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JOSEPH KURHAJEC SHOWS HIS WORK IN HIS GRANDFATHER'S HOMELAND

Top pick: Beastly art

THE AMERICAN artist and sculptor Joseph Kurhajec has brought his animal-inspired art works to the land of his ancestors for a show that is currently running at Bratislava's Pálffyho palác (Pálffy Palace). For Kurhajec, this represents something of a homecoming, as his paternal grandfather was born in Slovakia but emigrated to Racine, Wisconsin, in 1906.
The curator of the Bratislava exhibition, Jan K€íž from Prague, met Kurhajec, who currently lives in Paris, for the first time in New York in 1969, and has been following the development of his artistic career ever since.
"On that occasion, I asked him where he got his peculiar surname from. He wasn't fully aware of his origins then, but he told me that his family came from Slovakia and that his father still had relatives there," says K€íž.


FETISH Cat, a ceramic sculture, is one of Kurhajec's animal-inspired works.
photo:Courtesy of GMB

THE AMERICAN artist and sculptor Joseph Kurhajec has brought his animal-inspired art works to the land of his ancestors for a show that is currently running at Bratislava's Pálffyho palác (Pálffy Palace). For Kurhajec, this represents something of a homecoming, as his paternal grandfather was born in Slovakia but emigrated to Racine, Wisconsin, in 1906.

The curator of the Bratislava exhibition, Jan K€íž from Prague, met Kurhajec, who currently lives in Paris, for the first time in New York in 1969, and has been following the development of his artistic career ever since.

"On that occasion, I asked him where he got his peculiar surname from. He wasn't fully aware of his origins then, but he told me that his family came from Slovakia and that his father still had relatives there," says K€íž.

"When I visited him in Paris in 1989, I told him that it would be good if he returned to [former] Czechoslovakia and I started negotiating an exhibition for him at the Czech Museum of Fine Arts [in Prague]. The event took place in 1996, and was his 'Czechoslovak' premiere."

Taking inspiration from the use of sculptures as cult objects within mythology, Kurhajec creates what he calls fetish sculptures. In his works he appeals to people's need to refer to something supernatural, and the repeating themes in his work are shamans, warriors, and ritualistic objects - all expressed using animal motifs.

The show at City Gallery's Pálffy Palace includes collages as well as sculptures, and monotypes created using traditional materials in combination with fur, hair, cloth, and reptile skins.

"Kurhajec is a phenomenon both in comparison to Czech and Slovak artists and also on the world art scene. He is inspired by non-European cultures like the Mayans, African art, and Finnish folk culture," K€íž explains.

And it is not only ancient art that inspires Kurhajec. He also draws ideas from traditional folk cultures.

"He is not the only one doing this. [The French artist] Jean Dubuffet also brought aspects of amateur art into contemporary art. Dubuffet's movement of l'art brut [raw art] encouraged the creativity of untrained artists and mentally ill people. Kurhajec was invited by the l'art brut movement to exhibit in their shows," the curator says.

Kurhajec often incorporates small sculptures of animals carrying missiles into his work, which seem to comment on current conflicts. By using the animal images and natural materials, his works refer back to ancient art, when sculptures were important objects in cult-like ceremonies.

"An important part of his work is the animal world, which he has a great understanding of, and he is very good at sculpting it as he grew up on a farm," says K€íž.

"Animals as symbols are also very significant in mythology because [ancient cultures] were convinced that the gods spoke to man through animals. In his eyes, the animal world and the human world are not that far apart."

Kurhajec's display runs (Tue-Sun 10:00-18:00) until June 22 at Pálffyho palác (Pálffy Palace), Panská 19, Bratislava. Admission: Sk40. Tel:02/5443-3627.

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