" Katerina Stenclova "

V E L E T R Ž N Í   P A L Á C

passage of the article
May 1999
page 186
written by Jeff Crane

   In an exhibition prepared especially for the atrium of the Veletržní Palác, the building that houses the modern art collection of the National Gallery in Prague, Kateřina Štenclová presented a series entitled "Hranice Událostí" (Event horizon)1998. The title implies a conflation of spáče and time, and indeed each of the six works in some sense constitutes a "place/event." The "pláce" may be where green meets red, for example, while the "event" might be understood as the phys-ical effect of that collision on the eye and body of the viewer.
   The soaring atrium of the Veletržní Palác the building was originally designed to host industrial-machinery trade fairs presents a daunting challenge to any artist. Stenclová's response was to emphasize scale: the internal scale of each piece, the relative scale between the indi-vidual works, and the relationship of the whole series to the spáče itself. The artist continues to investigate color: its temperature, vibration, and materiality. She uses dry pigments to produce an exccptionally dense color surface, and the materiality of her color remains oné of the great strengths of her art. In earlier work, as in a 1994 sólo show at the Nová síň gallery, Štenclová reduced the formát on which she anchored her color to horizontál and vertical bands. In the current work, her pictorial strategies continue to rely on multiple panels to create "phrasings" (in the musical sense) of color. What is new is the way in which she has begun to literally stack individual panels on top of oné another to create reál breaks in pla-narity that work m counterpoint to the pictorial "cuts" made with color itself. Also new is the introduction of diagonál, curving, oř arching edges that imply movement against the more static frontality of the monochrome square. Her great achievement in this exhibition may be the degree to which she unites monumentality with lyricism, such that they become mutually reinforcing.

   While some of štenclová's strategies find affinities in the practices of Mary Heilmann, there are significant differences of historical and cultural context that show up in their respective work. Because of the forty-year Communist repression of modernism it is difficult to draw neat canonical lineš in Czech art. It is precisely these lineš on which a painter like Heilmann (oř, more recently, Monique Prieto) relies as a foil for gestures by turns ironie, playful, oř obeisant. Stenclová's is a "formal-ism" without Greenberg, without Pollock, Kelly, Judd, or Noland: in short, without Fathers. Her closest artistic relative in her own country (and within the contempo-rary Czech scéně, she is perhaps alone in this) is František Kupka, probably the most important Czech artist of the century at least in an international sense— whose influence was cut short by war and ideologícal repression. Because of the magnitude of this historical break, Stenclová's project has more to do with the recovery of tradition than that of her American counterparts, who are often busy contesting it.
   Although štenclová's work does not fit neatly onto the present-day "map" of Czech art, her role as "dissident" in rela-tion to this field may ultimately be the most interesting. In špite of her refusal to conform to the dominant politics of the Czech art scéně, she remains a reál contender. "A contender for what?" oné might ask, given the neartotal absenceof a Czech art market, either at home oř abroad, as well as the inadequate acquisi-tion funds at public collections. Nonethe-less, with the advent of institutions like the Veletržní Palác (however shaky an institution it may be), at least there is now someplace to aspire to, a top to the ladder. Her arrival there is as important for Czech art as it is for her personally.

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