artist / participant
First Retrospective is so far the most comprehensive overview of the work of Ján Mančuška (1972–2011). He himself characterized his art work as "contextual research into the immediate reality, involving an interpenetration of diverse fields of art: literature, film, conceptual art, theatre, installation, video and text. His installations often individualize the element of text, treating it as an object and a sign, and examining alternative ways of non-linear reading. He likewise engages in thoroughgoing reflections on the languages of film and theatre."
Mančuška appeared on the art scene in the late 1990s (together with the Headless Horseman collective of Josef Bolf, Jan Šerých and Tomáš Vaněk). His work is remotely related to the local Czechoslovak version of the 1960s and '70s conceptualism (Stano Filko, Jiří Kovanda and others). With growing international presence, two different lines began to be differentiated in his oeuvre and thereafter remained constant in it. On the one hand, he developed the post-conceptual artistic tradition which actively thematizes language in the process of narration (literary, video, performance and cinematographic language). Beyond that, he manifested a growing interest in projecting often existential, real-life ("ready made") stories. Oscillation between the elements of these two poles of the spectrum—the artificiality of language and the oppressiveness of the narrated story—may be regarded as the prime source of the power of his expression.
Mančuška sought to create new agency in artistic theory as well as practice. He perceived the necessity of bridging the contradiction of the present between art prior to and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In his view, artists were either clinging to nativist art forms and traditions or, without objection, speaking the language and topics of the international art canon. The new agency, as realised by Mančuška, was to be internationally engaged and, through this engagement, capable of relating stories connected with the place and with specific historical experience. Mančuška approached exhibitions as both installations and performance-oriented events. This first retrospective, however, does not aspire to simulate the artist's concept of art exhibition as a locally specific event. Rather, it is structured chronologically and includes works shown at his solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel, Kunstverein Braunschweig, Andrew Kreps Gallery, Meyer Rigger, as well as at various group exhibitions, such as Manifesta 4 or the 4th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, and features installations from major museum collections including the Centre Pompidou, MoMA or Musem Lodz, as well as from private collections such as the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21).
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive publication edited by Vít Havránek, containing a number of interviews with artists, essays and scholarly texts (Karel Císař, Guillaume Désanges, Christine Macel, Tomáš Pospiszyl). The book has been published jointly by the Prague City Gallery, JRP|Ringier which handles its international distribution, and tranzit.cz.
The present exhibition will subsequently, over the course of autumn 2015 and spring 2016, move on to the Kunsthalle Bratislava and, in a modified versions, to the Moravian Gallery in Brno and Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz.
Exhibition Curator: Vít Havránek
Prague City Gallery Curator: Sandra Baborovská