The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery in Prague, Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art
Author of the exhibition: Milan Knížák
Exhibition curators: Milan Knížák, Jiří Valoch
Graphic design of printed materials: Vladimír Vimr
Hlavní partner NG: HVB bank
Hlavní mediální partner: Hospodářské noviny
Mediální partneři: Art&antique, Classic FM, ČRo 3 - Vltava
We would like to thank the following institutions for loaning works for exhibition:
Moravian Gallery in Brno; Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague; Vysočina Regional Gallery in Jihlava; Gallery Klatovy / Klenová; North Bohemian Gallery of Visual Art in Litoměřice; Benedikt Rejt Gallery, Louny; Museum of Art Olomouc; East Bohemian Gallery in Pardubice; Eminet - Patrik Šimon; U Prstenu Gallery, Prague; Montanelli Gallery, Prague; Zlatá husa Gallery, Prague and the private collectors
The work of Czech artist Zorka Ságlová (1942–2003) was decisively influenced by her artistic training. She studied textile art – tapestries, fabrics etc. – with Professor Antonín Kybal (1991–1971) at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. Despite her respect and admiration for tapestry works, she was most affected by the rudimentary methods used by textile artists: warp into which, eventually, emblems or structures are woven. From the beginning, monochromy was important to Zorka Ságlová; monochromy that mainly displayed itself in the repetitive character of her painting structures.
Introduction to Land Art resulted in intensification of all inner laws that have already been germinant in Ságlová’s work. At that time, many, mainly American artists were involved in work in landscape. In Czech lands, Zorka Ságlová was the first who directly reacted to these stimuli. She realized her artistic actions with her friends – an enclosed circle of people. By combining a happening action and a land art project, Zorka Ságlová introduced a specific category which, till then, only appeared sporadically.
A project of Zorka Ságlová’s first action, Throwing Balls into Bořín Pond in Průhonice, was realized in the spring 1969. It was a direct parallel to her objects when she situated balls in variously or, more precisely, freely created structures, into space of painting. Colored balls floating on the pond’s surface formed (depending on weather and other accidental conditions) a variety of configurations. Thus, there appeared a variable sculpture and surely this was the artist’s intention. There was a certain perseverance to find systems – and usually systems that appear spontaneously, as if accidentally; but this accident is, at the same time expected in advance, it is counted on as being a substantial formative element, rather than an accident, it is perceived as a system.
The following action, this time realized in the traditional space of the Václav Špála Gallery at Národní Boulevard in Prague, was entitled Hay, Straw (August 1969). In one room, Zorka Ságlová exhibited yellow bales of straw and green alfalfa; in the other, brown-green hay. The pressed bales kept rearranging, hay kept being piled and raked in many different ways, and thus, there was a constant, but subtle and artistically homogeneous change of the exhibited objects. Due to the looseness of the bales, hay and straw became scattered all over the rooms and mixed up, and here thus appeared material structures whose movement suggested possibilities that became typical for Ságlová’s future works. Here, the accidental was indistinctly combined with prepared structure. On the one hand, the installation Hay, Straw gave an avant-garde impression and shocked both the artistic layman and professional public, but, on the other (as we see especially after a lapse of time), it was a very poetic and, in fact, traditional work.
Each of other Ságlová’s actions was devoted to a certain unknown historical event or historical personality. Burning big gasoline torches during the action Homage to Gustav Oberman was a reminiscence of a shoemaker from the city of Humpolec who, it is said, used to walk about the surrounding hills in the beginning of the Second World War and personally protested against German occupation by somehow awkwardly spitting fire.
The action Homage to Fafejta from October 1972 was related to a similarly funny hero. Fafejta was a Prague druggist who sold condoms and used a naive slogan to promote them. The slogan inspired Zorka Ságlová to conceive an action of blowing up condoms like balloons. Condoms, whose sheer number, turmoil and subtle motion created a strange and magical image, but in fact a well-structured environment in the empty halls of an abandoned stronghold.
Ságlová’s most interesting action was Laying Napkins near Sudoměř from May 1970. According to a famous legend, Hussite women spread their napkins on the meadow near Sudoměř where a battle was to be held, so that they would wrap around the legs of the Crusader’s horses and the riders would thus become easy pray to the Hussites. She spread 700 white napkins over the reported site of the historical battlefield with her friends, thus creating a magnificent image framed by the Southern-Bohemian landscape. This action is also a clear parallel to her paintings. By choosing this visual act prepared by women from Hussite history, she at the same time pointed to the character of her own relationship to the so-called female art. But, Ságlová’s typically female standpoint was a matter-of-course, and primarily, noble. In this, she differed from the many hectic expressions of female art protagonists.
After the action of Homage to Fafejta (1972), Zorka Ságlová retired from public life. This decision was, among other things, certainly influenced by the gloomy 1970s’ atmosphere in her country and by the court trial with the music group The Plastic People of the Universe, with whose members she frequently cooperated. Ságlová returned to small, and rather private, actions only as late as in the 1980s.
At that time, Ságlová began to work on a series of large-dimensional tapestries on the subject of “art history”. Ságlová’s departure into artistic illegality must be seen as a result of regime pressure and without it, her work would have developed otherwise. Zorka Ságlová not only returned to weaving fabrics because she was intimately familiar with this technique, but also because she was attracted to it due to its difficulties. She imposed the monastic rule of weaving on herself, a some kind of a private cloister. At that time, there appeared the motif of the rabbit, which overruled Ságlová’s further work. The rabbit appears on many borders of Gothic tapestries; this is where Zorka Ságlová became fond of it and later selected it as cultural symbol. “Rabbit” then, accompanied her for many years and in many forms. The rabbit and its myth were certainly important to the artist herself. It had become her support, her mediator, her fetish, and, for many years, it determined her efforts. But still, the rabbit worked the strongest in Zorka Ságlová’s visual structures when it became solely a minute cipher that allowed an entire painting to be perceived as a whole.
The strongest works by Zorka Ságlová are those where the original sources are undecipherable, i.e. where we do not connect them with a certain historical or other event. A striking example of this is Ságlová’s painting cycle entitled Pavlov (2001–2003). Elements of which these abstract structures were composed came from cross-sections of archaeological findings discovered at a site near the Czech village of Pavlov. Hence the title; but the title is the only link with the source of inspiration – for in the paintings, there already exist specific ciphers and codes referring solely to themselves.
Ságlová’s very convincing works that rank amongst the ultimate achievements of European visual culture are a series of works painted on damask and entitled Sheilas after the Celtic goddess of fertility who is often the motif of corner gargoyles churches in Ireland. It is a rustic sculpture of a female figure with emphasized, widely exposed sexual organs. Through minimal painting interferences, Ságlová ritualized and eroticized the painting surface composed of the repeated damask pattern.
Although the malignant disease which struck Zorka Ságlová in the mid-1990s began to increasingly obstruct her work, she created her most powerful works in this period.
The ability to work on oneself is given only to the strongest ones, whose talent does not evaporate after his or her first vehement gesture but is able to develop. Such talent requires an integral personality filled with a great deal of inner strength. Zorka Ságlová was such a personality.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue.
Entrance fee: basic: 80 CZK, reduced: 40 CZK
Opening hours: daily except Mondays, 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.