Časopis ARS 38 (2005) 2


Svet dejín umenia ako výzva pre tvorbu osobností neoficiálnej slovenskej výtvarnej scény 70. a 80. rokov XX. storočia
[The World of Art History as a Challenge for Members of Slovak Nonofficial Fine Arts Scene in the 70-ies and 80-ies of the XXth Century]


The existence of Slovak nonofficial fine arts scene is historically bordered by the invasion of Warsaw Pact allies into Slovakia in August 1968 and the Velvet Revolution (Fall 1989). Its first phase, which we call „alternative“, was formed of many significant artists from the sixties, joined by those younger artists who were not willing to make artistic careers under the revival of socialist realism, imposed institutionally by the ideologists as the only tolerated artistic style. One of the characteristic features of this alternative scene was the reflection of the history of arts in their artistic creation.

Slovak artists expressed their relation to the history of arts first on a declarative level: at the end of the fifties young authors started a Group of Mikuláš Galanda. In their effort to escape the limits of enforced socialistic realism, they shielded themselves with the name of a major figure of Slovak avant-garde of the period between the World Wars, who together with Ľudovít Fulla formulated the requirement of distinction between the optical and the picture reality, fulfilling it radically.

Soon a specific artistic act put attention at the history of the fine arts. The beginning of New Realism – a European modification of pop-art – put a new light to the authors recognized by Pierre Restany and his Parisian colleagues in the sixties. Among them, Miloš Urbásek was examining the possibilities of structural techniques. He worked with decollage combined with inserting the fragments of posters and reproductions. His picture Homage to Kupecký (1965) is the first appropriation of the artistic past in the context of Slovak fine arts, actually of a baroque self-portrait by a Slovak painter of European significance.

Alex Mlynárčik, the most outstanding figure of this circle, closely connected with Parisian New Realists, showed his relation to the history of arts through „homage“. First he realized his installations (Flirt of Mademoiselle Pogányi, Apollinaire Gallery, Milan, 1969 and Have a Nice Day Mr. Courbet, 1969, Chatillon, Paris) and later public events and festivities of a very unconventional character, even in the context of action art.

In 1969 Mlynárčik and Urbásek composed Manifesto about interpretation in fine arts (instead of „appropriation“ they use the term „interpretation“ in the Manifesto). Mlynárčik’s 1st Festival of Snow (1970), a collective action of Slovak authors, interprets (appropriates) works of significant contemporary international authors. Edgar Degas Memorial (1971) focuses on the history of fine arts. It is an „interpretation“ of the impressionist’s theme and at the same time an „appropriation“ of real horse race. In the collective festivity Eva’s Wedding (1972) Mlynárčik merged life and art. A real wedding of a real couple was stage-managed according to the homonymous picture of Ľudovít Fulla, in the year of his 70th birthday in the author’s hometown of Ružomberok. The wedding changed into a popular festivity of the real wedding guests and the prominent Slovak and foreign artists and critics (e.g. Jindřich Chalupecký from Prague, or Pierre Restany as the bride’s witness). Again, on the basis of the history of arts a new piece of art was created.

Eva’s Wedding was the last public festivity - homage combined with the appropriation of a masterpiece before the hard line„consolidation“ of Slovak culture started. First four years after the invasion to Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Slovak culture automatically continued in the direction of the open and plurality-like sixties. However, the convention of Slovak Artists Union, prepared by the ideologists in the fall of 1972, denounced those authors who kept up with the means of expression of the Euro-American cultural scene. The Union condemned many artists, among them also conceptual and action art Group of Mikuláš Galanda.

The Slovak artists were able to survive the seventies and the eighties mostly thanks to a specific law, saying that every public investment was obliged to put aside 5% of the money for the public decoration purposes. As the ideological restrictions were not applicable for the architecture, the censor comities tolerated decorative compositions without a political motif or a link to socialist realism. This enabled those artists who did not conform to the ideology to preserve the continuity of their work and their living standard, to keep their civil and artistic character: but they had to give up their careers. In the persecution years some of them worked as art teachers on „folk schools of art“ (institutions of extra-curricular education).

Most of the artists who gained international fame during the sixties were expelled from the Slovak Artists Union. In the situation of the state directed culture this meant a total prohibition of exhibiting. This caused the silence of media. However, the artists did not stop to work and freely develop their personal programs. They were presenting in their studios for invited guests, in the circles of friends, in a self-help organized exhibitions at informal places and in a secretly printed publications. They created relatively large nonofficial fine arts scene, joined by new artists in the following years, up to 1989.

After the beginning of the hard line „consolidation“, Alex Mlynárčik chose to withdraw from the public. He was a protagonist of the „alternative“ fine arts scene outside the official institutions, composed of neo-avant-garde artists, who were still allowed to exhibit their conceptual and action art up to 1972 included. In 1974 he started to work on the project of an imaginary land of Argillia, which corresponds with the culture and art history in concrete outputs – manifests, meetings, artifacts.

Roughly at the same time Rudolf Fila re-evaluated his expressive artistic presentation, situated on the verge of non-figuration. He started to use photographies and later also copies of historical paintings as the backgrounds for his compositions. In 1980, one of his former students on the School of Applied Arts, Vladimír Kordoš, started to reproduce pictures of baroque painters with his friends. The result could be perceived as action art and as an artifact of photography, too. Ten years before Cindy Sherman he appeared in the same positions from the identical pictures.

The relation to the history of fine art was shown in a more general way by the circle of former students of Rudolf Fila. Milan Bočkay expressed himself through trompe-l’oeil. In an old-masters style he subverted the ideologists’ concept of realism, making it more real than the reality itself by his illusive painting. Daniel Fischer entered the polemics in a different way: in his plain-air paintings he blurred the borders of the objective reality and the subjective presentation. Klára Bočkayová used wall figurative embroiders, favored in the country in the first half of the 20th century, as manipulated base for her pictures.

In the period between the Charta 77 and „perestroika“ two collective periodical activities took place on the nonofficial fine arts scene. Both of them were linked to the history of fine arts. Bratislava Championship in Shifting the Artifacts, authorial project of Dezider Tóth, was taking place annually at his studio. The participants were invited authors and critics, who also formed the audience. Apart from Dezider Tóth, also Jana Želibská, who gained world recognition in the sixties, reacted with her artifacts to the history of fine arts.

The second activity belonged to the „gray zone“. The author of the project was Ladislav Snopko, an archeologist from City Council for Heritage Preservation, in cooperation with Viktor Ferus. Six years in the row they organized a public exhibition Archeological Heritage and the Present (under the shield of „Cultural Summer“ festivities). It consisted of his assignments to artists, connected with the history or prehistory of art, such as medieval gates, foundations of Great-Moravian church, shards of pre-historic or historic ceramics and so on. The fact that this activity was organized by an institution not involved in professional fine arts scene enabled them to invite also the rejected artists from the nonofficial fine arts scene. These collective activities of the nonofficial fine artists reflecting the historical themes were at the end of the eighties joined by the activities of the studio Erté in Nové Zámky town (organized by Jozef Juhász, Ilona Németh, Ottó Mészáros and Attila Simon). Apart from the collective activities the historical themes can be followed in the individual programs of action artists such as Michal Kern, Július Koller and Ľubomír Ďurček.

The activities regarded in this study state the claim of the authors of Slovak nonofficial fine arts scene to the history of fine arts in a situation when most of their works were not considered to be art by the state institutions. These works enabled them to create their own communicational space and to acknowledge their artistic identity, being expelled from the public space and being refused the status of free artists by the ideologists.