Jiří Valenta and the Mystery of Artistic Rebirth / Art Informel Tendencies in the 1950’s and 1960’s

October 18, 2016 – January, 15 2017

Painter –master of paper and words – painter – sculptor – artists of different generations, focus, experience, and artistic creations. Nevertheless, their combined exhibition is more than logical.

Due to the political atmosphere after 1948, the situation in the Czech art scene was not easy. The new regime commenced to appropriate the right to supervise the cultural life of the population in Czechoslovakia. Socialist Realism became the official doctrine and many artists had a problem accepting this situation, especially the younger generation emerging on the artistic scene in the fifties. In addition to conformist artists that were unequivocally supported by the state, several pluralistic movements started to appear. The basis for their own art was mostly searched for in the coloristic tradition of the Avant-garde, imaginative Surrealism, grotesque, and most importantly Art Informel, which is currently maybe the most recognizable echo of that time.



Jiří Valenta was born in 1936 in Prague and studied at the School of Applied Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Valenta was formally and significantly influenced by František Kupka, and in terms of his stance, he was also inspired by Mikuláš Medek. Valenta was familiar with Medek’s work, which probably opened new horizons for him while trying to tackle certain themes. In March 1960, Jan Koblasa organized a one-day long exhibition entitled Confrontation, which took place at Valenta’s atelier in Libeň. His art was presented together with works by Zdeněk Beran, Vladimír Boudník, Čestmír Janošek, Antonín Málek, Antonín Tomalík and Aleš Veselý. The most interesting of Valenta’s works are his early abstract compositions, where he searches for a deeper spiritual dimension within. The intensified despair of the materialistic and intentionally atheist Czechoslovakia, was reflected in works such as Triptych, or in the cycle of collages and compositions created in short succession in 1960. Since the information vacuum of the time was penetrated only by pieces of information concerning foreign progressive art, Czechs searched for answers to their creative questions also in tradition. Medieval art played an important role in forming the Czech Art Informel scene, which was almost impossible to rid of all spiritual content, despite attempts made by Marxist methodology, whose mystery and message was even more attractive to artists, because it was bound to the authenticity and inwardness of the sacred experience. In this sense, the concept of Czech Art Informel is autonomously original even in a world context. The Gothic period became a great source of inspiration because of its stylized, abstract formulation of spatial relationships and spiritual strength. After the end of the Second World War, medieval art became once again topical, especially in the spiritual wasteland of the fifties, when the intellectual environment created an alternative perspective on the artistic and existential questions that could not be answered within the then university environment. The philosophical literature of catholic modernism played a particularly important role, especially in circles around Mikuláš Medek. There were other artists that worked with spiritual categories, such as Christianity (for example Antonín Málek) or Judaism (for example Robert Piesen), and perceived them as the basis for their own work. Here, spirituality is the archetype of perfection standing in stark contrast to a historically determined concept of realism, where the requirement of spirituality within artwork is the search for a higher meaning of art as such. Valenta’s unequivocal identification with medieval art is obvious from the fact that in the sixties, the artist referred to some of his works as “panel paintings” (in the seventies, he referred to his works as “votive paintings”), and in the creation of the semi-abstract cycle Tribute to Master Theodoric in the time of his emigration. Above all, Czech Art Informel artists were interested in issues of internal logic, beauty and immanence of an artwork. In Valenta’s case, this aesthetic category was first and foremost connected with the qualities of light and colour, where beauty is connected with light and emanation on a spiritual level. Hence Valenta creates monochrome symbol compositions that are structurally similar to gothic altarpieces, and strives to achieve the identical illuminative effect. Through the transformation of raw material, such as sand or fabric, Valenta seeks solely for the return to the material’s roots, but creates a meditative work of a spiritual intensity despite the obvious harmoniously timeless materiality and dematerialization. A similar manifestation of artistic freedom was appealing to other artists, especially within the circle of Valenta’s friends. Artists of this type of structural abstraction usually rejected any agreement with the ruling regime. Their criticism found an audience particularly after 1964. At that time, the changes in the leadership of the Union of Czechoslovak Artists led to an overall diminution of the strong censorship, and the release made room for freer artistic expression and most importantly, for public presentation.

The exhibition presents one of its the key acquisitions of Museum Kampa, Jiří Valenta’s Collage II that was purchased last year from a private owner. The presentation of the aesthetic potential of the unique combination of authentic medieval artefacts is meant to show the possibilities of interpretation of Art Informel from the late fifties and the sixties. The exhibition also includes a display of works of Valenta’s contemporaries, which will present Collage II in the relevant context.


Josef Istler

October 8, 2016 – January, 15 2017

The painter and graphic artist Josef Istler (1919–2000, Prague) is one of the protagonists of European Art Informel. Perhaps some of the basic characteristics of this artistic expression are his interest in the coexistence of spontaneity and exactitude, the interface of the real and unreal, the relationship between painting and graphic art.

His early work, where he transformed the reality of war into grim scenes with the ruins of buildings and human phantoms in the spirit of surrealistic imagination, is bound to the establishment of the literary-artistic Ra Group.

Josef Istler was one of the most distinctive personalities of its Prague circles. Paintings and monotypes from the mid-forties that foreshadowed his structurally abstract work from the end of the fifties were created in parallel with geometric compositions that thematised the boundary between the figurative and the abstract. Many of Istler’s works were destroyed during the bombing of Prague in the last year of war. In 1946, solo exhibitions of Istler’s works took place, and several of his paintings were included at the exhibition of Czechoslovakian art in Paris. His works captured the attention of artists from the international group Cobra. At the beginning of the fifties, Istler was part of the intellectual circle around Karel Teige and participated in the preparation of the samizdat publication Signs of the Zodiac, Object I and II. Istler’s work mediated the atmosphere of metaphysical anxiety and the absurdity of that time. In paintings from the second half of the fifties, Istler studied the possibilities of expressive gestuality adjusted by the rational in a figural mode, which he again pursued in the eighties and nineties. His 1962 retrospective was prohibited by the Communist party.

During the first half of the nineteen sixties, he created paintings and graphic art with spatial labyrinths of subjective psychological submersions with light focal points of a cosmic dimension. In 1971, an Italian critic Enrico Crispolti categorized Istler’s work as a representative anthology of Art Informel. Istler was interested in the Informel expression of material structures in the spirit of perceiving painting as a material object even throughout the seventies. His last retrospective took place in 1989.

The present opportunity to exhibit the extensive entirety of Istler’s artistic legacy at Museum Kampa provides an opportunity to see the fanciful, abstract-geometrical, and Art Informel lines of his work as an internally coherent organism. The concept accommodates the specificity of the exhibition space and divides his works into three mutually permeable sections, which presents the opportunity to find contextual relations between paintings that were mostly presented in separate thematic arrangements up until now.

Curator of exhibition Iva Mladičová

Accompanying programs:

Please note that the following programs are available only in the Czech language.

Programs for schools and the public on request: Workshops for elementary schools and high schools.

Guided tours of the exhibition.


Boštík, Kolář, Moucha, Zeithamml


September 20, 2016 – January, 15 2017

Painter –master of paper and words – painter – sculptor – artists of different generations, focus, experience, and artistic creations. Nevertheless, their combined exhibition is more than logical.

The world of the twentieth century experienced a whole array of collective programs, manifestos, and radical performances (as it will surely continue do so in upcoming centuries); they shined and disappeared, only to be replaced by new ones. However, there is a much stronger link somewhere beneath, a unique affinity, friendships, which can remarkably pass through time, space and artistic stances, and which have an equally important place in the history of art (needless to say in history in general) as material artefacts and “hard” data. Currently, there is a great effort to map these informal relationships, from large systems such as the Warsaw NET (linking Avant-garde artists from all over the Eastern Bloc) that is in operation since 1972, or the extensive activities of the Brno theorist, experimental poet and collector Jiří Valoch, to the personal ties that allowed the implementation of seemingly unrealistic ideas or - and this is equally essential – to keep an open mind even in difficult times. These topics are particularly important for Museum Kampa, as its founder Meda Mládek visited and supported central European artists as an art collector and patron, and collected their works. Her support in the form of personal interest and friendship was especially valuable; in the times of so-called “normalization”, it was often more important than the provision of financial means.


The incentive to organize this exhibition of four widely recognized European artists of the twentieth and twenty first century was based upon Miloslav Moucha’s recollections of the times in the eighties, when Václav Boštík stayed at his home during visits to France and worked in his Parisian atelier, and his encounters with other friends. Not only did this draw attention to the almost unknown chapter of the nowadays legendary artist, it pointed out the above mentioned networks and relationships that had a mutual impact on the art of even such prominent artistic personalities.

In 1968, Miloslav Moucha (1942) decided to stay in France. The radical end of the Prague Spring brought by armies of the Warsaw Pact was not exactly a promise of a happy future. In ten years, he was able to work himself up from an unknown Czech to a recognized painter, became a professor at École des Beaux-Art in Besançon, and initiated the establishment of the Small Gallery, which incidentally presented works of other Czechs, who decided not to return to Czechoslovakia. He acquired an invitation to Besançon for Václav Boštík (1913–2005), who, in 1979, really came. It was the beginning of a series of Boštík’s French visits and exhibitions. Occasionally Boštík was allowed to stay in the West; his daughters married into Yugoslavia, and it was easier to travel from there without repercussions or frequent compromises that were part of a travel permit to “capitalist” countries. At the same time, Moucha’s atelier was a meeting place for other Czechs - Jiří Kolář (1914–2002), who lived in Paris since 1980, or Jindřich Zeithamml (1949), who made regular visits from Düsseldorf, the place of his residence after emigration.


Although in different forms and interpretations, all four friends were connected by an intensive search for certain inner principals that influence landscape, space, in other words the way of understanding nature and the entire universe. Their works contain basic geometric shapes that help to build seemingly simple, but very strong works in terms of content – although it may sound like an oxymoron, the label of metaphysical geometry could be the key in understanding their work. Geometry as a search for the universal order, metaphysics as an attempt to portray immaterial or spiritual existence.


The exhibition presents works that were created in the eighties, the time period when they were all meeting. Nevertheless, the aim of the exhibition is not to search for outer resemblances or differences, or sources of inspiration. It is much more important to accentuate the similarities in the way they viewed the world, which erupts from mutually close philosophical foundations.

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