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EXHIBITION PRESENTS ARTWORK THAT WAS STILL BANNED 13 YEARS AGO

Top pick: Unofficial art officially presented

FOUR floors of the Esterházy Palace in Bratislava are currently filled with works of art that were created during the repressive 1970s.
Those years, the time after Warsaw Pact troops violently cracked down on the relatively free Czechoslovakia in 1968, are known as the "normalization period". For artists working at that time it meant a return to socialist realism, so those revolting against the dictated standards could only develop underground alternatives to the mainstream.
Entitled Slovak Visual Art 1970-1985, the exhibition is exhaustive in its scope, occupying galleries from the palace's third floor all the way down to the basement. The works are divided into several categories according to various conceptual themes.


JANKOVIČ'S Jewel in silver-plated copper.
photo: Courtesy of Jozef Jankovič

FOUR floors of the Esterházy Palace in Bratislava are currently filled with works of art that were created during the repressive 1970s.

Those years, the time after Warsaw Pact troops violently cracked down on the relatively free Czechoslovakia in 1968, are known as the "normalization period". For artists working at that time it meant a return to socialist realism, so those revolting against the dictated standards could only develop underground alternatives to the mainstream.

Entitled Slovak Visual Art 1970-1985, the exhibition is exhaustive in its scope, occupying galleries from the palace's third floor all the way down to the basement. The works are divided into several categories according to various conceptual themes.

Even though it is the alternative works that dominate, the comprehensive show opens with a traditional selection of work by modern Slovak painters. Many of these artists reached the height of their fame in the 1960s and earlier, but they remained active throughout the 1970s.

The third-floor galleries are adorned with works by founders of the Slovak modern art movement. Other works displayed on this floor are abstract paintings by Ester Šimečková-Martinčeková and sculptures by Rudolf Uher. Visitors can also observe the constructivist tendencies developed by Milan Dobeš and the world of imaginative realism created by children's book illustrator Albín Brunovský.

In one of the graphic works shown on the second floor, the artist Daniel Fischer simplifies and deconstructs a cave painting of a bull from Altamira, Spain, using a computer. In this series of images, Fischer removes certain elements until all that is left is the infinity symbol. This piece is representative of the general theme of the second floor, which is devoted to the penetration of new media into art.

"Because independent artwork could not be developed in a monumental way, sculptors switched from creating large, sculptural or land-art works to [smaller] fictitious memorials and projects instead. The motif of a figure stranded in a mass or deprived of carnality was characteristic of the atmosphere of the time," says Aurel Hrabušický, the exhibition's curator. Certain artists whose work is representative of this downsizing are Jozef Jankovič and Juraj Meliš.

In contrast to what is presented on the second floor, the first floor seems to have a much looser and freer atmosphere.

In the works displayed here, the artists have tried to evolve their art by combining various types of media and inventing new concepts. According to Hrabušický, it helps them get rid of the burden presented by traditional techniques as well as giving them the chance to escape into different dimensions.

New forms of photographic art are displayed in the palace's cellar. The underground space ironically opens with a project by Peter Meluzín that mocks Marcel Duchamp's quote "the great artist of tomorrow will go underground".

The exhibition runs until May 25 in the Slovenská Národná Galéria (Slovak National Gallery) at Esterházyho palác (Esterházy Palace) on Námestie Ľ. Štúra 4 in the Bratislava Old Town. Admission is Sk30-80. Tel: 02/ 5443-2081(2).

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