Action Art from the GMU collections

curator: Anna Horák Zemanová | White & Black Cube

The exhibitions of action art in the White Cube and Black Box introduce viewers to this artistic phenomenon. The White Cube presents works made predominantly in eastern Bohemia that the gallery acquired over the past two years. These are supplemented by other important works of this type from the gallery’s c ollections that were made elsewhere in the Czech lands. In the Black Box, visitors can view films, videos, and documentation of action art from the gallery’s Moving Image Collection.

White Cube

Action art is a broad artistic tendency that in the postwar era significantly transformed the character of the artwork and the position of both artist and viewer. It brought a new emphasi s on not just the final work but on the creative process itself. On the Czech scene, action art began to develop i n the late 1940s and early 1950s. It dominated the work of various artists throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s and continues to be used as a means of artistic expression today.

The White Cube is showing mainly art actions realized in eastern Bohemia, documentation of which was discovered during preparations for a monograph on the multimedia artist Milan Langer. These works have not yet been properly explored in art publications or exhibition projects and have remained hidden in the personal archives of the artists and their friends. The exhibited works include diverse forms of action art such as performances, happenings (the work of Milan Knížák), body art (Petr Štembera, Jaroslav Richtr, Jan Mlčoch), and land art (Alexandr Skali cký), as well as various types of collaboration (the PIML art group; the artistic trio of Milan Langer, Ladislav Plíva, and Jaroslav Richtr). They also reflect the many different ways in which such actions were documented: examples include the photo-performances of Karel Miler, documentation made by the artists themselves (as in the case of Jaroslav Richtr), or Zdeněk Merta’s photographs recording the entire course of Milan Langer’s happenings. The exhibited works may also document various objects and artifacts used in or created during actions, as can be seen in the work of Vladimír Škoda.

Black Cube

Since art is primarily a visual medium, the technical image would appear to be the i deal form for documenting art actions. Such documentary records contain real images, sometimes also sound, and usually capture the entire course of the particular action. Authentic footage also allows us to see the context, the surroundings in which the event took place. If an action is captured as a digital image, viewers can to some extent be mediated a second-hand experience of a real event that they did not participate in.

Representative overview of action art in the Black Box presents works made by Czech artists in the 1970s to the 1990s. Among other things, it includes raw recordings of several happenings by Milan Knížák, including Stone Ceremony (Kamenný obřad, 1971), Material Event (Materiálové události, 1977), and a concert by Knížák’s band Aktual in Holubín (1972), recorded by Petr Prokeš. The exhibition also presents a film compilation of seven performances by Lumír Hladík, most of which were realized in the landscape. The section dedicated to body art features films or videos of actions in artists worked with their own body, as in Tomáš Ruller’s Self-Portrait (Autoportrét, 1984) or Falling (Padání, 1985), Jiří Černický’s Make-Up of the Fata Morgana (Líčení Fata Morgány, 1992), or Rudolf Němec’s Manipulation (Manipulace) from the 1980s.