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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Exhibition “Kineticism” at the Art Hall in Prague

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meFinally, news from the Czech museum scene, which has been rocked by scandals, corruption and austerity measures, gives hope. The “Praha Art Hall” was opened in Prague. In a prominent location just below Hradcany and in the immediate vicinity of the government building. It is not really an art gallery, since it is a private initiative. In addition, it is not only designed as an exhibition hall, it has a considerable collection. The Kunsthalle was founded by the couple Pavlina and Peter Pudil, who amassed a considerable fortune in the wild 1990s.

The Pudils deliberately chose a name for their private museum consisting of a German name and the Czech name for Prague, in order to relate to the centuries-long coexistence of the Czech and German-speaking population in this city. The “Praha Art Hall” is located in a substation of the Prague electricity company that was built in the 1930s and was completely renovated and equipped with exhibition rooms, a library, a bar and terraces offering a wonderful view of the town.

First it was photography and cinematography.

Since the art gallery is located in a former substation, it made sense to open it with an exhibition on the topic of electricity. One of the best connoisseurs of media art caused by electricity, the director of the Karlsruhe Center for Art and Media, Peter Weibel, was invited to curate the exhibition. For Weibel, along with the steam engine, it was above all electricity that radically changed the perception of movement -through automobiles and airplanes- and of light -until then there was only natural light- during the industrial revolution of the 19th century. . But initially it was not the visual arts but photography and cinematography that embraced this change. It was only later, influenced by experiments in photography and cinematography, that movement and light also became a theme for Cubist or Futurist artists, for example. Showing this development is the goal of Weibel’s exhibition entitled “Kineticism: 100 Years of Electricity in Art.”

photo series

light and movement

Works from the exhibition “Cinetismo”

In his opinion that it was photography and cinematography that first experimented with and were only influenced by light and movement and much later by fine art, Weibel finds himself confirmed by the Czech artist and theorist Zdeněk Pešánek, which unfortunately is almost unknown internationally. who published the book “Kinetics – Kinetics in Fine Arts – Music in Colors” in 1941. For Weibel, the first book on kinetics in art, which unfortunately remained unknown because it was written in Czech. Only now, eighty years later, has Pešánek’s book been made available to a wider audience in an English translation.

Revolutionary changes?

In essence, the entire exhibition focuses on the work of this prophetic artist and theoretician. Because it was none other than Pešánek who was asked to design works of art for the façade of the original substation. In 1932 he designed four plastic, wood, steel and wire sculptures, each over a meter tall and painted with luminescent paints. But they were never attached to the facade. Only photos and small models remain that can be seen in the exhibition. Also on display is the 1936 sculpture The Male and Female Torso, which was exhibited at the 1937 International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life in Paris. Like the designs on the façade, the neon-colored torso consists of materials that they were completely unusual for a work of art at the time; made of synthetic resin, glowing neon tubes, light bulbs, artificial stone and metal. For Weibel, this Pešánek torso is the first neon sculpture in art history.

This neon sculpture is flanked by iconic works of kinetic and film art. From Naum Gabo’s metal bar created in 1919/20, which, driven by an electric motor, rotates around its own axis, bears the title “Kinetic Construction” and is the first kinetic work of art. From Marcel Duchamp’s 1926 Anémic cinéma and the 1935 Rotorelief, which is a superimposition of the mechanical rotation of a circle with the cinematic illusion of rotary motion, and the 1930 film experiment “Lichtspiel Schwarz-Weiss-Grau” by the Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. It is worth visiting this exhibition just to see these works that made art history, not to mention the later works of Woody Vašulka, Gyula Kosice, Christina Kubisch, Heinz Mack or even Peter Weibel himself.

During his opening speech, Peter Pudil, the founder of the Kunsthalle, referred to the vision of Czech President Václav Havel, who died in 2011. On his vision of Prague, which is in the center of Europe, as a crossroads of different cultures and European languages. According to Pudil, the newly founded Kunsthalle Praha has set itself the goal of making this vision a reality. A truly lofty goal for a fairly small private institution. However, as we know from history, it is often not the big institutions that stimulate revolutionary change, but the small ones.

kinetism. 100 years of electricity in art. At the Art Hall in Prague; until June 20. The catalog costs 44 euros.

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