If you’re in New York, don’t miss the current group exhibition of contemporary Czech photographers at the Czech Center, on display until 23 March. Individually, the works focus on themes ranging from motherhood to love and dislocation. Collected together, they present a broad spectrum of human vulnerabilities and desires. The fact the show takes place in America also has great significance. In conceiving of the show, curator Michal Nanoru was influenced by Allen Ginsberg, who, during a visit to the office of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, pronounced: “Tenderness to mother nature, tenderness to our fellow man, including tenderness to fairies and junkies, is what at this point is desired by the entire younger generation.” The show is titled Tender to remind us that the issues Ginsburg raised seem just as urgent 50 years later. Read on for our highlights from the exhibition.
Vendula Knopová describes herself as an “ambassador of humour”. Her original, comedic style of photography has earned Knopová several awards, most recently the Photographer of the Year at the Czech Grand Design Awards and the Grand Prize at the International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyère. As you might expect, her project on weddings isn’t all champagne flutes and tears of joy. The photo of a vending machine with disposable engagement rings says it all: your “special day” might not be that special after all. For Živijó, she decided to invent her own creative wedding agency that offers to help couples choose their location, food menu, atmosphere, and photography — plus, apparently, a George Clooney mannequin as a stand-in date and some questionable bridal wear.
London-based Hana Knížová came to photography after a career in modelling. For two years running she has been included in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in the UK. Besides collaborating with major fashion publications like Dazed, Marie Claire and InStyle, Knížová has produced personal projects about sibling relations, and teenagers growing up in a detention centre in the Czech Republic where she used to work. For her most recent series, Knížová documented her close friends and their newfound experiences of motherhood, capturing what she describes as their “strange form of confidence”, which took them by surprise.
Tereza Zelenková’s influences are eclectic: she draws inspiration from masters of black and white photography such as Alfred Stieglitz, Josef Sudek, and Germaine Krull, but her work is also steeped in mythology and folklore, and borrows a brooding nature from spiritist photography and outsider art. Though she lives in London, her native Czech Republic is a recurring subject in her work. She draws on forgotten autobiographies, peculiar local histories, and morbid and macabre events, all in a bid to capture the melancholy and mystery connected to the landscapes that she grew up with. Her work has travelled to galleries and museums across the world, including Foam Museum in Amsterdam (2018), The California Museum of Photography (2018), and the Whitechapel Gallery in London (2017).
Photographer Adam Holý, who passed away suddenly in 2016, is known for his erotically-charged work across the fields of fashion and lifestyle, and for blurring the boundaries between commercial and art photography. He tried never to limit himself, instead using the camera as a tool to uncover the raw essence of his subject matter. For this reason he always came back to landscape photography, drawn to nature’s primal power and the desire to capture it in his images. This was the topic of his final photo book, The Overview Effect, which takes its name from the phenomenon astronauts experience viewing the Earth from space for the first time.
What do team building exercises have to do with art? The link might not be obvious, but on closer inspection, this breed of corporate activity has become so absurd that it might as well be staged in galleries as performance art. That’s the thinking behind the work of sisters and photographers Daniela and Linda Dostálková. They made up their own series of hilarious group tasks, such as “Laughter Yoga”, “The Spaghetti-Marshmallow Challenge”, and the very literally named “Potato Icebreaker” to explore just how much the art and corporate worlds overlap. The duo have dedicated their more recent projects to speculative futures; their photo book Hysterical proposes a radical redefinition of our idea of love in order to care properly for the environment.
Dušan Tománek is the co-founder of KomfortMag, a magazine and platform for designers, photographers, illustrators, and artists. As a photographer, Tománek’s interests lie in architecture and design. A regular at gigs and festivals, he’s also been involved in documenting the Czech Republic’s independent music scene. Simultaneously, Tománek has been photographing sites related to the Sudetan Germans expelled from the country in the 20th century. This dark history is present but not obvious in his images of orchard trees previously attached to homes which were razed after the Second World War.
This is a selection of photographs from Tender, which is on display at the Czech Center New York until 23 March.
The exhibition features the artists Radek Brousil, Daniela and Linda Dostálková, Adam Holý, Jiří Hroník, Hana Knížová, Vendula Knopová, Valentýna Janů, Jiří Thýn, Dušan Tománek, and Tereza Zelenková. You can find more information here.