20th century and contemporariness

About plastic art, which has being arisen with us at the beginning of past century, we talk constantly like about the “art of sculpture in Slovakia“, and not as about “Slovak sculpture” because the Slovaks have been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the first years of 20th century and the character of our cultural centres was distinctively multinational. The Art Nouveau (secessional) symbolism relatively developed in art of painting does not find echoes in sculptural creation on the territory of Slovakia. The creation of older sculptors born before 1900 – of Alojz Rigele and Róbert Kühmayer – represented historical and social themes. The Slovak “national” sculpture stood at the beginning of its development not before 1918. Avant-garde movements of Europe of the first half of 20th century have avoided to our art of sculpture in a clear shape. The plastic art and monumental creation, which have been always depended on patronage and government contracts, were developed comprehensibly more slowly in the society with undeveloped national bourgeoisie.

Jan Koniarek is the founding personality of modern Slovak sculpture in the spirit of the then European tendencies. So-called the Rodin line of the art of sculpture appears also with us by means of Koniarek´s creation which dominated the Prague sculptor´s ateliers. Many partakers of the then incoming generation of Slovak artists in their youth have come through Prague studies and expositions into contact with artistic world of France. For example a separated exposition of August Rodin (in 1902 already in today non-existent exhibition hall in Kinski´s garden from architect Kotěra) caused, literally, “heavy seas” on the creative scene of Czechoslovakia. Josef Mařatka, his pupil and assistant in Paris has subsequently pedagogically influenced together with Josef Václav Myslbek the whole generation of their students. Under strong influence of French sculpture then also our first sculptors studied in Prague. After all we can track down also in the work of founder of the Slovak modern sculpture, i.e. of Ján Koniarek an indirect Rodin´s influence on creation of monuments. The works of artists linking-up on neoclassical work of French sculptor Aristid Maillol are a formal contrary of this line of sculptors which work with trembling “impressionistic” form. In this spirit the female nudes of Jozef  Arpád  Murmann of the twenties of past century have been created which are characteristic by their balanced and symmetrical shapes.

Rise of creative educational system has been undoubtedly a catalyst of development of artistic spawn. In 1928 a School of Artistic Crafts has been founded with us and together with “fever of monuments” naturally coming out from an effort to define the young republic also our national cultural life within the Czechoslovakia; it contributed to a change of conditions for rise of avant-garde Slovak art. The Slovaks founding traditions of the art came graduated from Prague, Vienna, Budapest, from foreign stays and they catalyzed the creative events in our country. Ladislav Majerský is one of the first Slovak artists – graduates of Prague Academy of Creative Arts who brought social civilism to Slovakia. Social subjects are appeared also in creation of Vojtech Ihriský, one of many graduates of Jan Štursy´s atelier and equally in early creation of Rudolf Pribiš. Július Bártffay brought a direct experience from atelier of Antoin Bourdell in the twenties and thirties to Slovakia whose top creation inclined to the Art Nouveau (secesional) and symbolic positions to the detriment of dramatic Bourdell´s pathos.

Also member of younger generation of artists Jozef Kostka returns at the end of the thirties from Prague studies to Slovakia. His creation is characteristic by realistic depiction but with accents towards abstract forms. He uses to be marked as „sculptor-poet“ for his sensual shape intuition and till then for unrecognized sculptor´s lyrics. Personality of Czechoslovak applied art Júlia Horová-Kováčiková has acted many years as female designer of Modra ceramics and female teacher at the School of Artistic Crafts and she contributed by her work to forming the awareness on perishing crafts in our country. Her free sculptor´s works of argil (animals, female torsos) symbolize imaginary connection of art of sculpture to tradition, earth and argil and they open path to authentic art in our country, which is namely unbiased with academic dogmas but it has still very young creative identity. Rudolf Uher is further from key personalities and he introduced a draft of archetypal form in the forties. That has been a shift by “mile step” towards forming of modern but, at the same time, authentic untaken-over art of sculpture. Later Uher came to rustically felt sign-like abstraction and to generous sculptor´s gesture.

A Group of Mikuláš Galanda returns to legacy of the modern painter´s classics and against dictate of realism prescribed by state at the end of the fifties, searching for material expression of heritage of folk culture in Slovakia and of archetypal memory of nation in the art of sculpture. Vladimír Kompánek and Andrej Rudavský have set out this way in plastic art but as well as the other Galanda´s also they have been silenced for long decades by normalizing regime.

Also with us it comes to radical deviation from realistic displaying in starting-points of topical art of the sixties in the period of release of censorship of official structures, it comes up a release from “cramp” of fixly defined artistic kinds, material restriction and a dispersion of frontiers among particular branches of creative art happens; trend, which prevailed of course in free conditions of the then “West” European-American cultural space. Young Czechoslovak generation of authors utilized this precious moment of possibility of free creative manifestation vigorously and a lot of iconic works came to existence, which are highly appreciated by our also foreign experts up today. But in this point we cannot more speak about art of sculpture as atelier creation of models of monuments, figures or for instance of medals and at all about modelling in classical materials like plaster or clay. Uher or Kompánek insinuated, in way of a shape and material, many paths open for future art of sculpture but the atmosphere of the sixties meant a sudden and intensive displacement of art outward from previous categories, borders and limitations. Also a tighter connection of the art of sculpture with patronage or with federal or state contracting of public implementations has been one of such imaginative restriction. Torn bonds for public demand for “state-forming” sculptures have opened to a greater liberty of creative manifestation. The object and new trends in the sculpture have been a distinctive part of first unofficial expositions of Confrontation which have been organized in private premises of sculptor Jozef Jankovič or in atelier of the Galanda´s member Andrej Rudavský. Just there presented structural abstraction and non- sculptural handling of material have opened new paths of expression not only to sculpture but also to others creative kinds. Interesting and pioneering works have originated not only in spaces of ateliers but new and strong tendencies like object and installation have been exhibited in the then “shop window” of young art in Gallery of Cyprián Majerník. Especially in period of the sixties several innovative and today already historic expositions of environments, installations and objects have been there presented. From many of them it is necessary to remember an exposition of the first objects of Stano Filko, of kinetic objects of Milan Dobeš or installations of Jana Želibská, Jaroslav Kočiš has been sculptural protagonist of the structural abstraction from Confrontations. Also introduction of creation of his colleague, respected Slovak sculptor Jozef Jankovič has been abstract. This one in his worked up problems of found object and assemblage and in the half of sixties he reached to new techniques and forms of sculptor´s figuration. Intentionally oversized human figure/extremity is characteristic motive in his creation brutally and sarcastically polemizing with image of human being and human body in society and in context of the art of sculpture like such one. Jankovič has taken up also creation of monuments in his own way. Monument of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bytrica “Victims warn” (1965 -1969) is the most known work of Jozef Jankovič which has been removed from the monument of SNP by normalizing regime.

New figuration and, pop art influenced also creation of Dušan Králik. Mira Haberernová has been an important part of efforts of this generation for overcoming the restrictions of traditional media as art of sculpture or hanging picture. She conceived sculptures and reliefs in an original way – by use of readymade objects or by technique of sewing together. Ján Mathé, Juraj Rusňák or Pavol Binder have been sculptors moving themselves on the border of plastic art inspired by natural shape and of constructive tendencies whose wire plastic art is an example of that thing how Slovak sculptors drew from traditional crafts of our ancestors (tinker´s trade, wood and stone working) and these traditions transferred into a modern creative language. Biomorphic shape, archetype of egg or germ is strong motive in work of ceramics author Jozef Sušienka who also shifts his work into the area of free art (sculptor´s installation). Glassmaking background and later pedagogical activity in area of applied art has also further significant Slovak sculptor Juraj Gavula. In 1965 he exhibited his kinetic objects the pioneer of pop art Milan Dobeš with us in Gallery of Cyprián Majerník.

At the end of sixties geometrical and constructive creation has concentrated around a club of concretists – around Štefan Belohradský and Juraj Bartusz. Juraj Bartusz connected the plastic art with action and conceptual art. Also Mária Bartuszová passed through short episode of geometrical abstraction. Later Bartuszová reached peculiar likeness of biomorphic plastic art arising as result of a process original working of plaster in liquid state.  Her prematurely terminated creation is very appreciated by international specialists and uses to be exhibited at prestigious international shows of art. Today she is already a fixed part of context of post-minimalistic art in the world.

Also creation of Slovak sculptor Juraj Meliš is original one who gave up dogma of academic teaching of classical modelling in favour of anti-aesthete´s programme of creation from coarse unworked material and found objects. Today also timelessness of ecological and humanistic themes is being confirmed which interweave his (not only) spatial creation. 

Creativity in selection of material and technique, path of which has been opened by second avant-garde of the sixties, brings with itself a phenomenon of befogging of borders among individual artistic disciplines. Using the found object, „sculptor´s“ compounding of installations and influence of conceptual considering the creation means that the nature of artistic production of the entire row of sculptors functioning on Slovak stage is then intermedial one. Also radical cut of normalization did his substantial bit which has put aside the relevant authors away from public creation into private premises or unofficial events and, naturally, it influenced the sculptor´s creation which, maybe, also more than other ones needs a generous space for presentation and, of course, also public contract. Ideologically unobjectionable sculptors received sculptor´s decorations, commissioned by the state, of public buildings, important monuments and only some of them managed to pass through a sieve of assessing commissions and to gain “non-conflict” orders for sculptor´s decorations of public buildings, parks and interiors. Therefore in Slovakia also a lot of quality works in public sector from socialist times which avoided mindless dictate of socialist realism and their creative level remains timeless one.

An example of artist, who is with soul a sculptor but the substantial part of his life he survived without possibility to exhibit publicly, is  Vladimít Havrilla. Confined conditions for work and survival have paradoxically forced him to grow up to original draft of the art of sculpture, which is as such in his work so important and visible, but by its mass ephemeral one. This author substituted subtle measures of his plastic art, material (paper, ceramics, plants…) also by computer animation from the nineties.

A lot of interesting art arose on Slovak unofficial scene during the years of totality. Limited communication with abroad caused a creator´s hunger for information from the world of the art but, at the same time, a preserved-up authenticity and specific creative poetics of local art of underground have remained with us.  Our cultural scene is repaying debts to insufficiently undervalued authors and many of them in their old age are experiencing retrospective expositions and recognition of foreign scene. From those who we consider not a priori sculptors but by means of their multigenre creation of reliefs, objects and installations they significantly contributed into discourse (also) about spatial art in Slovakia are Monogamist T.D., Otis Laubert, Július Koller (later also in tandem with Peter Rónai), Stanislav Filko, Jana Želibská and many other.

The eighties of past century are connected with strong painter´s generation with us. With approaching social change in this period a release of strict normalizing practices happened and also within other creative kinds the ices have moved; although it meant here constantly for relevant young art to exhibit out of the then institutions in non-traditional places in the exterior or private premises. An exposition from the last year of totalitarian regime, April 1989, under title of Basement became legendary one which presented new tendencies in the art of installation (Cellar of dwelling house in the Konventná street in Bratislava, exhibiting authors: Peter Meluzin, Peter Rónai, Jana Želibská, Július Koller, Matej Krén, Viktor Oravec, Milan Pagáč with curator Radislav Matuštík).

After years of full restrictions the new post-revolutionary generation has naturally set out an available way of forms of art in accord with topical tendencies in West, European-American art. This has been intensified by free flow of information; it is necessary to say, in both directions. After overthrow international curators and collectors, who have been interconnected with opinion-making institutions and they understood well cultural also commodity potential of art “from beyond iron curtain”, begun to take an interest in youngest generation of authors but also of artists of unofficial creative scene from before 1989. Sooner or later also our art should enter on international exhibition stage and to become a part of foreign public also private collections and to write new history of art. Because a system of gallerians representing interests of creative artists has not been created, then the artists with lingual equipment, ability to present their work and with skilfulness of building the contacts with foreign curators have been advantaged.  But the international networks in the art cannot absorb all the quality and, fortunately, a lot of quality art arose with us and it is arising. In certain way that art, which did not know new-fangled marketing tricks and, which could not “sell itself”, is necessary to be discovered for a longer time because it does not speak by universally readable creative language of a world´s postconception. But it uses to be interesting thanks to its originality, authenticity and to the unaffected local specific and our creative scene is fortunately rich also for this type of contemporary art.

Within plastic art and spatial art several authors of new generation succeeded in breaking through the world who worked experimentally with un-sculptural material and they were creators of objects and installations. Roman Ondák is one of deservedly successful authors in international context who has created conceptual objects and installations in the nineties taking on also a performative dimension with advancement of time. Denisa Lehocká links up onto post-minimalistic objects of Mária Bartuszová and she creates constructive and biomorphic objects and installations. Her arrangements of objects create a specific visual tension and the contain associations, XYZ is a group of authors, whose multimedial works skirt a sculptor´s pathos and dictate of compact sculptor´s material also of dominating dimensions of sculptor´s works. Ilona Németh devotes herself to the object, installation and art in public space with emphasis onto social issues. At the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava (AFAD) she influenced pedagogically many young talented graduates. Today Patrik Kovačovský manages a sculptor´s atelier at AFAD and from the nineties he creates conceptually tuned objects and installations, for example those with themes of flying or various interest subcultures. Contemporary sculptor´s depiction of country and figure in mountains is domain of Štefan Papčo. Marek Kvetan devotes himself in long terms to stylistically clear conceptual installation and object. In creation of Pavla Sceranková the moment, constructivism, found object, involvement of viewer into sculptor´s work with private and subjective memory are wedded in unique clearness. Her husband Dušan Zahoranský works in a sculptor´s way with writing and word in space. More authors of middle generation hold a polemics with all what the sculpture have meant when it has being fulfilled public contracts and it lived in clutches of academism: Tomáš Džadoň has created several memorial but decisively not chamber realisations (wooden shack installed on the top of Košice high-rise building or large-sized skew model of high-rise building). With local visual DNA also Michal Moravčík worked but rather in spatial works of “gallery” dimensions. His original reinterpretations of socialist furniture are unforgettable and, at all, perception and reflecting of public space with us. In spite of his premature leaving he made it to leave some works highly appreciated by specialists. Creation of Martin Piaček, who manages the sculptor´s atelier at AFAD today, is touching and unmasking heroic history, national myths and memoirs, the bearer of which has been the state-forming creation. He works in a sculptor´s way in chamber dimension and he equally polemizes with pompous measures of public sculptures and monuments.  At AFAD also a prominent Slovak sculptor of older generation Ján Hoffstädter is acting, creator of figuration being influenced also by minimalism and geometry and, by the way, former rector of AFAD. His colleague Peter Roller creates, namely, also monumental plastic art but he exists as an author of minimalistic painted black-and-white stones so-called “petrograms” in wide awareness of the public which are positioned in town also along the country and they became one of urban legends of Bratislava.

In 1998 by endeavouring of Juraj Bartusz further platform for education of young sculptors arose – Faculty of Arts at Technical University in Košice. Interesting creative artists began to come out also from this college but, especially, a distinctive painter´s generation. Vlasta Žáková devotes herself to spatial creation who creates sewn objects, Jaroslav Kyša, author of conceptual objects and installations or Radovan Čerevka who creates spatial “collages” in a language of world´s mass media and he took over the management of atelier of spatial creation after Juraj Bartusz. Solitaire Ján Zelinka is inclined to figural sculptor´s creation by character of its creation but his utilization of non-traditional materials and suggestively existential themes could find echoes in world post-conceptual generation of sculptors.

In contemporaneous, globalized world of art it is more heavily to recognize local specifics of the creative art. Also constantly re-defining itself creative kind is not particularly facilitating it, by which the art of sculpture is in fact. The sculpture is, namely, already not the Michelangelo´s “stone and pain” or Makovský´s “struggle for shape” long ago but the youngest generation consciously and unintentionally stands on that what has been conquered by those before them; either in Slovakia or in the world. It will be interesting to watch how the oncoming generation of sculptors and of creative artists will at all struggle with new challenges of today´s world (not only) of art and how we will understand to the notion of “Art of sculpture in Slovakia”.