Gebauer's Flower Arrangement
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