Michael Rittstein – A Moist Trail
Date: 12.12.2007 - 27.04.2008Painter, draughtsman, graphic artist and illustrator Michael Rittstein (b. 1949) is a major Czech artist of the middle generation. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 1968–1974 in the studio of Professor Arnošt Paderlík. In 1987, he and his contemporaries (V. Bláha, V. Novák, P. Pavlík and I. Kafka) founded Volné seskupení 12/15, Pozdě, ale přece (The Free Group 12/15, Better Late Than Never) attracting other painters and sculptors as members. He has been a member of the SVU Mánes since 1992, and has worked as head teacher of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague Painting Studio since 2001. He has taken part in many solo and group exhibitions in the Czech Republic and abroad and his paintings can be found in galleries and private collections around the world.
Michael Rittstein first came to the fore in 1972 midway through his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. A social person, he is skilled at engaging others in fruitful dialogue, one reason why he likes to display his work. A key theme of his figural scenes is the relationship between man and woman, primarily conceived as the domination of women. The artist has a penchant for embarrassing intimate moments, which he translates into caricaturing metaphor. In a sense, Rittstein’s art is a manifestation of an aggressive revolt against the dictates of a heart whose contents are dragged out into the street, stripped of their impenetrable mysteriousness and bound to the real actions of life. This cannot be done without vainglory, unabashed effrontery or a certain insulting cynicism, but the polemical objectives of Rittstein’s art require it. The artist, unusually, appreciates continuous dialogue with the outside world. He says that everything around him finds a way into his paintings sooner or later. The world offers up countless stimuli great and small, constantly changing as both a material environment and a social and spiritual structure. Grotesque metaphor creates the necessary space for it. A positive quality of Rittstein’s painting is that he copes with our times by means of fantasy-based comparison, but in a merciless manner, just as he employs the frankness with which he shares the phantoms of his waking and sleeping nightmares with the viewer. He does not get carried away by the situation; he is able to withstand it. There is room not only for a lesson, but entertainment and humour, too. The mad humour of Rittstein’s paintings is based on the appalling aspects of reality, but it is the humour of fairground attractions and carnival masquerades, the horror of folk, Sunday and festival entertainment, a childishly naive horror half-stripped of its maliciousness by being rendered in a painting. Nevertheless, it is also the metaphysical horror of history, a memento of the unpredictable dangers of nature and of man’s activity and behaviour. It is the horror of terrifying deities and the dark powers of the past assaulting contemporary man.
Michael Rittstein’s work is not only born of his unusually concentrated and successful activity, but also shows Czech art’s capacity to accumulate the remarkably rich experiences of less favourable times. Rittstein can repay everything he owes to this local tradition and that he proudly professes on the world scene. Face to face with the great world, he can assert the value of the reality that is part of his own life, his own environment and culture.
The Michael Rittstein retrospective presents a cross-section of his painting from the start of his career to the present-day, showing well- and lesser-known pieces in formats both small and monumental. When it leaves Prague, the exhibition will move, in a slightly altered form, to the Olomouc Museum of Art (in late 2008) and the Aleš South Bohemian Gallery in Hluboká nad Vltavou (spring).
The exhibition is accompanied by a Rittstein monograph of nearly 500 pages. It has more than 350 colour reproductions, documentary photographs, biographical data, a list of exhibitions and a bibliography.
Daily except Mondays from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.