Region: Czech artist's 10-year-old son curates his first exhibition
Young Cato has spent his first decade touring exhibits globally
Posted: February 6, 2013
Cato J. Dibelius, 10, the son of Czech-born artist Robert Barta, selected the works for the exhibit by himself.
Czech-born artist Robert Barta creates humorous installations and ready-made works of art. Perhaps his best-known, "Move It," is a hula-hooping, lifesize cactus. His artistic disposition seems to have influenced not only his art, but also his son, Cato J. Dibelius.
At 10 years old, Cato is already well-versed in the world of art, especially contemporary works. By traveling the world with his father, he has been exposed to more than 400 exhibitions in one decade. While so much art may seem overwhelming, even confusing, to some, Cato recalls what he likes and draws comparisons and associations - indeed, the very title of his exhibition, "Daddy YOU can't make a Cactus ... this has been done!" is how he responded to his father when Barta explained the concept of "Move It" to his son. Cato had recalled the work of Simon Sterling and his "Kakteenhaus," in which a Volvo heated a room inside of which a large cactus grew.
The early artistic exposure not only familiarized Cato with art but also left him extremely comfortable with it. Some of his father's friends, artists Cato knows personally, are featured in the exhibition, and he says that after looking at so much art he started thinking about putting together his own show a few years ago. Barta explains that, all together, "Daddy YOU can't make a Cactus…" took a year and a half to develop. In that time, Barta says his son learned about all the technicalities of putting together an art exhibition: the paperwork, e-mailing, artists' contracts, shipping, insurance and countless other aspects. Though 10-year-old Cato did not personally make all the phone calls and type all the e-mails, he was often at the Grim Museum working on the exhibition until bedtime, and regularly attending school in the meantime. When asked if it was "back to normal" now that the exhibition is up and running, Barta explains that not much has actually changed.
"He's going to school, doing sports and what not," Barta tells The Prague Post. "He might work on a second show. This show took one and a half years to get here from point zero, so the second one will be easier for him, in terms of where to put some things and how to choose the artists. How to know that a piece which is worth half a million, which he wanted to have also in the show, with insurance could be problematic, with the sizes. So he knows now, he has more experience, he's doing it."
It seems that even before Cato earned the experience of curating his own show, he knew what attracted him. Often, when asked what his favorite part of a piece is, it's the story behind it that he finds interesting. Take, for example, a piece by the Czech artist Jakub Moravek, called "Transit 8/10/04," a 12-minute long video installation showing the artist, who left his home country in the 1990s, being transported back over the Czech border in the trunk of a car.
"I don't think you can explain that," Barta says. "In 2004, you still had borders and still had to show your passport - you couldn't explain that it was an art project or something."
The other two video pieces also bear interesting, memorable stories for Cato, though it is not only the videos that have that appeal. In one of the final pieces Cato introduces while giving a guided tour, he explains that the framed, three-dimensional untitled 2012 piece by the German artist Thomas Behling was not exactly as the artist had intended.
"It fell, it dropped on the floor, and the glass got these cracks it has now," Cato explains. "And he looked at it and he thought, 'Cool.' "
Another of Behling's works, a mixed-media painting called Der kleine Junge hat Angst vor dem Schwarzen Mann (translated roughly as "The Little Boy is Afraid of the Boogie Man"), welcomes visitors to Cato's exhibition. In the guise of a traditional oil painting, Behling's work is half replicating cherubic children and half creating a dark and somewhat sinister swamp thing. Between the two of them, a lightning bolt periodically strikes, along with the appropriate accompanying sound effects. It evokes both childhood and something more serious yet is ultimately nonthreatening.
The 15 artworks chosen by Cato were compiled over time to become a carefully curated selection from a pool of 50-60 artists. Some pieces, like "Transit 8/10/04," he had seen live during his museum and gallery visits. For others, he had portfolios sent over so he could review them and select certain pieces, and still others were recalled from memory.
The works in Cato's first show are active, engaging, colorful, creative and fun: everything a 10-year-old boy should be. Despite the lightheartedness of "Daddy YOU can't make a Cactus..." it remains evident that each piece was displayed thoughtfully: During the opening, the exhibition's final room smelled of paint made from beer and cocoa by the artist Seb Koberstädt, which mingled with the sound and scent of popcorn being made by the reused cement mixer conceived and created by Michael Sailstorfer. In the room looking directly through a picture window out onto the Berlin street, a massive wave of wooden boards, many of which were cracked by foot in a row along the piece's middle, swerves upward toward the ceiling. Cato explains that the piece was altered - it was supposed to be a giant swirl through the entire room - so that it wouldn't affect the view. Through that room and through yet another, from outside the gallery, the performance artist Michael Zheng smiles in a self-portrait with rainbow-colored teeth.
Cato is particularly drawn to artists whose artworks engage; he explains that he wanted to include a work from Jeppe Hein, whose interactive public water fountains Cato says are his favorite art pieces. Unfortunately, the piece Cato chose for the exhibition - a museum bench that, when sat upon, started releasing smoke and blocking your view of the art - was unavailable.
It may have been difficulties like these that made Cato adverse to the idea of curating another show, yet eventually he warmed up to the idea. This time, though, he has much bigger aspirations, expressing interest in Munich's Haus der Kunst, as well as in working with the Belgian artist Wim Devoye, who is perhaps best known for tattooing live pigs.
Kasia Pilat can be reached at