Mgr. Antonín Gavlas /CZ/ - Association IN SIGNUM – Union of Visual Arts CZ


The Old Drunkard of contemporary art

Opilá stařena současného umění


Mgr. Antonín Gavlas /CZ/ - Association IN SIGNUM – Union of Visual Arts CZ


I will try to make a short and certainly simplified excursion into the history of art. Let‘s discuss where art got today and what can we do about it...

The art has been accompanying mankind for thousand years.  In every era it was of great importance for the integration of social life, forming a unifying and characterizing element of the community.

In fact, art reflects and co-creates a social situation throughout its existence. What a society such an art.

Remember the typical example of the sculpture The Old Drunkard from the Ancient history:

 In the era of Classical Greece, artists always displayed beautiful ideals, ideal figures of gods and heroes who gave order and importance to social prosperity. The ideal of kalokagathei, the combination of beauty and goodness, was the highlight of art and society. Later, in the Hellenistic era the decline of Greek society and culture was approaching.  It had an impact of art - deformed figures, caricatures, sick people, old men and children suddenly appear. A typical example is the well-known The Old Drunkard = an ugly, twisted wrinkled figure of an old woman with a jug of wine. 

At what era do we find ourselves today - if we were to judge according to contemporary artistic expressions in world galleries?

Since cave paintings through ancient temples and pharaohs' tombs until the Renaissance, Baroque, Enlightenment and all the existing styles up to the 19th century, art was a phenomenon that contributed to the social situation. You could say that it has united the people of that time, communicated important messages to them, spread the education and fundamental values of the society and at the same time mirrored this situation into the society.

However, since the beginning of the 20th century everything is different. An art serves another function. It is merely a presentation of artists’ thoughts, opinions and skills which are intended to present a creator himself rather than to have any greater significance for the society itself.

Dozens of new art movements are emerging in the 20th century - each focusing on a different detail, always emphasizing the author's new approach and indeed innovative works - even though they rarely have any greater social impact.


Those art movements brought a number of new forms, perspectives and goals and enriched artistic creative work even though it was no longer a united influence on society as in the past.

However, an even greater change in attitude towards art than in the early 20th century occurred in its last third. Everything new appeared to have been discovered. Postmodernism had begun to select from a “second hand”.

Eclectism and plagiarism have spread. Moreover, machinations in the choice of curators have developed. As a conceptual artist only manipulates already finished objects instead of painting as the curator manipulates a group of artists.

It is no longer a question of whether you are painting something new, some original idea but whether it will fit the curator in his concept and in the gallery's financial strategy. The artist becomes dependent on the arbitrariness of curators and gallerists. (= 2 =)

Art has become an industry sector. Its main goal is making money instead of bringing some serious messages and thoughts to the society.

Thus, groups of linked artists and curators are formed. Who manage to get into this "inner circle" of the chosen and respected (as described by Igor Malijevsky in the article The inner circle) is successful. (= 3 =) Then a low-quality and worthless piece of work gets great value by decision of the curator and is auctioned at hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions. Obviously this is the corruption, fraud and unfair manipulation of public opinion and the value of art. Those "chosen" authors are making the right use of it and spew absurd works into the public space.

One of our best-known artists Jiří David confirmed this situation in the catalog of the exhibition New Intimacy (= 4 =) where he wrote:

"..It is not enough to wonder where all the jerks are swarming ... and that no one can reveal us when we make fools from everyone and they are even willing to pay for it. If you keep them fooling long enough by so many pure ideas, magnificence, nonconformity, they are willing to pay actually much more. Then, you're in too deep. In addition, once you have influence over a few experts, several reporters, you live off the fat of the land for years to come ..."

Similarly, all the great international art shows in the world look like that - for example Documenta in Kassel or the most well-known Venice Biennale. I came back from Venice just a few days ago and I will show a few photos here. I can sum it all up in one characteristic: a shiny show full of nonsensical installations, and huge objects with complex technologies but with no meaningful content. When was possible to discern the content, it was some form of apocalypse, destruction or wreck. We could find deformed figures and monsters - just The Old Drunkard in all forms and sizes…

The public art awards are the same issue. An "inner circle" inflates a shiny bubble and then sets it as a world number one. ‘Jindřich Chalupecký Award’ has been just a proof of that for the past few years. J. B. Krtička wrote in his recent article that this is not a real art but an empty conceptual manipulation and even pornography. (= 5 =) This "circle" has a couple of reporters too. When it is published on a television, such groups of people get millions of grants.

It is not necessary to emphasize that this is the decline of artistic creation and culture at all. It reflects the social situation in the world. Like superficial, crazy and decadent the world, like the art. The society is filled with big The Old Drunkards when the shiny surface of spectacular nonsense and perversity is presented more than quality content of humanistic and spiritual values.

No great noble and beautiful ideals are being displayed today. Rather we speak about a civilizing apocalypse, an ecological crisis, immigration or a war crisis, about a consumer society that has no other ideals than further consumption. Although we are aware of the consequences of such behavior, and we see how we are flooding the planet with poisons and waste, we are still unable to turn back from that direction. The ideal of kalokagathei is irrevocably past. Beauty and goodness is just a memory of past times.

Only the depressing scenes of crumbling society are modern: again deformed bodies, grimaces of monstrosity and vulgarity, chaos of shapes, colors and sounds, destruction at every step…

The right exhibition must be complemented by a cut cow or a decaying shark according to Damian Hirst or enlarged models and castings of faeces by Josef Beuys (please see the photos from exhibitions). In Czech conditions, you must either bang your head against the wall by Krištof Kintera or pour beer on your head according to the current installation of Rafans in Sova's Mills. It is also very modern to write dirty texts in the paintings according to Václav Stratil or Jiří David – e.g. in his current exhibition in the Gallery Fiducia in Ostrava. …

An exhibition without some form of The Old Drunkard you will not find today - and the more drunk and monstrous, the more current.

Now, join the stream as a creator, who is aware of this decline, and wants to create differently and has different views. It seems to you that The Old Drunkard are already everywhere but when you paint something more positive, something less decadent, you will not fit any curator in his concept and you will stay in front of the gallery gates ...

In the past, when it came to the extinction of one civilization, the second one was pushing in its place - and eventually, on a global scale there was no such trouble. Another civilization came and The Old Drunkards of the past times were replaced by gods and heroes of a new era.

What will come after today's civilization? Will mankind destroy itself, recorded it and play it on-line?

To whom will we present the beauty such as pretty girls in the flower gardens when all this is just past?

I do not want to be pessimistic although it seems like that according to the text above.

I am very aware of this decadence which has been spreading through the world since the 1980s. On the contrary, for the last 30 years I have been promoting a positive attitude to life and art. In the early 1990s, I founded the VOX HUMANA movement with several friends. We supported young artists in the form of exhibitions, subsidies and competitions who were able to show the surrounding world in positive colors, authors who tried to capture the beauty of life and the true voice of man (= vox humana) in an optimistic form.

We have been organizing a Biennial of Young Artists for 10 years with this humanistic focus, we have been publishing catalogs with texts of experts and we also published a manifesto Vox humana. Then, hundreds of international artists joined us. It seemed we were able to compete with some forms of destruction from the world galleries. We can say that we have had a similar endeavor as this FORFEST festival such as bringing culture and spiritualization to the contemporary art.

Unfortunately, the art world is already soaked with this negativity and destruction that it has overwhelmed us. We have had to terminate the Vox humana project from the financial reasons.

However, I still do not give up the hope that the situation must turn around and people will realize this impasse. Human heart, human consciousness and all human endeavors have always been directed to some higher goals, to higher values, to some order - if ever non-order and chaos have prevailed, it must always be replaced by the new order.

What the new order will be? Let’s wait for it. Either our civilization will indeed cease to exist or humanity will recover, stop destroying the Earth and get a new impetus to both life and art.

This FORFEST festival is also such impetus, one step towards a more spiritual image of the world. Unfortunately, we all see that it is less noticeable than other bigger events.

To be able to compete with the global trend of emptied show or new digital animation of The Old Drunkards, something essential would have to happen. E.g. some huge stock market crash with art or a strong and enlightened Minister of Culture would have ensure the change or all people would just have to realize the situation and turn their thinking totally.

Apparently none of this will happen in the foreseeable future. We have to co-exist with the mainstream of the decadent culture of The Old Drunkard. At least we can keep some space for more spiritual and positive work. And at the same time we can create some form of independent art that could live in parallel with official streams. This could be called a new underground. It would create and present such art that would be common in the normal society and would not be affected by this non-order.

If you have any advice, I am looking forward to it...

Mgr. Antonín Gavlas

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Literature :

1=           José Pijoan:  Dějiny umění, 2. part, p. 180

2=           Ivan Mečl : MÝTUS  SVĚTA UMĚNÍ, Umělec 1/2008

3=           Igor Malijevský: Vnitřní okruh,  Praha, 20.9. 2013

4=           Jiří David: an exhibiton  catalogue Nová intimita, Praha, 1991

5=           Jiří Bernard Krtička: IMPOZANTNÍ SLOVA + NICOTNÉ ČINY = ŽÁDNÉ UMĚNÍ. Zamyšlení nad fenoménem Chalupeckého ceny, klamáním veřejnosti a příčinami konceptualismu – from the 17. 1. 2019 from the website :


(Transl. Denisa Krhutová)

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