Triangle Gallery exhibits Fragments by Czech Republic artists

With so few exhibitions of Czech art visiting Calgary Triangle Gallery’s current exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see the work of several Czech artists at once. The exhibition is a survey of works by members of the Union of Artists and Theoretics of Ostrava a group of artists working together on exhibitions and events. Fragments includes mostly two-dimensional works in painting drawing textile and collage as well as a single series of three low-relief sculptures made of overlapping circles of bright Plexiglass.

An interest in architecture and machines runs through several of the works in Fragments. Gabriela Novakova’s delicate maps reveal many translucent layers of ground city and lights where her textures are worked up in thin layers of paint and drawing media. Unfortunately the depth of these drawings is lost because her three works are framed digital prints of the originals. Fragments of Archives are three mixed-media works by Jaraslav Rusek that incorporate elements of printmaking and photocopy collage. Again preoccupied with grid-like architectures Rusek’s works are torn up bits of maps text and numbers with faces of men pieced into the grids. Parts of the maps are missing with elusive white space surrounding these faces and spaces just heightening the sense of possibilities within the artist’s archive of visual materials. The identities of the people in each of the tiny postage-stamp-sized pictures is left up to the imagination.

Using the grid as structural organizing principle is also echoed by Eva Damborska in her triptych of paper and natural materials. The three panels of square fabric read as a life cycle with pods of hairy fibres encased in sheets of thick handmade paper and slowly ripping their way out much in the manner a caterpillar would hatch from a cocoon. By the end of this life cycle the escaping fibres also look like mounds of female pubic hair. Most certainly the artist is trying to draw this parallel with her title The Secret of Life .

A witty series of paintings on paper by Jana Smolkova and another series by Michaela Tercova use paint and materials to create fascinating textures: each work is built up of many washes and layers of paint folds in the surface of the paper and scratches. The way that the artists manipulate the paper surface creates surprisingly different effects than that of paint on canvas. The magic of Tercova’s Globalization series is that her dark swampy images are doppelgangers for felted wool or wood-fired ceramic rather than simple paper.

Jaromir Brabenec’s Elated Ellispses cite famed French cubist Georges Braque as a source of inspiration. The plexi shapes appear to be connected at pivot points giving the possibility of movement to each coloured shape in this arrangement. If they were animated somehow these simple machines could convincingly illustrate the basic principles of colour and mechanics.

There is one other series of sculptures three large black shapes that remind of the two figurative sculptures — one yellow one red — that boldly occupy the corner of Calgary’s sixth Avenue and second Street downtown. Again instead of appearing in-situ these modernist throwbacks are presented as photographic reproductions. It is unclear if this is documentation of the original works or if the process of photographing the sculptures and then presenting them in that manner is somehow conceptually important. The presentation of works as prints points to one of the limitations of mounting comprehensive international exhibitions: perhaps shipping was too expensive for large-scale metal sculptures?

Fragments would benefit from stronger interpretive texts and contemporary writing that places the work of these 14 artists from Ostrava in a broader context of Czech art and discusses the artworks individually or elucidates the major themes of the exhibition. The show also suffers from a slew of forgettable works. The simple premise of cultural exchange between galleries in Calgary and the Czech Republic doesn’t hold enough muster for an entire exhibition in a world where contemporary artists routinely travel and exhibit their works internationally.