A Premonition of Shadow

  • 20/9/2019 – 5/1/2020
  • Curated by Otto M. Urban
  • Národní galerie Praha
  • Praha CZ
Although Josef Bolf and I have been thinking about the exhibition A Premonition of Shadow for several years, the actual title did not originate until a few months before the exhibition opening and it is a reference to the eponymous book by Ludvík Souček. T he book was a part of the author’s unfinished trilogy entitled Premonition. At the time it was published in the 1970s, it was one of the very few publications addressing the topic of mysteries and unexplained circumstances that was available in what was then Czechoslovakia. Much like The Morning of the Magicians by the French writers Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, which was published in a Czech translation in 1969, A Premonition of Shadow soon became a cult book and impossible to obtain. This book was an important one for Bolf when he was growing up, and it has actually remained important to him to this day. Our aim was not to organise some sort of comprehensive show or retrospective for the National Gallery in Prague, which this particular venue might possibly call for, but rather we wanted to design a thematically clearly defined exhibition to present the artist’s work from recent years. For that matter, this is the typical approach for most of Josef Bolf’s exhibition projects. He always thinks intently about specific exhibitions, sometimes even postponing the dates if he is not absolutely sure that it is the right time to make another statement.
The spaces along the gallery on the first floor of the Trade Fair Palace are not ideal for exhibiting paintings, as they are quite fragmented and too many builtin panels often promote a cramped and enclosed feeling. Of course, in some cas- es this suits the exhibition, but we refused this option immediately. We wanted to work with the space differently – more delicately. We wanted the architectural concept itself to directly reflect the contents of the exhibited works. We wanted to create a space that is not all that clearly defined – in some sections of the exhibition we even decided to open up the view looking out from the Trade Fair Palace. Josef Bolf proposed that Tomáš Svoboda, whose work he has long been familiar with, be invited to design the exhibition. The two are also close as human beings, which is an important prerequisite to achieve a corresponding level of artistic and creative reflection.

The foundation for the exhibition consists of paintings made over the past year and a half. They represent a compact whole with regard to both form and content. They are something of a synthesis of a number of the motifs and themes
on which Bolf has previously focused and never entirely left behind. In his new work, he returns to the technique of scratch painting, which he more or less abandoned almost ten years ago. However, even at first glance it is apparent that these are different. His most recent painting experience, a sort of “pure painting”, which he introduced at his solo show at the Špala Gallery, has made a significant entrance into the form. Considered from a distance, it seems that this phase is absolutely critical for subsequent development. Nonetheless, despite this visible difference, Bolf is also elaborating on older themes, now intermingling them with other possible worlds. In order to provide an indication of these links and references, we have included some older works in this exhibition, many of which have never previously been shown. Because of the extreme thoughtfulness and relational complexity of Bolf’s current work, we also decided to present two of his short films as well as one of his sound installations. The different “narration” method found in music or film language provides an excellent demonstration of the diverse scope of Bolf’s current paintings, and it introduces a certain rhythm to the exhibition, although in certain places, it lends an element of randomness and disharmony.
The actual location where paintings are displayed may often offer inspiration as to how to resolve specific issues of creation in relation to form as well as content. It is therefor no exception when Josef Bolf draws or paints on the actual exhibition spaces. In this way, a new work was created in the Trade Fair Palace’s first floor gallery – a site-specific drawing on a panel installed in the Respirium, in the same space where the exhibition of Aberto Giacometti’s sculptures is currently underway. Just this association itself brings some fairly interesting questions to the table. Bolf’s wall of mirrors faces into the Small Hall, actually reflecting and proliferating the main exhibition situated in the gallery space. In this way, it completes the overall feeling of interconnectivity and mutual interaction, the intermingling of various spaces and visual perceptions, and revealing other options for perceiving them.

Otto M. Urban
Inverse Romanticism