Can art still be beautiful?
With the exhibition "Beauty Strikes Back" by the artist Eliška Bartek from 12.11.2022 - 14.01.2023, Hilleckes Gallery sends a clear signal and answers in no uncertain terms: YES!
Museums, art fairs and galleries seem to silently support, consciously or unconsciously, an art canon in which art can and may be anything, mostly provocative and full of irritation, rarely beautiful.
With Eliška Bartek, the Hilleckes Gallery represents a strong position. The artist's current works, colourful, opulent, baroque-like flower arrangements, however, fit better into the contemporary art world than one would think at first glance.
Beauty strikes back. The title of the exhibition contains a paradox, for how can something still be beautiful when it is so martial? Well, there is martial art, and wherever art is involved, beauty is instantly involved. At least from a classical point of view, this was valid until the middle of the 18th century.
While Gotthold Ephraim Lessing still found arguments in his Laocoon to leave beauty in the beaux arts, the tide turned at the latest with Schlegel's arbitrary aesthetics, which ushered in modernity. Representations that evoke disgust and revulsion in the viewer and the moment of shock become beautiful via the diversions of the 'interesting'.
For modern people, this has since given rise to the diffuse feeling that in contemporary art the following still applies today: Be anything but beautiful!
The title of Eliska Bartek's new exhibition is the artist's answer to precisely this phenomenon. Now, at the latest since the Leipzig School, it is true that at least painting is not dead, - but this has not led to a renaissance of beauty in the classical sense, quite apart from whether this would be desirable. It must always go on, in the sense of a progressive development. But it can also go on in the sense of calculating to the decimal point, which means that it is also possible to calculate to infinity in the spaces in between.
This is where Bartek's new floral works come in. They slam into the modern art world with such force that one becomes frightened. Is that allowed? Am I allowed to think this is great? What is happening here is unbelievable. An artist dares to paint flowers in their full glory and beauty, so desirable that some of her works were reserved before the exhibition even opened.
There seems to be a strong need on the part of the viewer for beautifully painted things and yet strong doubts as to whether one is in the right taste. After all, one has to fear the furore of intellectual, conceptual, otherwise art.
Perhaps it helps to know that Bartek has always devoted herself to floral themes. Prominent are her photographed portraits of flowers, they too are decorative and desirable in their brilliance of colour, yet they carry doom within them. Each of these flowers photographed by Bartek breathed its last at the moment the camera was released by the heat of the flash.
This is precisely Bartek's theme, this hovering mottling between life and death, between beauty and destruction. And with this new series of floral canvas works, the memento mori or the doctrine of vanitas is again hidden behind all the splendour, as it always is when flowers are involved.
This time, however, with a matured decision on the part of the artist: the buyer is allowed to decide whether to let the artist destroy the purchased work of art and thus help the conceptual idea to triumph, or to accept it in all its beauty and thus do justice to the title of the exhibition.
Bartek strikes back! The artist throws the ball back. She withdraws from the eternal discussion and lets the new owners make the decision. The individual has to weigh up. What is desirable: beauty or intellectual attention?
And one has to think carefully. Decisions in favour of beauty sometimes end badly. After all, at least one war has been fought over it, and it lasted ten years.
We generally have a hard time with what the artist is doing here. Destruction is never easy, and she forces us to think carefully about what it means to destroy. If most of us already find it difficult to have a canvas work cauterised, how much energy and overcoming does it take to destroy life?
For Bartek, this consideration plays an essential role. She experienced the invasion of Prague by the Soviets in 1968, so the current war in Ukraine is particularly hard on the artist. How beautiful when someone decides to fight back with beauty!