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Jiří Kolář's "Forms of Visual Poetry" Shows What's Past Is Prologue...

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on March 12, 2019 17:29

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Contemplation of Jiří Kolář's original and compelling collages and poetry -- on display at the American University Museum at Katzen Arts Center in Washington, DC until March 17th -- captures the destructive impact of political commissars upon artistic expression under totalitarianism of many stripes.

  

I stumbled across Jiří Kolář's striking retrospective at American University's Katzen Center for the Arts by accident when escaping horrific photographic and other imagery in the collection of Heather and Tony Podesta.

Curated by Aneta Georgievska-Shine from holdings of Prague's Museum Kampa, the exhibition, which runs through March 17th, illustrates the power of totalitarianism to shred, crumple, disorder, and confuse.

Both a poet and a visual artist, Kolář's collage, "chiasmage," "crumplage," "confrontage," "froissage," "rollage," and "reportage" capture the collapse of the European Civilization under pressures of World War, Nazism, Communism, and Cold War.

In Kolář's oeuvre, great works of art are cut into strips almost unrecognizably combined with other images. Likewise, words are shredded of their meaning, text turned into indecipherable puzzles displayed in geometrical patterns or decorating three-dimensional objects.

Kolář's great skill, craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail reflect his early training as a woodworker, carpenter and cabinetmaker. His collages are beautiful, somber and striking.

He intended this art to serve as "silent poetry," its inscrutability a commentary on the corrosive and demoralized nature of Socialism, which squeezed, crumpled, and deconstructed life.

Born in 1914, just in time for WWI, interned by the Germans in WWII, he joined and left the Communist Party in 1945. Arrested again in 1953, after Czech police found a copy of an unauthorized manuscript for Prometheus' Liver, he was jailed for nine months.

As a leader of the Czech avant-garde, Kolář memorialized the doomed "Prague Spring" in his Diary 1968 collage, and went on to sign Charter 77 along with Vaclev Havel.

Subsequently, he exiled himself to West Berlin, then Paris, returning to Prague only in 1999, after the "Velvet Revolution" and collapse of the USSR. Kolář's artworks have been exhibited globally, although his literary output remains relatively obscure in English. He died in 2002.

As curator Georgievska-Shine notes, Kolář's artistic style was "motivated by the danger of speaking openly in a society in which even a joke could cost you your freedom."

To those confronting Political Correctness in art, culture, workplace and the media today, the elliptical and abstruse quality of Kolář's work seems strangely relevant. It captures the destructive and repressive impact of political commissars upon authentic artistic expression...and mocks it slyly, with a knowing wink.

While the situation in America today is yet not as bad as in Communist Czechoslovakia, Kolář's work reminded this viewer that one cannot safely wear a MAGA hat on many campuses, workplaces, or restaurants without fear of physical assault or job loss.

Works of art today are subject to charges of "cultural appropriation," "sexism," "racism," "homophobia," "Islamaphobia," or "white supremacy" -- jeers not so different from Communist-era denunciations of "bourgeois art" during the era of "Socialist Realism"when heroic proletarianism featured workers, peasants and tractors as the central concern of art and literature dedicated to "class struggle" and "anti-imperialism."

Contemplation of Kolář's original and compelling work makes clear why Georgievska-Shine concludes: "Jiří Kolář was a model of integrity."

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on March 12, 2019 17:29

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Source: Vox - All

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