Ray of light for young artists, art lovers

The Prague Post

Start-up project in House at the Golden Ring seeks to expose the unknowns

Finding that elusive first job is difficult for any recent graduate, and the term “starving artist” applies in particular to young painters and sculptors.

City Gallery Prague has a long history of putting on exhibitions by young artists, and a small room off the lobby in the House at the Golden Ring (Dum U Zlatého prstenu) exclusively dedicated to unitiated is now furthering this effort.

The idea for this “Start-up” cycle of exhibitions hatched in April 2009, and promised free exhibitions aiming to improve the visibility of young Czech artists.

“It’s an adventure all the time, working with something new,” said Olga Malá, Start-up curator. “Young artists need our support when they finish school; there’s an adjustment to be made.”

Malá says that between 50 and 80 students graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague each year and that things are difficult for them, just as they are for curators who want to show their work.

“You ask for new work because you believe in the artist and their capability, but you don’t know exactly what you will get,” she said.

Monika Burian, director of Vernon Fine Art overseeing three Prague galleries, agrees.

“To support young artists is the most difficult and riskiest, and you have to believe in them,” she said.

Burian dedicates about 50 percent of her programs to young artists.

Malá required artists working with Start-up create new pieces for the exhibition. The newest display in the series, Arte et marte by Dragana Živanovic, runs through Feb. 28. Arte et marte is a visual representation of bodybuilders and running horses as symbols of the masculine ideal of beauty and strength. Živanovic graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 2008 and created all but one of the pieces on display exclusively for this exhibition.

“I try to do my best and hope to have good results, but I don’t know how it will go,” she said. “I think everyone after finishing their diploma has a very hard year trying to function as an artist. You need to settle down and figure out how it works.”

Malá agrees, saying, “It’s a decisive moment whether you’ll become established as an artist.” She believes there is support for young artists, but adds curators have a responsibility to “feel the situation and be aggressive” when it comes to showing works by new artists.

“We hear older artists complaining a bit about how everyone wants new artists,” she said. “But young artists are really clever.”

One barrier for the aspiring artist, according to Burian, is the buying public.

“Czech collectors make the mistake that they don’t want to believe or listen to me [when I say] it is the right moment to invest in art,” she said. “I would suggest everyone buy a name [a piece by a known artist] but also to trust a gallery owner and buy something by a young artist.” She points to Jakub Nepraš, whose work she sold three years ago for 1,500 euros and now is valued at around 10,000 euros.

Živanovic’s large-scale works are “relief paintings.” She uses insulation cut into the desired shape, glues it to a board, covers it with canvas and paints a scene over the top. She said she wanted to experiment and try something fresh. Past shows in Start-up have included a video projection by Adéla Babanová, Jakub Lipavský’s sculptures and a paper installation by Nikola Rulík. Next up in the series is Alice Nikitinová, whose work goes on display March 10.

Malá says Start-up has been more successful than anticipated and puts it down to people being interested in the development of changed art scene. Burian says things are looking up for young artists, but there remains a long way to go.

“I do believe people will discover contemporary art more and more, and they will buy. … It is slow, but there is hope,” she said. “But Czechs still have to learn to be philanthropists – especially in art.”