Milan Knížák - Secundary authenticity of Irena Jůzová

text for foreign media to the Irena's exhibition Collection Series
10. 6. 2007 – 21. 11. 2007, Czechoslowakian Pavillon, Giardini di Biennale, Venice, Italy, February 2007

One of the most distinct phenomena of the post-modern era is the fact that the art world has accepted the principles of the free market; not only in trade with art works, but in all areas. The very creation of an art work is a subject to these laws, by the artist status, interest for fresh goods, the managerial role of art theoreticians, and so forth. The atmosphere of the art scene is undistinguishable from that of the commodity market in consumer goods.

Though an art work is in some sense a consumer good, but this is true only in certain very partial aspects. It can be commissioned, or sold, and can even function as a form of financial capital, but on the other hand this is not what an art work is, essentially, because the value of art work of cannot be established. Let me give an example: the value of gold is based on its degree of fineness, the quality of meat or vegetables is determined by their freshness or type; in other words, by measurable and qualitative parameters. A painting – such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers – is just a piece of canvas of mean quality, covered with colors that have moreover been subject to the ravages of time, so that today the painting is different than when it first emerged from the artist’s studio. The price of a canvas piece smeared with paint is the price of the faith that we entrust in this object, for a certain hope that this relic gives us, even if this hope does not spring from the reality of the artifact, but from a haze of notions that cannot be measured. By this introduction I prepare for the presentation of the Irena’s project, which was chosen by the committee, set by the National Gallery in Prague, for the exhibition of the Czechoslovakian Pavilion in Venice for Venice Biennial. The National Gallery in Prague and Slovak National Gallery should take care about the participation at this biennial.

Luxury Above Standards
The final object, which is presented by the author in Venice, is a shop, a traditional commercial area filled with standard furniture and boxes with goods. A shop of this kind could sell pretty much anything – but most likely some kind of luxury goods. But now it strikes me that what the artist is offering is in fact highly luxury goods. In this market form she offers a part of her private and very individual Self. She thus creates casts of the skin of her own body, almost indistinguishable from real skin, offering these for sale, or at least presenting them as items for sale. Flaunting one’s privacy has long been common practice in both Modernist and post-modern art. I cannot resist quoting the notorious bon mot about the Romantic Czech 19th century poet Karel Hynek Mácha, who kept very open private diaries. After these were published – this naturally did not happen until the late 20th century – one theoretician commented, that today Mácha would have presented his secret texts publicly, while he would have kept his lyrical poems secret in his diary. We must also note, that even though the artist offers herself – it is only the surface of her physical being. She consistently keeps the rest of her personality to herself. Post-modern art has brought interest in surface as the final product. Surface began to play the role of something complex. Still, I do not believe that Irena Jůzová takes this aspect into consideration, merely as it were she repeats the early ritual of the snake shedding of skin, or the human ritual of undressing the virgin, and instead of accentuating the snake in its new skin, or the virgin in her new role, she offers us only the discarded shells. In order to make them desirable, however, she accordingly adjusts these skins, offering them as she does for sale in a chic boutique that could easily be at home on Sunset Boulevard or the Champs-Elysées. In a sense, it is a parallel to the situation in art, where there exists the all-mighty taste of the mainstream, which wants to take possession of anything that promises to become a commodity on some kind of a market, whether this be the financial market, or the market of ideas, curiosities and surprises. In this work, Irena Jůzová clearly demonstrates that despite luxurious packaging, we purchase mostly (or in fact perhaps always) only the surface, in her case an industrialized copy of a surface. It is a strange kind of deception, as if an exhibitionist was flashing a prosthetic member. Would such an exhibitionist be persecuted?

The reality of the contemporary world is multilayered – at least this is how the post-modern individual perceives it. Very often, a single layer is seen as representative of the whole, or as the whole itself. Jůzová endeavors to avoid this kind of simplified perspective. Right from the start we are aware that the product she offers is authentic only secondarily. It comes to mind that it is in fact secondary authenticity that is typical for the world today – only I am at a loss how to define this secondary authenticity. And it is perhaps in the world without definitions that art dwells, and so does the work of Irena Jůzová, as presented at the Biennial in Venice.

Strategy of the Czech Press
Last year's presentation was particularly successful. Many European periodicals awarded the installation of Irena Jůzová as one of the most successful. Only Czech newspapers pretended that the international acclaim did not exist, and spitted on the author and primarily on the National Gallery in Prague waterfalls of dehonestation and defamation. In the Czech media there do not occur professional reviewers. Writers admitted to the media used primarily this presentation for settling personal scores, for embarrassing healing of paranoia and demonstration of envy. This is a manifestation of lack of culture that governs in Czech, although still I hear voices about how the Czech is cultural nation. Contemporary Czech society is, unfortunately, a lot of uncultured, because it lacks a crucial – respect for a different attitude and respect to what is created at home. Meanwhile we usually appreciate only what comes from outside and seems to worldwide. But copying of world wideness is always copy, and we are at best second.

Milan Knížák