Written down by Jiří Ptáček
Curator: Good morning and welcome to the guided tour of an empty gallery. I’m really happy that there are so few of us ‘cause Drdova Gallery would get too crammed if the attendance were higher. (unrequited laughter). There are fifteen of us and that’s just right.
Visitor 1: Twelve. There’s twelve of us including you.
Curator: (grumpily): Ok, there’s twelve of us, it doesn’t really matter… (in a noticeably calmer tone) As you can see, the gallery is not that empty after all, but we’ll get back to that later. Let me introduce the artist first.
He speaks about Jan Nálevka as a visual artist of the middle generation who employs classic conceptual approaches. He depicts Nálevka’s restraint towards signature style and his distance that makes him repeatedly rethink the concept of the ready-made. He repeatedly mentions Nálevka’s interest in the theme of emptiness and emphasizes that his creative activities show a line of “constructing emptiness”…
Visitor 1: There’s nothing new about an empty gallery…
Curator: You’re right about that, it’s basically an established genre of conceptual art. But each time it will draw your attention to a different thematic cluster.
Visitor 1: So?
Curator: So I believe that in our case, it’s about a different experience of a single place. On one hand, there’s our physical experience; on the other hand, there’s the experience paraphrased by the framed photographs on the walls.
Visitor 2: And those were made by Jan Nálevka?
Curator: No, not really, he had them made by photographers who have documented the gallery’s exhibitions in the past. Nálevka merely chose an older photograph for each of them and asked all of them to retake the photographs as faithfully as possible, only in an empty gallery this time.
The photographers he mentions include Hynek Alt, Tereza Havlínková, Václav Kopecký, Ondřej Polák, Tomáš Souček and Jiří Thýn.
Visitor 1: What about Martin Polák…
Curator: I did name him, didn’t I?
Visitor 1: You didn’t. You only mentioned Ondřej Polák.
Curator: (grumpily again): Ok, you’re right. The photographers include Martin Polák as well. To put it correctly, they were six gentlemen and one lady. They all took different photos. They all had different technical equipment and also photographed a different exhibition; however, they all tried to interpret a particular situation. I find it important that photographic documentation is not a neutral performance but always a subjective interpretation.
Visitor 1: But the photographers don’t have that much freedom either, do they?
Curator: They do an assignment which is to photograph an exhibition… But we’re digressing from the point here. What’s important about our exhibition is that an empty gallery with photographs of an empty gallery turns our attention to the institution of the gallery.
Visitor 2: So the photographs depict the gallery space?
Curator: Yes, to a degree. But an empty interior would be documented differently by a photographer…
Visitor 2: So what is it about?
Curator: In my opinion, the photographs show you that there’s something that isn’t quite right about them. Besides the fact that they do not correspond to classic interior documentation, they also show different concepts and technical renditions. I think that it’s pretty important that they somehow do not work together; that they’re different both in their approach and rendition. Even their placement in frames and in the gallery does not follow a particular logic.
Visitor 1: So they make no sense at all…
Curator: I wouldn’t think so. They’re actually images where the original background comes to the foreground and highlights the role of the photographic rendition of a “message” (he makes the quote unquote sign with his fingers) of a cultural event.
Visitor 1 (male) and Visitor 3 (female) leave the gallery. They stop before the window and light their cigarettes.
Curator: (visibly relieved): Let me reiterate. Nálevka draws on the significant role of photographic documentation in the mediation of a cultural event such as an exhibition. As a matter of fact, we learn about a large portion of exhibitions by means of photographic documentation. We will not make it to many of them, we may not be able to come, and will only view them on Instagram and Facebook. In general, the inflation of cultural events and the increasing influence of networking platforms where we share photographs has increased the importance of photographic documentation as a parallel life of exhibitions as well as entire institutions. A large part of art history is now a history of interpretation of reproduction, i.e. an interpretation of an interpretation. One day, I’d like to be able to better tell how the physical appearance of exhibitions is influenced by the notion of future reproductions. I believe that’s what’s already happening. Although it’s not an issue, I’ve seen such instances already, and I believe it may – I would even say must – be happening on a subliminal level.
The gallerist enters the room from the office.
Gallerist (apologetically): Don’t mind me.
She walks through the room and slips through the door to the back office.
Curator: Photographic documentation also models our notion of the gallery institution, helps create its social status, its prestige. If you have repulsive photographic documentation, it damages the image of your institution in the eyes of the public. (agitatedly) As a curator, you can bend over backwards and it’ll still be of no use.
Visitor 2: That’s pretty sad, isn’t it?
Curator (more and more agitatedly): Unfortunately. In this respect, the photographer is really, really important. I’ve got a plenty of stories to tell… For instance last year in Brno… It was Nálevka as well… That… That was awful… The installation of the exhibition didn’t quite work out and the photos botched it up completely…
The sound of a coffee machine can be heard from the back office.
Curator (regains his collected tone): Jan Nálevka is not critical about the transforming role of photographic documentation. Definitely not in an explicit way. He merely points it out by revising the older documentary photographs by telling the photographers, who are now photographing an empty gallery, to approach the photograph they once made there with some level of art, and thus accentuating the relation between an institution and its images, i.e. reproductions spread in diverse ways. Under regular conditions, it is believed that a photographer is documenting “art in a gallery” (he indicates the quote unquote sign by his fingers again), however, metaphorically, they are photographing the entire institutional environment and its workings. Nálevka’s photographs make it even more apparent as they do not show any art at all.
Visitor 2: So it’s site-specific art
Curator: You know, I wouldn’t say so. Although it may seem like it at first glance. If a minimum set of conditions were met, another version of this exhibition could be realized in another institution as well. In fact, the only condition would be that numerous photographers are required to have photographed the exhibitions at the institution in the past. Otherwise, you couldn’t highlight the plurality and incompatibility in the making of the image of the institution.
The gallerist re-enters the office with coffee in a pot.
Gallerist (apologetically): Pardon me.
Visitor 2: But it’s a little absurd to be standing in a gallery and looking at its photographs.
Curator: That’s a loop that is often present in Nálevka’s work. That’s how the exhibition sticks to the theme of emptiness. I also believe that it’s a lot about how you decide to perceive absurdity: whether as a negative or a positive thing. I always see humour behind it; a kind of a wink that cannot be univocally read as an invitation to a conspiracy, but neither as an uncontrollable tic. Of course it’s not wrong to see it as an absurdity of its kind. Any other questions?
Curator: So, thank you so much for your attention. The gallerist has prepared a little refreshment for you at the office so let’s move there.
The visitors walk over to the office. They are joined by Visitor 1 and Visitor 3.