Jirí Kovanda is one of the conceptual artists from Central and Eastern Europe who have been rediscovered recently. His actions and interventions from the 1970s have already been presented in various exhibitions such as East Art Map, Body and the East and Parallel Actions. Presently, his works are part of the exhibition Kontakt (from the Art Collection of the Erste Bank Group) in the Museum Moderner Kunst (MUMOK) in Vienna. Kovanda’s work not only interests curators and art institutions, but also other artists, for instance Didier Courbots who tries to do a remake of the action “Cekám, až mi nekdo zavolá” (Waiting for a telephone call ... ). A catalogue of Kovanda’s complete actions and interventions from the 1970s and 1980s is being prepared for publishing.
Kovanda’s creative periods can be described as intensive time spans of many years, during which the appearance of his works and their formal identity transformed. However, there are certain elements is his works which remain constant. He is fascinated by the elusive and by spheres, where it is no longer possible to distinguish between art and commonplace.
The works presented at the Gallery Krobath Wimmer are samples of two different styles: wood objects (1993) and paintings (1996). The wood objects from 1993, “Bez názvu” or “untitled”, are ironic questions: What qualifies an object as an object d’art and how can it be distinguished from ordinary objects of everyday life? Most of the objects from this group are found objects, i.e. ready-mades which Kovanda has worked on minimally. Kovanda searches rubbish bins and waste containers where people dispose of their bulky civilisation waste, mainly pieces of furniture. He adapts the found objects and fragments: either he builds a frame in which he positions the objects or he fixes hooks on their backs for hanging them on the wall. The objects, no longer in their original functional and aesthetic context, have been selected carefully. From the formal point of view, Kovanda’s objects have the potential to communicate with and to position themselves among iconic objects of the modern, minimalist and post-minimalist art. Kovanda’s objects are paraphrases of iconic items in the daily life. Following this logic, Kovanda’s objects could be regarded as the key to resuming the links to modernism and minimalism by scrutinising everyday life.
The series of white paintings, 1996, also “Bez názvu”“ or “untitled”, consists of a series found objects which were painted white by Kovanda. His small-format paintings are an even more abstracted and distilled version of his approach. Kovanda does not paint, he rather defines painting as a conceptualist distance, as a question: What are the consequences of applying paint on coarse canvas? The format reflects Kovanda’s attitude towards his environment and life – the extent of the gesture does not matter.
Kovanda does not have a studio in the common sense. He works at home where his works interact with commonplace objects – a feature already present in his early actions, e.g. “Bílý provázek doma” (White String at Home) from 1979.
Jirí Kovanda is already a cult figure in the Czech Republic. His conceptualistic artistic expression, his personal integrity and his personality inspire a whole range of young artists, like Jano Mancuška and Zbynek Baladrán. His de-aestheticized approach towards the form of his work, reminiscent of do-it-yourself projects, is partly the result of the fact that Kovanda, like many other revolutionary Czech artists of the post-WW II period (Vladimír Boudník, Milan Knížák and Jirí Kolár), is a self-taught artist.