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Selfportrait V

Bedřich Dlouhý

MuMo Praha 18/2/2010 – 30/6/2010

The monographic exhibition of Bedřich Dlouhý /Self-portrait V., subtitled King of Art 1. reflects the artist’s works, which mostly come from the collection of the DrAK Foundation. Dlouhý´s steady artistic brushwork unifies the exhibition through the element of the aesthetics of strangeness, which became an integral part of Dlouhý´s works thanks to his activity in the art group Šmidrové (Lazy Eyes), and due to the difficult post-war period, during which Dlouhý´s artistic expression was profiled. The aesthetics of strangeness enters the Museum Montanelli exhibition as an unstudied leitmotif, naturally linking monumental assamblages combining painting with everyday objects, whose frequently technical nature acquires an almost organic character in the whole of the painting, with the works reflecting Dlouhý´s interest in classical painting, whose traditional motifs are always made remarkable by the elements of modern times. These, due to their rough matter-of-factness, rouse the viewers from their romantic frame of mind, absurd installations lightening the exhibition thanks to their wittiness having the same effect.

The older, rather raw paintings, assamblages and installations contrast with Dlouhý´s latest works, which are exhibited in the halls of the former Montanelli Gallery. The cycle Inversion from the years 2007 – 2008 consists of seven painting installations, which thanks to their color variety and minimalistic content and form convey an almost dreamlike impression, creating an interesting contrast with the other expressive, raw works presented at the exhibition.

The exhibition Bedřich Dlouhý, Self-portrait V. is the author’s essential monographic exhibition. Czech art-lovers thus have an opportunity to get a coherent view of Dlouhý´s works, including the legendary painting Lace Maker from the year 1987, the reproduction of which was used on the sleeve of the cult music album „In the World Guesthouse“.

The exhibition at the Museum Montanelli celebrates the author’s original and independent approach to his material, which is always treated in a new way, as well as Dlouhý´s virtuosity of painting and drawing and his special sense of finding extraordinary contexts and their masterful interpretation within the frame of the painting.

The Museum Montanelli Café hosts an exhibition of Bedřich Dlouhý´s private photos documenting the artist’s rich social life among the art elite of the twentieth century.
The works presented at the exhibition are included in a catalogue published on this occasion.

Bedřich Dlouhý was one of the founding members of the Šmidrové Group in 1954, which picked up on the ideas of Dadaism and studied the aesthetics of strangeness. In the group, he met other major figures of Czech art, such as Jaroslav Vožniak, Jan Koblasa, Karel Nepraš, and Rudolf Komorous. In the late fifties, he briefly took up structural expression, in which he arrived at a pure abstraction. But at the same time, his paintings, reliefs, and objects included snippets of reality, torn out of their original context. Later, he switched to romantically attuned visions, into which his rich imagination was reflected. At the same time, he was interested in the rough reality of the contemporary world, and in the charm of discarded and unnecessary objects. Since the very beginning, Bedřich Dlouhý exhibited a very well defined sense for the precise expression of his ideas, in which his inexhaustible imagination was enriched by a touch of reality. He also marries what is today a nearly unbelievable virtuosity in drawing and painting, in which he matches old masters. Of course, his object is not to compete with them in the perfection of rendering. He uses refined metaphors in his painting, which connect the past with the present and the future. 

A counter-pole to the perfectly managed classical artistic processes is assemblage, which the author has liked using from his early periods until the present. In it, he successfully manages to capture the character of the contemporary world. He approximates French new realism, most of all probably Arman’s famous accumulations. In his assemblages, Bedřich Dlouhý achieves a rough, raw depiction of reality, which contrasts with the smooth old-master-like painting. He is not interested merely in form, but in the precise expression of the content, in capturing the absurdity of today’s world, with its convoluted development. The scrimmage of various objects therefore becomes a mirror to the situation in society and civilisation, an ironic view of complex, unorganised, and often incomprehensible and strange events of the day. But above all, his work is a reflection of his soul, his thinking and feeling, and becomes a sort of an imaginary self-portrait in which order mingles with chaos. The two do stand opposite one another, but at the same time, they cannot exist without one another, as one is growing out of the other. Naturally, the method of collage is close to Bedřich Dlouhý, which is so characteristic of the thinking of the 20th and it seems also the 21st century. Like assemblage, collage allows him to connect seemingly incongruous elements. But he supplements it with other techniques.

His light drawings are suggestive. In them, he connects a fragile and fine line with an internal radiation. They look like magical altars that invite deep meditation. The atmosphere in them approximates the installations of Christian Boltanský. Dlouhý uses everyday objects that we see every day, and therefore do not really notice them, with a special romantic feeling. He carefully observes what is going on, what situations develop, and how our environment and our perceptions of it change. In his work, he applies for example pages from fashion magazines, which in the contemporary context precisely uncover one of the faces of this superficial and hurried era. A world enters his paintings, which rushes mad-headedly after transient values, and cheap and easy success. His expression is close to that of pop-art, which depicts with irony the fundamental character traits of consumer society, responds to the overweight omnipresence of advertising, and arrives at a poetic that ties into the undying legacy of dada.

Bedřich Dlouhý arrived at a particular opinion, which is based on sensitive perception and an unmediated knowledge of the environment in which we have lived and which, in connection with the post-War political and social situation, differed significantly from Western Europe, which headed in an entirely different direction. Time had stopped in the Czech lands, as in the other countries of the so-called East Bloc; whereas, free democratic countries developed much faster and more naturally. So Dlouhý’s work and the thinking and feeling of a whole generation reflected something from Kafka’s bizarre world, in which the goal cannot be reached by any means, in which the resolution of problems keeps getting farther away. In spite of all our efforts, we often return to the place from which we started. Bedřich Dlouhý managed to uncover and capture with absolute perfection the banality and mundane nature, as well as the uniqueness, of human life. In fact, he works with the same modes of expression all the time, and he manages all of them perfectly. His unusual technical abilities, his virtuosity in painting and drawing, are never entirely self-serving. He can intricately connect his favourite methods to create a special tension, to make us ask questions that each of us must answer himself. His work is very rich in expression, and can depict the transformations of the world in their ambiguity, unforeseability, and convolutedness.

Dlouhý creates a sort of curious, never-ending diary full of diversions and labyrinths. In it, he writes all his thoughts and ideas by putting together objects he finds, which are authentic evidence of their era. Sometimes, he expresses himself in a very intimate way, and his work becomes his personal confession. Other times, he takes the route of a monumental depiction, in which various levels of meaning intertwine. But in its nature, it remains fragile and fine, with the author’s rich internal world being reflected in it. That world is not isolated from the events that touch upon us personally, whether we want it or not. Reflected in it is a conviction about the significance of ethical values, faith in the sense of artistic expression, and at the same time an uncertain fear of an uncertain future. The author’s lifelong experience has in recent years been concentrated in his monumental Self-portraits which combine various motives, various ideas, and also all of the technical processes that the author has ever used. With an unusual lightness, he again returns to the perfect painting of old masters; in contrast with it stand precisely selected technical elements or daily objects that are of no longer of use. The large objects express his attitudes to the world and its philosophy, with which it approaches contemporary society. They express the complexity of his thought, in which doubt is mixed with hope.

In spite of his introverted nature, Bedřich Dlouhý did not limit himself to his own work. He also engaged in teaching. In 1990 – 1995, he was a professor and the head of the studio of painting at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, where he educated a number of students over the course of his work there. After discontinuing his teaching career, he again engages nearly every day in very concentrated work in his Prague studio. He is represented in many major public and private collections in this country and abroad (the National Gallery in Prague, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Muésée d´Art Moderne in Paris, Gallerie Arturo Schwarz in Milan, nearly all regional galleries in Bohemia and Moravia, etc.). He has been exhibiting independently since 1962. His work has been studied by some major Czech theorists (Jan Kříž, Věra Jirousová). Unfortunately, no larger and more comprehensive publication has been published yet that would thoroughly map out and evaluate his work. His work has received official acclaim on several occasions. In 1965, he won the main prize for painting at the International Biennale of Youth in Paris, and in 1996 a gold medal of the Prague Academy of Fine Art for his pedagogical activities and his participation in reforming the school after the fall of the communist regime. Bedřich Dlouhý’s artistic development is very complex, his work is on the border of several streams (structuralism, photorealism, neo-dadaism, new figuration), between a legacy of perfect knowledge of traditions and artistic streams of past eras and the search for and discovery of new values that are relevant for this time.

Jiří Machalický

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