through below the bar, it comes back to me and I have to go through it again. There are no shortcuts or other ways around they always lead away from the thing. But you know, in art absolutely anything is possible, therefore it’s difficult to define, restrict, and for many difficult to comprehend. Contemporary art works a lot with the immaterial world, but only a few people are admitted into it. Few know how to ponder abstractly. Many times I’ve heard the question—what is that black spot on an expanse of white? The best is to say, “nothing,” because for many of us abstract symbols are inaccessible. How should you reply? To come in contact with certain things is like being in a theatre and standing before a series of curtains. One after the other rises, and he keeps going further and further, all the while acquiring more and more illusions. Only when he reaches the end does he see the immense void.
Sometimes it seems that the development of art goes from extreme to extreme.
But that’s more like some kind of commonly held cliché. Certainly in the course of history there are easily observable social fluctuations—from downtrodden slaves there quickly arise bloodthirsty revolutionaries and after a period of bigoted puritanism usually comes an era of nonrestraint. The development of art, however, plays out differently, without bloodshed. As a rule, artistic revolutions bring only new, but often shocking forms, which terrify traditionalists. Of course, subsequent epochs occur in sharp opposition to each other. For example, the austere Empire style was a reaction to rococo excess, and in turn romantic art subsequently countered prim classicalism. Both world wars were immediately foreshadowed by several swiftly successive -isms and the avantgarde. To a great extent, art has outpaced the rapid development of humanity. It seems to me as though contemporary art has been integrated into universal globalism and aesthetic unification. Even though there will always be exceptions upon which this world stands.
Did art used to be comprehensible even without commentary?
Of course it was because it dealt with generally accepted narratives of antiquity, of the Old and the New Testament. It’s interesting that the majority of things which were made earlier still speak and have something to say, even though they originated in a different communicative space than the present. When an artist wanted to express something, he worked in a generally accepted spiritual form, which had greater scope than his own, and through it he expressed his own individuality. Constriction often contributes to the deepening and uplifting of a theme and its expression. It sounds paradoxical, but that’s how it is. Art must simplify, it cannot capture the universe in its entirety. Take the wall paintings of prehistoric hunters—they contain an astonishing power, natural beauty and urgency because they were about real archetypical lived reality. And at the same time, they are usually just a sign, couple of lines. Now the majority of people have a head and heart congested with commonplace, ordinary experience, which instead dulls and deflects him from the spiritual side of things. And art—I’ll stake my life on this—is above all a spiritual discipline. We don’t have to be afraid of art as such, creativity has been given to us from the very beginning, since those prehistoric caves. But it is necessary to once again harmonize the spontaneous with the rational. And not allow oneself to be ruled by that “unbearable lightness of being”...
It’s necessary to seek meaning in melancholia.
Life is a risky occupation. (laughter) But certainly, even some consolations are necessary to us in this complicated world. And since time immemorial beauty has brought an undeniable relief from the burden of life. Beauty and light emanate from gothic panel painting, from the colorful cathedral windows, as well as from the folk carvings of provincial churches. In today’s concept of art, beauty is of course regarded almost as an obscenity. The slogan of today is “originality”! And this is a stumbling block. It’s a kind of trap. Everyone tries to be original at all costs, but instead of being original spiritually, they’re original only in form. If at all. Where can you keep finding this originality? And so when I walk through exhibits I mostly see—this here is copied from that, this is banal, this is not enough, etc. When your eyes have been trained, you’re able to very quickly distinguish, but for an exhibition newcomer it’s naturally very difficult. Lastly I will tell you one thing I don’t often say. Even bad sculpture is sculpture, and I take my hat off before it because I know what it is. It’s hard work; along with architecture, it is the most difficult of all cultural disciplines because you have to force your way through the material.
Petr Císařovský (born 1950 in Prague). He trained as an artistic blacksmith in Jihlava (1965–1968), graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (1969–1975). He devotes himself primarily to free sculpture and forges his work from iron. He is the creator of, among other works, The Gates of František of Assisi and St. Agnes in the Franciscan Garden in Prague, the new tombs of Bedřich Smetana in Vyšehrad and The Gates of Noah and the Hymn of Creation in the Church of St. Laurence in Herne, Germany. He lives and works in Olešno u Mšena.
Panoramatic photos: Art for Good New Life for Exhibitions
Photos - views into exposition: Cermak Eisenkraft