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
. . .