The exhibition where it would be a shame not to attend and mistake to exhibit

The writing’s on the wall

SPOILER ALERT: if you’re a hardcore fan of a) conceptual art, and b) the Czech art scene, then don’t read any further and just visit the exhibition. Otherwise, carry on.

The title of this exhibition was enough to pique my curiosity and though it seemed fairly clear that there was going to be a big slice of conceptual-art pie coming my way I thought I would pop along. It took me a while to clean off the pie.

I always try to avoid reading press releases but I couldn’t help noticing that there were a large number of contemporary Czech artists listed on this one. It turns out that curator Milan Salak did indeed spend a long time persuading over a hundred Czech-based artists to take part. He also asked them if he could have complete control. Now it’s perfectly usual for a curator to have a lot of input into what work he wants an artist to use, but for that artist to trust a curator enough for them not to be involved beyond a phone call is a big ask. Still, it worked, and here we are.

As we step into the gallery the penny drops. It’s true - all of the artists listed are represented. David Cerny on one wall, Miroslav Pesch on another, but literally, written on the wall, stenciled to be precise. The whole gallery is covered with the names of the artists. I felt a bit of a tit at first for falling into the trap, but then it’s the trap that makes it funny – ‘come and see the big names in contemporary Czech art’.

Conceptual art needs poking fun at occasionally, and this is a nice way to do it, but besides a bit of leg pulling it does throw out a few bigger questions. Firstly, what are the processes involved in being selected for a group exhibition? An artist may enquire as to why they are asked to participate in one show and not another. Maybe it’s a question of fashion; one artist is trendy at the moment and another isn’t. Perhaps it’s down to how saleable an artist is. Or maybe it’s simply a curator’s whim. In this case it was much more arbitrary; Salak simply included the artists that he had saved as contacts on his phone.

Also under scrutiny is the viewer’s relationship to art. What makes us visit an exhibition, and what are we expecting to get from it? All too often people consider work in a gallery to be important simply because it’s in the gallery, and that’s something we shouldn’t do. In this case I couldn’t help thinking that a large number of the people attending the opening night would be pretty miffed when they discovered the ruse, but that’s exactly what I liked about it, that I’d fallen for it. For me it was a reminder that art isn’t simply a list of who’s who but rather something that should catch your attention and make you question what you like about art in the first place. We should care about our own relationship to art, not everyone else’s.

This should really be the point where I recommend whether or not you should go and see it but as I’ve pretty much given the game away I’d be surprised if you do. I enjoyed it though.

Senovážné náměstí 17
Until 30th July 2015

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