2003 Chalupecky Prize Shortlist: The Jindrich Chalupecky Award Finalists 2003

Futura, Prague, 11 November – 4 January

The exhibition of shortlisted works for the 2003 Chalupecky Prize at Prague’s FUTURA contemporary art space, can best be summed up with two words: Kristof Kintera.

Among this year’s finalists—a list which also includes Ján Manzuka, Michaela Thelenová, Jan Lerych, Michal Pechounek—only Kristof Kintera has presented anything like a credible claim to the Czech Repulic’s premier award for contemporary art—an award which has gained increasingly in notoriety in recent years due more to the quality of the successive scandals surrounding it than to the quality of the competition.

The only artist to approach Kintera in this year’s competition would arguably be Berych, whose minimalist text-based canvases, such as “GOOO YEAA” (or “GOOD YEAR,” depending upon how you read the black lineated textual figures set against plain white) were the only pieces at the Futura opening to elicit any substantial interest, other than Kintera’s animated shopping bag (“I’m so miserable”), previously exhibited at the Prague Biennale, and two sculptural biomorphic figures composed of enamelled potatoes.

Michaela Thelenova’s photo series, comprised of juxtapositions of topographical file images and the artist’s own work (textured compositions echoing the topographics of their opposite numbers, involving liquids, raw meat, textiles, etc.—interesting enough visually, but ultimately unoriginal in conception).

But the least accomplished of all the work on show—and there appears to be a broad consensus on this among those who saw the show before the announcement of the this year’s winner of the Chalupecky Prize on 20 November—were the three conventional figure paintings and sole video installation by Michal Pechoucek.

Should we have been at all surprised, then, to hear the judges come down in favour of Pechoucek?

Watching former president Vaclav Havel present the award, which for the last five years has been sponsored by British American Tobacco, in the presence of Prague’s art world cognoscenti and the representatives of the local press agencies, I began to wonder why, even in the field of “contemporary art,” so much stock is put by such prizes as this.

Prizes exist the world over, and they always have, in one form or another. But at the same time they have always embodied a certain authority or power of legitimisation.

And while this in itself is taken as a given, how is it that the extremely speculative (or compromised) nature of this enterprise remains veiled when brought within the context of contemporary art?

The very notion of the “contemporary” would seem to invalidate any such enterprise from the outset, rendering it as little more than either a token gesture of paternalistic acknowledgement, or a rather more cynical and indeed suspicious gesture of bestowing an official value upon the names of individual artists in which the commerce in “contemporary art” can forthwith declare its interest at a protected premium.

While little about this year’s Chalupecky Prize has equalled the sort of scandal and polemic of previous years, the decision of the judges to award the prize to an artist best known as a technically and formally conventional figure painter will inevitably raise questions about the “state of the art,” not only in Prague but further afield as well.

One should not forget that while the Prize itself is an entirely domestic affair, the panel of judges is drawn from the United States, Britain, Germany and Slovakia.

And when British and American galleries begin to hype the “new painting,” as they have again recently, then we must also wonder what interests are involved here, and do they really have anything to do with painting per se?

My belief is that they do not. There is no evidence in the work of Pechoucek, as the “man of the hour,” that the idea of painting has in any way been thought through to new conclusions, or that it in any way engages with an idea of the contemporary other than in the dressing of subject matter. C’est la vie.


Also on show at Futura is the work of the winner of the Oskar Cepan Award for 2002, Mario Chromy.

See: www.futuraproject.com.