T E X T S . . .

Kurt Gebauer's Flower Arrangement

Flower Arrangement, 1985 -1987Kurt Gebauer ranks among the best known contemporary Czech artists.
He is one of the few whose characteristic works are familiar to the general public. His sculptures are mostly viewed through the prism of a widely accepted interpretation according to which Gebauer occupies the niche of a somewhat grotesque Rodin, distorted in a quintessentially Czech manner an artist whose aim is to use the medium of sculpted human figures in the narration of allegorical and humorous stories about the essence of humanity. While for a part of his sculptural output, such a reading is doubtless justified, it should be borne in mind that just like František Kupka in his own time did not limit himself to the making of brilliant and generally accessible newspaper caricatures, Kurt Gebauer, too, has inevitably incorporated into his work concern with that perennial unanswered question tackled by 2Oth-century art in quest of its own innermost essence. To be sure, Kurt Gebauer the ever critical social pundit with an abundance of good cheer up his sleeve, is in fact at the care a conceptual artist dealing with the essence and potentialities of art as such. Notwithstanding the fact that bearing witness to his explorations entails having a good deal of real fun, by no means should one forget about the intellectual message or even outright educational impact of his objects, whereby they help to pave the way towards the understanding of the process through which art has gene over the last few decades.
Similarly relevant is the fact that the students trained in his class at Prague's Academy of Art, Architecture and Design - at least those of them whom I have had the chance, however unsystematic, to observe - are anything but diehard proponents of humour for humour's sake; much rather as thoughtful conceptualists, they are concerned primarily with the environment surrounding sculpture, a pursuit which leads them to experimentation with such phenomena as empty space, motion, object, or randomness.
Kurt Gebauer's work entitled Flower Arrangement does not require a lengthy description. The photos and the title itself are eloquent enough.
Here, embedded in several authentic flowerpots, is an array of the standard varieties of home, or perhaps more precisely, office plants, sculpted in a somewhat naive manner in plaster. Some of them obviously need repotting or at least clipping, but by and large this mix of plants, passed on from one generation to the next, repeatedly neglected and half withered, constantly deprived of fresh air, is still surprisingly fit. To me, looming behind the straightforwardness and clarity of this work are several questions. Flower arrangements of this kind are usually displayed in such locations whose emptiness or ugliness are to be hidden from unexpected and accidental visitors. Flowers are likewise helpful to their owners in decorating and cozying up places that are otherwise very hard to inhabit, such as offices. In the case of this work of art, the flower arrangement is located in a space where its presence would seem to be less than expected: namely, in a gallery of contemporary art. Is this supposed to be a critical lash aimed at one's own ranks?
Furthermore, it also remains a question to me why, after all, the artist chose to make these replicas of plants using a different material, instead of simply making use of the real stuff. Or else, he could have spared himself a lat of effort and achieve a far greater effect had he planted the pots with mass-produced artificial flowers. Was it perhaps a sentimental sense of duty that dictated him, as a sculptor to produce certain shapes and things which could be, with a little bit of goodwill, called sculptures? Was some role played here by the artist's embarrassment at the condition of art at large? Having realized that keeping within the boundaries defining the forms and contents of contemporary art, he was no longer capable of creating something which would send forth an unequivocal and positive message to the spectators, he simply took a couple of wires, a patch of jute and some plaster and piece together these pseudo-flowers, a sweet little decoration that fits in with every interior and needs no watering? An art form, at last, which was of some use? Maybe this artifact was to constitute a sort of contemporary, universally allegorical opposite pole to, say, the sculptural decoration of Prague's National Theatre building, For not only has the present time proved unable to imbue the decoration of its new architectures with a definite iconographic programme, and has forgone any aspiration to solid craftsmanship; in fact, contemporary "decoration" does perfectly well even given total absence of art. Here, Gebauer is seen vying for the favour of contemporary architecture and taste, searching for ways whereby art might be smuggled back to its former positions. Being a sculptor he made a sculpture of a flower arrangement.
Real-life flower arrangements made up of living organic flowers are inconspicuous; with them, empty spaces are filled with items which are, so to say, inherently pleasant to watch. Here, on the other hand, we are confronted with an art work which visibly has a maker who in his turn has heroically opted for the old-fashioned way of assigning to his work the Intended shape. And let, how deep has this creator-artist sunk! If Gebauer had used real or artificial flowers, he would never have been able to demonstrate the unimaginable shallowness art can withstand without protest. In certain circumstances, real or artificial flowers would not necessarily be perceived exclusively as art, but could be viewed merely as part of nature or as an industrial product. As it is, however this work is doomed to play its fairly awkward role of art without respite or hope of redemption.
Duchamp's artifact in the shape of a signed snow shovel is completely identical with a thousand other shovels, It differs from the rest solely in the signature, a manifesto whereby it is declared a work of art, a status which, nonetheless, we as viewers are able to deduce only from the explanatory text that is the signature, or from our knowledge of art history. The purpose of this shovel is not to scoop up and move snow; rather it is to be contemplated as an art work. Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes are indistinguishable, or very nearly so, from the real thing, but they are artificially and mechanically made replicas of the actual boxes. In terms of function, though, they cannot be used as boxes; they are just useless art, fit only to be looked at. Kurt Gebauer's Flower Arrangement is at first sight artificially hand-made; It can be nothing but an art work, and let It pretends to be a real object whose function - to decorate without being obtrusive - it fulfills to the utmost. Could it perhaps be the very function in which, according to Gebauer, intersect the trajectories of art and decoration? I hope Kurt Gebauer does not get too angry with me for portraying him in these lines as a meditative artist and thinker Why, to blow the peaked dwarf's hat off his head is way beyond the means of this single text; actually, It is questionable whether that would not be a pity after all.

Tomáš Pospiszyl / Umělec magazine / No. I - 1999 / page 26