Některé věci uňikají

Jan Pfeiffer and the elegant line

Local young artist’s show opens new contemporary gallery in Žižkov

Geometry and its associated metaphors figure prominently in the work of Jan Pfeiffer, a young Czech artist whose solo show “Some Things Pass” inaugurates the new Drdova Gallery in Žižkov.

Pfeiffer, 28, is a recent graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where he studied in Jiří Příhoda’s Studio of Intermedia Art, with one year spent in the studio of visiting professor Zbigniew Libera and a semester spent at New York City’s Cooper Union. He already has a number of solo shows to his credit in the Czech Republic and abroad, and he has won two significant awards for young artists in this region: first prize in the 2009 Essl Award for Central and East European artists and first prize in the Czech section of the Henkel Award in 2011.

His work is conceptual, employing a mix of objects, video, photographs and text to explore the various angles of a core idea. In this case, there are no literal angles, but rather straight lines and curves and what is signified by the transformation from one state to the other.

It is the “deformation” of the line – the addition of a curve – that renders it elegant. In the show “Some Things Pass,” the triumphal arch literally becomes the overarching metaphor for the concepts he presents here. A video in the passage between the gallery’s first and second rooms shows the Siegestor (Victory Gate), Munich’s triumphal arch built by Kind Ludwig I of Bavaria. It is an archetypal arch, similar to ones in Paris, Rome, Berlin and London, for example. The video appears to be static, but close observation will reveal a figure (the artist) standing under one of the three arches and tracing its graceful curves with a beam of light.
The passageway where the video is playing is crowned by three slim arches, bent metal rods with various parabolas, imperfectly echoing the triple vault of the triumphal arch.

In the back room is a video of an older man dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe (it is the artist’s grandfather). The video loop shows the man’s initially unsuccessful and ultimately victorious attempts to bend a metal rod. The disappointment mixed with determination when he doesn’t manage it on the first try is clearly inscribed on his face, as is the satisfaction and triumph when on the third attempt he is finally able to bend the rod into a steep arc.

In the first room of the gallery there is a still photograph of the same man, dressed in street clothes, holding an unbent rod. The only other piece in the room is a white wall-like object marked in pencil with a series of parallel horizontal lines.

The activating trigger between the straight lines in the first room and the elegantly curved lines in the second room is the power of human will, both literally and symbolically. It is a parable of how humans have shaped history with the literal dimension of bending the steely resistance of the metal rods to the man’s will.

There is also a philosophical dimension added to the themes of the show in the form of a text contribution by the young philosopher and aesthetician Jakub Stejskal, a fictitious quotation he attributed to Henry Wool in the work Arcus Triumphalis, or, The Analysis of Vaulting, from 1755, in a chapter titled “On the Arc as the Essence of Elegance.”

With its small number of works and streamlined installation, the concept emerges clearly. This is a strong debut for this new gallery and a promising new addition to the Prague art scene.

Gallerist Lucie Drdová opens her space in Žižkov with an impressive record of experience racked up over the past several years. The 30-year-old gallerist is currently completing her doctoral studies at Masaryk University in Brno. Following a yearlong course of study at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, she was an intern at the renowned Museum of Modern Art in Vienna and then stayed in that city a further two years to take advantage of the adventures and opportunities on offer there. From 2008 to 2010 she worked as a curator at the well-established Jiří Švestka Gallery in Prague and then helped to launch its Berlin branch, where she was director. Since 2010 she has been a co-organizer of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award for Czech artists under 35, and since last year she has been a lecturer in the Studio of New Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.

Despite the allure of thriving art scenes in Vienna and Berlin, she says she was drawn back to Prague for personal reasons. She says this new venture, which is a commercial gallery, will be active in promoting a small stable or artists, currently at three but with plans to cooperate with others who she hopes will join the gallery. In addition to Pfeiffer, she currently represents the Prague-based Slovak sculptor Pavla Sceranková and the photographer Václav Kopecký. She additionally is planning shows by the photography duo of Hynek Alt and Aleksandra Vajd, Igor Korpaczewski (aka KW) and Michal Škoda.

Like other commercial galleries, she plans to promote the careers of her stable of artists by exposing them to the international crowds of art professionals and collectors at international art fairs. Because there are so few private commercial galleries in Prague that are actively promoting the careers of artists (others include Hunt Kastner Artworks and the Jiří Švestka Gallery, for example), this noteworthy début offers the promise of elevating the overall level of professionalism of the commercial gallery scene in Prague.

Mimi Fronczak Rogers