“THIS will probably be one of the most controversial exhibitions ever [by] the Slovak National Gallery,” the institution's head, Alexandra Kusá, said before the opening of its current exhibition, as quoted by the Sme daily. The exhibition’s curator, Petra Hanáková, was also very cautious when working on the concept of the Holé baby, necenzurované akty moderných majstrov (Naked Females, Uncensored Nudes of Modern Masters) exhibition, but what is certain is that after hosting this selection, the National Gallery will not be accused of conservatism.
The opening itself – and doubtless also the risqué title of the exhibition – lured dozens of people and was launched with a provocative show by actresses from Štúdio Twiga, of the Divadlo na Rázcestí (Puppet Theatre at the Crossroads). In what appeared to be an unplanned extra, a naked man streaked across the stage at the launch (see photo online), although the Sme daily wrote that he may have been surprised to find quite so many onlookers.
“The female nude portrait, classical as well as modern, has been quite a problematic genre in its essence, especially because of the not-quite-fair distribution of roles and views which it has implied,” Hanáková told Sme. Such roles include: the naked woman with the fully-dressed man, and the “voyeur” versus the “subject of the gaze”. Moreover, modern women can find the woman painted naked on a sofa – usually with a book in her hand – ridiculous and quite comical, according to the SITA newswire.
The exhibition itself has three levels: the first consists of nude paintings and the women portrayed; the second shows the lesser-known work of “traditional Slovak masters”; and the third is made up of an imagined dialogue between a grandmother, aged 65, and her granddaughter, aged 15, concerning the paintings, written by professional feminists Jana Juráňová and Jana Cviková. The works are commented upon either through the dialogue, or by comic strips mocking the sexist dimension of the ‘classical masterpieces’. “I think we do a great service to the masters by reviving them – so that they are not just inventory in the stores, but rather a living painting on the wall, as well as a subject for discussion,“ Jana Cviková told the TASR newswire.
The works chosen by the curator represent the periods of Early Modernism (M. Galanda, Ľ. Fulla, C. Majerník, M. Benka), the 1950s (A. Barčík, R. Krivoš, M. Laluha) as well as the liberal 1960s (A. Mlynárčik, S. Filko). Altogether, 19 Slovak artists are included in the collection. A lonely mirror is part of the exhibition and reflects not just the material image, but also the way people looking into it perceive themselves.
“In the last 20 years, only 12 women have had a separate exhibition in the Slovak National Gallery, while 131 men have had the honour; and among the female exhibitions, most have been imported from abroad,” Cviková told SITA. This implies, according to her, that women typically had to undress in order to get into this respectable institution. However, the exhibition’s accompanying events, taking place mostly on Thursdays (with one on a Wednesday), are dedicated to women. They mainly consist of readings by women writers.
The curator was most surprised by the nudes by “Slovak masters” like Benka or Galanda: Galanda’s Woman with a Child on Red Background has become the second most expensive Slovak painting, attracting a price of €90,000. “I was amazed by Galanda, whom I had thought of as a very shy author – and here he has many sexually more open aspects,” Hanáková told the ČTK newswire.
The Lying Nude by Cyprián Majerník has been chosen as the representative work for the whole exhibition. “I like the nude female by Majerník who screens her eyes as she is exposed to views. This work has the subtitle Bashful, so she is well aware that with this view she has entered into some framework of power, and she does not like it. The whole exhibition is about this,” Hanáková told TASR.
The exhibition can be seen in the Esterházy Palace, Ľ. Štúr Square 4, until November 28.
18. Oct 2010 at 0:00 | By Zuzana Vilikovská with press reports