2018: Jiří Kovanda: Black Cube, DENVER

All the Birds of North America


Opening: Thursday, September 13, 6 – 9pm

On View: September 14 – October 6, 2018

Curator: Michal Novotný


Jiří Kovanda is a major figure of Czechoslovak and Central-East European performance art. His specifically subtle, ephemeral but strongly political interventions into the public space, that he started in the end of 1970s under the totalitarian communist regime however came to a general appreciation only after the turn of the millennium, when he was already in his fifties. 

Although Jiří Kovanda is no more this young romantic slim hippie-looking guy we know from the black and white pictures, looking in the sun until he started to cry (August 1977), turning on an escalator around and looking into the eyes of the person standing behind him (September, 1977), or making a small tower of sugar cubes next to a rough brick wall (spring 1981) his soft eyes and gentle smile remained and he still doesn’t have any studio to work in, now by his own decision.

The exhibition All the Birds of North America is an experiment of bringing Jiří Kovanda to an entirely different “biotope”, an American urban public space that have completely different set of characteristics compare to the Prague’s, Czech, one, city build in the middle ages mainly for pedestrians, streets, tramways and parks still suffering the surveillance trauma of the pre-1989 totalitarian regime and following flow of mass tourism. 

As much as a migrating bird, Jiří Kovanda does not bring anything with him to conceive the exhibition and as of the curator’s decision he will also not know what the exhibition site is until the time of his arrival in Denver. “He can definitely do that, anyway he always only comes with his backpack,” told me Michal Mánek, his old friend and gallerist. There is definitely something romantic in this idea flying 65 years old Jiří to Denver with his backpack, not knowing, where he will exhibit. It’s even more romantic, that he agreed, and I am very grateful for it. But I also think there is something deeply romantic but also sophisticated in his work, that may be close to how I imagine the activity of birdwatching, where the “result” is a not very big and never last very long, at least in comparison to our economical perception of input/output, but that is finally very moving. 

With Black Cube Art museum we also tried to create the most picturesque American scene for the fragile bird to sit on, like those yellow turning leaves of the branch from the All the Birds of North America atlas cover. This is to say that this is project should be openly fanciful and imaginary. We all need our own image, that may be more sentimental than realistic. Hence by assuming our need for sentiment, and being able to reflect it, like Jiří Kovanda did in his early performance that were first of all lived but inner experiences, rather than the public confrontational gestures with totalitarian regime, we may be less fragile for others to abuse this need. 

Michal Novotný



project developed in collaboration with Black Cube Art Museum 


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