Sudek: Paintings and Reflections
28 June – 29 August 2019
Ateliér Josefa Sudka
Újez No. 30, Prague 1
The exhibition presents to the public a unique and, until recently quite obscure, segment of Josef Sudek’s work. As part of his business activities, he devoted himself to reproducing paintings, often making these reproductions for a close circle of his friends from the art sphere. Through Sudek’s images, the exhibition presents the paintings and drawings of eight authors who were dear to him. These are exhibited next to Sudek’s free artistic works, and they thus explore their thematic and visual parallels.
“I began to photograph works by contemporary painters. The paintings are in color, but I have to do everything in black-and-white. It was Filla who told me that you can use black-and-white to give an impression of color. He could see color in black-and-white. Filla always wanted to photograph the painting without enlarging it. Because enlarging disturbs the subtlest half-tones. You could build an entire theory of physical optics on this phenomenon.”
– Josef Sudek
This recollection by Josef Sudek reveals a subject that few people would associate with his name but that forms an important, productive, and at the time highly appreciated part of his photographic oeuvre. Photographic documentation and reproductions formed the core of Sudek’s non-art photography, with reproductions of paintings, drawings, and prints forming the largest part of this body of work (the collection of the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Art History is in possession of around 9,000 such negatives and positives).
The exhibition presents photographs Sudek made of paintings and drawings by eight artists with whom he had a close relationship, either personally or on an artistic level. When creating these reproductions, Sudek spent many hours with the work of art, and in view of the exposure time involved, which could last up to several tens of minutes, he truly kept these works in his “mind’s eye.” It was a unique way of learning about art, and one that almost certainly helped him achieve the status of a sought-after expert who was especially appreciated by the young artists who had begun visiting his studio in the late 1930s, and who went on to become his clients. This visual world, mediated through photographic reproductions and further deepened by long discussions with the works’ creators, resonated on both sides of the dialogue. For this reason, the exhibition also includes examples of Sudek’s fine art photography possessing thematic and visual parallels to the exhibited reproductions, thus offering viewers the chance to compare them and try to find explicit as well as implicit associations between these two areas of his work.
By the late 1930s, a community of artists had begun to form around Josef Sudek. It was a time when the gloomy atmosphere in society bonded people together and the public realm was replaced by the privacy of people’s homes and studios. Many of them were young beginning artists, who visited Sudek “to pick his brains.” This situation gave rise to more than a few deep friendships and commissions for photographic reproductions, paid through more and more works of art. Of these young artists, the exhibition has included works by Andrej Bělocvětov, Ota Janeček, and Václav Sivko. Sudek’s generational peers are represented by Vlastimil Rada, František Tichý, and František Zikmund, and his “older teachers” are Emil Filla and, in a certain sense, Josef Navrátil.
– Martin Pavlis (from the exhibition catalogue)
Exhibition curator: Martin Pavlis
Gallery curator: Lucie Mlynářová
Exhibition design: Adéla Kremplová
Newprints author: Vlado Bohdan
Gaphic design: Michal Smejkal – Studio Symbiont
Framing: Rámy Pasparty s.r.o.
Translation: Stephan von Pohl, Vít Bohal
Český rozhlas Vltava, 24 July 2019 (interview)
avcr.cz, 9 July 2019
Týden.cz, 4 July 2019
Aktualne.cz, 30 June 2019
Nová Večerní Praha, 28 June 2019
Týden.cz, 28 June 2019
Artalk.cz, 27 June 2019 (press release)