Tuesday, 11 February 2014

PRAGUE EVENT: Olbram Zoubek's Exhibition

Photo and text are by my beloved Wolfie.

Prague, February 26, 2014

© Jiří Sedláček (2014)

This retrospective exhibition of sculptor Olbram Zoubek took place at Prague Castle Riding School from November 2013 until February 2014. The exhibition, conceived by the sculptor himself, offered the best of his long life work. There were displayed almost 300 (three hundreds) works from mid 50th years to the present. Some statues and sculptures were presented for the first time. 

Zoubek's work, predominantly reflecting the artist's belief in mortality of spiritual values, belongs to the humanistic messages of the present time. His sculptures are exclusively human figures (men, women, sometimes children) mostly in the nude, some have stylized, antique robes. All those almost 300 statues were positioned as if in a dialog or mutual interaction (by couples or groups). As the exhibition hall looks out to the old rampart and a small garden space, several groups of statues, all girls were positioned in that open space as well. The background being formed by nothing less than the majestic St. Vitus Cathedral.

© Jiří Sedláček (2014)
© Jiří Sedláček (2014)

There was a running documentary in a loop presented there, too – as was in the case of photographer Drtikol’s – with him talking about his life and work, at times waxing philosophical, at times very touching. He’ll be 88 soon, and still working.

“The Earth’s gravity and the desire to overcome it – that’s what intrigues me. I make flying, floating, falling, weightless sculptures that I put in a sort of a theatrical pose: each one carries certain mood, gesture or noiseless scream, as if they wanted to meet and have a dialog with each other.  And exactly this would be possible now, at he Riding School gallery.”

© Jiří Sedláček (2014

On death:
“All your sculptures are as if rooted in the ground and reaching out upwards, to the Heavens. So perhaps you are familiar with what’s there, above us?” 
“I’d like to know that, but I don’t... My relation to God is a doubting one. I don’t think there is anything after death. People make up afterlife and things life that to make it easier for themselves – which is good, but I don’t believe it. Faith might make life easier to gear, yet you can live as well with doubts. We, who consciously doubt, make our lives more complex, richer. Each decision must be based on your own thinking, not on some scriptures or commandments.”

© Jiří Sedláček (2014)

© Jiří Sedláček (2014)

Below is the link where you could see the photo-gallery of the exhibition.

About the sculptor:

Olbram Zoubek was born in Prague on April 21st 1926. Though he had studied at a technical secondary school, his interest in modelling was supported by his parents. Soon after Second World War, after a brief practical experience in a stone-cutting workshop, he started studying sculpture under Prof. Josef Wagner at the Academy of Arts, Architectural, and Design in Prague. He completed his studies in 1952. The first years of his studies were encouraging. They took place during the period of freedom. 

After 1948, the atmosphere of freedom changed into hegemony of ideological dogmas, purges and fear introduced by the communist regime. Prof. Wagner deffended himself and his students against this impacts. He acquainted them with the technique of conservation, so until the 1950's Zoubek earned his living by restoring sculptures and graffito. This activity strengthened, among other things, his attitude towards the values of tradition. In school he became acquainted with the sculptress Eva Kmentova, who later became his wife.

In the 1960's, they left their common studio. Zoubek adapted a former stone cutting workshop in the old part of Prague New Town, where he has been working up to the present time. He oriented himself, like the other members of his generation, on modern art, which was rejected by communist ideology. He became member of the group 'trasa' in the frame of which he began to exhibit and publish his works. His work and organizational activity essentially contributed to the development of art in Czechoslovakia of the 1960's. The tragic fall of the Prague Spring in 1968 put a check on the freedom for artists and citizens. 

Zoubek's exhibitions, the realization of his statues in public places, his participation in international sculptor's symposiums, and no less his democratic position caused his persecution by the totalitarian power. The authorities began to eliminate him from public competitions. He couldn't even participate in exhibitions for a long time. He took refugee in the activity of conservator (for 20 years he restored graffito in the Litomysl Castle). Together with his friends he participated in the activities on the alternative culture opposing the governing regime under difficult conditions. 

In 1969, after student Jan Palach burned  himself to death in a protest against the Soviet occupation, Zoubek secretly took his death mask, to be preserved for the future. When in 1989 Czechoslovakia returned to democracy, his struggle for freedom ended.


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