It is not always the case that a state-funded gallery in one of the larger towns in Slovakia actually shows relevant contemporary art. It is often the bad mix of politics and art that cause regional culture to succumb to corrupt influence of local politicians practicing the common law of nepotism. But Nitra Gallery seems to survive this influence without making compromises. Slovak audiences – contemporary art virgins – can therefore get their dose of current visual art here. And on a happier note, the hunting season is here, and there is no better way to attract visitors than by opening an exhibition with their favourite theme.
Hunting has always been associated with collecting rather bizarre objects – or at least bizarre to some people. Just imagine some passionate hunter’s drawing room. Stuffed animals, trophies, guns…perhaps some furniture in the style of an alpine cottage? Maybe a small picture of a baying deer in the forest? It might seem that all this has little to do with fine art since the times when such items adorned the walls of aristocrats’ country mansions and the town houses of every petit bourgeois. But you know how it is with contemporary art and kitsch – one loves the other. As art strenuously denies being aesthetic these days, it often takes refuge in paraphrasing things that ordinary people consider beautiful, blissfully unaware of some “higher taste”. The exhibition Good Hunt! explores this phenomenon in art, as well as just examining about every possible angle from which you can look at the subject of hunting.
I cannot overemphasise the importance of thematic exhibitions about trends in contemporary arts, they are so rare in Slovakia. Not all of them actually give you a clear idea about their subject, though that is not the case in this one. Curator Omar Mirza has stuck to his theme, which by the way isn’t some overly intellectual construct “beating around the bush”. The exhibition covers one floor of the four-winged palace, a former county house where Nitra Gallery is located. It contains works of artists from Slovakia, along with ones from other countries from Central Europe (Slovenia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary), which also isn’t a common thing. Somehow, we didn’t quite manage to come out of our own shell just yet, and look at our own creativity from a wider point of view.
The curator took his time to research his subject, and did not hesitate to find and show a lesser known, marginal author Zdenek Danek. His gentle drawings and small landscape painting with tiny bevy of roes can be seen as contrary to everything that has been said about the latent irony in this exhibition. The honesty of his drawing and painting becomes pleasantly disarming in the context of other works found in the exhibition. A widely popular technique in contemporary art – taxidermy could not be omitted. Always tasteful and subtle in his gestures, an important artist of the older generation in Slovakia Otis Laubert embellishes his stuffed deer’s antlers with shiny drawing pins. Deborah Sengl shows a lioness disguised as her prey in stripes and horns. Marek Kvetan uses a different approach as he strips the trophy deer’s head of all pride by letting it hang without the support of its filling. A concrete block with four roe deer hooves is a visual counterpoint made by Christian Eisenberger. Further on, paintings of classically kitschy scenes of roaring deer by Tomáš Lahoda and Robert Bielik are shown, each indulging in the banal subject in his own way. For the first time, the intricate work of young local video artist Lenka Klimešová is seen in a context, where her feminine approach to the subject of the exhibition stands out. Apart from the above mentioned work of Otis Laubert, the visitor has the opportunity to view a fragment of the legendary environment by Juraj Meliš from the time of the Communist normalisation of 1971. It is a unique installation made of wood, key material for a generation of local sculptors. Meliš uses wood objects and trees in a purposely unaesthetic manner, but at he same time manages to bring doses of pure poetics into play. This time, wounded and caged animals become cryptic symbols of injustice to humanity of the time. And finally, what would this exhibition be without Ondrej Brody’s outrageous cat and dog carpets (yes, made of cats and dogs)…
Even though the borderline aesthetics associated with hunting evoke some thinking on current visuality in art, like most contemporary art exhibitions, this one has no ambition to resolve any impending questions in further development of visual art today. However, it is always pleasant to see a well researched and constructed show in a Slovak regional gallery.
Good Hunt lasts until 20th November 2011.
by Katarina Mullerova