Review: Jiří Kolář & Béatrice Bizot: Korespondáž
A unique mail exchange between Jiří Kolář and Béatrice Bizot
Posted: February 20, 2013
Barely postcard-sized, the roughly 400 works on display are all collages Kolář made specifically for Béatrice Bizot.
By Siegfried Mortkowitz
FOR THE POST
Some exhibitions are not, first and foremost, about the work on display, but try to convey how art can function as a language and a medium for human communication.
A fine case in point is "Jiří Kolář & Béatrice Bizot: Korespondáž/Correspondage" at Veletržní Palace, which features some 400 collages that Kolář sent Bizot, a young Frenchwoman, between the summer of 1986 and autumn of 1987, in exchange for letters from her.
at Veletržní Palace Ends March 17. Dukelských hrdinů 47, Prague 7-Holešovice. Open Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Visitors to the show expecting to see a representative sample of the great Czech artist's work may be disappointed, for the collages in the show are postcard-sized or not much larger and intimate rather than public. They were meant to be held in the hand and seen by a single person, not to be exhibited. They are amuse-bouches to the sumptuous banquet that is Kolář's art - which is a great deal better than nothing at all.
Kolář (who died in 2002 at the age of 87) met Béatrice Bizot in the summer of 1986, in Normandy, where she and her parents had gone on holiday. This was six years after he had been forced to leave Czechoslovakia. She was 20, and he was 71 and one of the most admired Czech artists and poets of his generation. He'd lived through the German occupation and had been jailed twice by the communists, before being forced into exile. Despite the political hardships, he'd become a renowned international artist, with exhibitions in South America, Canada and Japan, and a retrospective, in 1975, at New York City's Guggenheim Museum.
At that first meeting, Bizot told him she wanted to become a journalist, and he related how his wife had composed him a letter every day during the first years of his exile, and that it had greatly improved her writing. (A review of Běla Kolářová's current exhibition in London ran in last week's issue of The Prague Post.) So they agreed that she would write him every day, describing details of her daily life.
In a recent interview with Radio Prague, Bizot said Kolář hadn't said he would reply to her letters. "I started writing him," she said, "and then I received collages from him, every day."
The exchange was interrupted for three weeks because of school exams, which took up much of her time and energy. After passing the exams, she sent him a brief note. "The next day I received a package with 30 collages dated with each day we did not write each other," she said.
Although Kolář may be more revered by Czechs as a poet, outside of the country he is highly regarded for his groundbreaking collages. He used the form because he found it to be the perfect expression for the hostile environment he inhabited.
In Brandon Taylor's Collage: The Making of Modern Art, Kolář is quoted as having said, "The world attacks us directly, tears us apart through the experience of the most incredible events and assembles and reassembles us again. Collage is the most appropriate medium to illustrate this reality."
The exhibition's title "Korespondáž" (Correspondage) is a punning reference to terms he applied to the collage techniques he'd invented, such as confrontage (placing intact images next to each other to suggest some connections, visual or otherwise), rollage (cutting up a reproduction into strips and then putting them together again according to some preconceived idea), prolage (creating depth by inserting images into holes cut or torn in the surface or image) and crumplage (deforming images by crumpling them).
While the small format he used to communicate with Bizot was not suited to many of the techniques he devised - a distinct limitation - the show still has many rewards and is a good introduction to Kolář's humor and inventiveness. Many of the works combine images from artworks and travel postcards to amusing effect, such as the nude reclining in a coliseum, Botticelli's Venus adorning a perfume bottle or Rembrandt's self-portrait superimposed on an ancient vase.
The most fascinating aspect of the exhibition is how it illustrates the influence a great artist's work can have on a young and receptive individual. For Bizot did not, in the end, become a journalist; she is today a successful sculptor, and a number of her works are shown here.
It is certainly no coincidence that many of these sculptures have a collage look to them, as if they'd been cut out of a larger context.
She told Radio Prague that, after 25 years, "I realize that many things [about the relationship with Kolář] influenced me and that it was very important for me. At the time, you don't think about it. You follow your path, laden with bags that you open from time to time. And that had permeated me."
Siegfried Mortkowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org