“Lesson of Relativity” (the exhibition title is taken from an article in DOMUS magazine by Pierre Restany, “Bratislava: une leçon de relativité”, where the author gives quite a detailed report on art in Slovakia after the year of rupture 1968) does not aspire to be a cross-section and overview of Slovak art in the past fifty years. The aim has not been to disturb an art-historical canon nor artificially to create a new one. Rather, the attention was be directed to examples of visual art which on reflection, and in an overall evaluation of the art of eastern Europe, may be considered authentic, and which despite the change in the situation they began from, still retain their vitality in our setting. Along with selected artistic programmes of the founding figures of Slovak art of the 1960s, the exhibition presents artists from the first “free” generation, making their entrance following the change of regime in November 1989, and their younger successors, who show a natural partiality for the historically tested but still currently applicable heritage of the domestic avantgarde.
The work of creating such interaction became an opportunity, without regard to historical associations, to conduct dialogue and to communicate and mediate combination among artists, some of whom had been in occasional or long-term collaboration, while others were meeting for the first time on the occasion of this project. Such a rearward look to past times, and in particular to the artists who played a decisive role in the formation of Slovak visual art in the 20th century, is not a novelty in Slovakia. As far back as 1997 the young curators Petra Hanáková and Alexandra Kusá presented their ambitious exhibition project “60/90”, which premiered the intergenerational linking of art couples with Filko – Ondreička, Koller – Ondák, and Bartuszová – Lehocká.
One might have the impression that the individuals represented have no points of contact in their ultimate product, and that given such individual programmes, showing a divergent and broad range of themes and media, it is almost impossible to find common denominators. And yet unquestionably the selected group of artists generates an outline of common themes, trends and considerations, and even common functioning in the artworld context. Here is evidence of an affinity of creative principles, formally and conceptually. Proof is given of a certain local tradition, a common effort of thinking across various decades. It confirms that a common encounter need not be achieved at a single distinctive point but may be enacted wherever configurations that are at first sight incompatible find a way to one another.
Given that the osmotic model – where the public permeates the private – manifested itself in socialist society, so also for the key figures of our 1960s art (Koller, Filko, Bartoš, Adamčiak etc.) life and art, the personal and the universal were interwoven. In the entirety of their work there is a confluence of creative art and life, a conscious extrication of oneself from fact, an adoption of positions beyond reality, a “fanatical inner sense of duty…” These artists showed that one could exist and survive without any kind of institutional support or market environment, purely by faith in one’s inner vision. One could function in difficult circumstances (conservatism, animosity of the official scene, incomprehension by the theoreticians, insufficient reflection) on the verge of destitution. Despite everything, they remained convinced of the truth of their art. To this present day they defy time-space coordinates (with projects that are unfinishable and unbounded, older works repeatedly taken up again, antidating, reversions, unlimited time of duration) and they convince all in their environs of the validity and timelessness of their individual system, conception, structure, or personal repertoire of symbols.
Contemporary Slovak artists in their own work willy-nilly follow on from these programmes. They rely on personal, artistic or autobiographical, sometimes self-enclosed connotative systems; individual coding, vision, or “merely” concentrated observation of the world (Lehocká, Ondreička, Vongrej), confrontation with fact, relationship to reality. Similarly there is a “reverence” for the everyday, the uniqueness of the moment (Gavula, Tittel), an inclination to intimacy, fragility, what one has personally been through (Lehocká), processes of detailed classification, or conversely cumulation (Ondák, Lehocká), visual poetry of shapes (Lehocká) or words (Ondreička). The key theme continues to be the question of one’s own identity, with reflection on the concept of art, cultural practice, and criticism of how they are conventionally conceived (Tkáčová/ Chişa). “Situations” and collaborative activities (APART) reappear on our scene after the 1990s, in a new, contemporary form… It is precisely this perseverance in values which are transgenerational and timeless that is the most important, and to this day still vital, heritage of the art of the 1960s.