Love of Kafka unites artists in show marking 30th anniversary of Velvet Revolution

Paintings by Emil Filla, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

An exhibition marking the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution has just got underway at Prague’s Municipal House. Called Nezlomní, or The Steadfast, it showcases the work, but also personal diaries and correspondence, of 30 artists, active between the years 1919 and 1989, including Jindřich Štyrský, Toyen and Karel Nepraš. It also highlights their joint inspiration by the writings of Franz Kafka.

Paintings by Emil Filla,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

Veronika Tucker, who worked as a special advisor on the exhibition, says its title refers to the life story and aesthetic choices of the artists:

Sculptures by Karel Nepraš,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
“The idea here is that all these people, mostly men but also several women, who are represented here, have been politically uninvolved with the Communist regime and they secured their autonomy both in their civic life but also in their art. And they were making aesthetic choices that were often going against the prescribed notions of the permitted art at the era.”

This steadfastness is not the only thing these authors had in common, as the title of the exhibition – From Franz Kafka to the Velvet Revolution– suggests.

“Absolutely and I think this is a fascinating part of the exhibition. It’s not some sort of random idea that Franz Kafka was from Prague and he was important here. All of these artists, or many of them, had read Kafka and engaged with him. And it is interesting for the Czech reception of Kafka that artists found their way to the writer in some ways even earlier and more intensely than writers.

Paintings by Jiří Načeradský,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
“I think for many of these artists there was something crucial in Kafka’s work, and that was his consideration of life and writing being very much intertwined. He was someone who was formulating the idea of some kind of ultimate expectations that we are putting on art and on life as sort of going hand in hand. And this is something that inspired many of the artists.”

What are some of the most valuable items on display?

“Well, the selection of artists is very interesting. For example there is work by not so well- known Jewish artist Peter Kien, who is being introduced here and put into the context of art starting with Otto Guttfreund through the younger generation of Viktor Karlík, the artist born in the 1960s. So it’s one of the many highlights.

The exhibition The Steadfast – From Franz Kafka to Velvet Revolution runs in Prague’s Municipal house until October 6.

“There are some beautiful paintings by Mikuláš Medek and objects by Zbyněk Sekal. And there is also the original of Kafka’s letter to his parents. It’s on loan from the Literary Archive in Prague.

“Also what’s important is that many of the objects are from the Mikuláš Aleš gallery in Hluboká in South Bohemia. They are not the most commonly exhibited works, so the way they are being brought together is quite unique.”