A Review of Black Hole Generation: The Kings are Back at The Dot Project
The Kings are Back at Chelsea space The Dot Project is a bold and evocative showcase of contemporary European painting from a Czech Republic-based collective that appears to defy convention. David Krňanský, Martin Lukáč and Julius Reichel - collectively known as Black Hole Generation - met whilst studying together at the Academy of Architecture and Design (UMPRUM) in Prague. The trio share a similar approach and artistic objective, but also pursue visual accomplishment through different forms of media. Here, though, is a unique opportunity to see how the three artists each interpret their aims through the medium of paint.
David Krňanský is a native Czech, whose work generally encompasses painting, drawing, collage, and site-specific installations. His interests lie in contemporary culture - particularly popular culture, including music - which he tries to incorporate into much of his work. Martin Lukáč was born in Slovakia, although lives and works in Prague alongside Krňanský and Reichel. He, too, draws on outside influences, being particularly inspired by 90's youth culture. Reichel is from the Czech Republic, and began as a graffiti artist - this creative era in his life still has great influence on his art, particularly in his desire to create ‘public’ works. The origins of the three artists are important to their work - growing up in post-occupied Eastern Europe, readjusting to the westernisation of culture and especially pop culture, is an experience inherent to their creative methods and output. Their work challenges established norms - for example using museum and gallery shows to critique the institutionalisation of art, and using art itself to critique modern culture.
This exhibition represents an refreshing take on painting as a supplementary aspect to the collective's multi-disciplinary output. In fact, the Black Hole Generation’s wider oeuvre actually incorporates all forms of art from sculpture to installation, often including the re-appropriation of mass media or found objects, in a sort of neo-Dadaist postmodern approach to ready-mades. Perhaps better-described as a movement, each of the collective's shows can be interpreted as manifestos which encourage the viewer to look critically at the world around them and also at themselves. Krňanský, Lukáč and Reichel can each be seen to be pursuing their own lines of artistic and creative inquiry whilst simultaneously working towards a unified vision within the aims of the B.H.G. The liberal background of the collective, coming perhaps from the fact that they all live and work in Prague, means that their work as a collective is a multi-media approach that stems from a visceral and incredibly insightful perspective on modern art and culture.
As you enter The Dot Project, twelve canvases of equal size, line the walls of the gallery. They are hung close together, so there is an immediate sense that the viewer is being inundated or overwhelmed by the artworks on display. The canvases created for this show are abstract, featuring compartmentalised planes of colour. At first, they seem like exciting explorations of colour. However, this is contradicted when they are explored further, in the use of visual motifs that are employed to confront and perhaps even confuse the viewer: they are seen to ‘suggest much but disclose very little.’ Bright colours contrast with dark in the canvases of all three artists, in a visually intriguing and yet slightly frustrating manner. Krňanský uses particularly playful, random shapes in his work, which are partly covered by dark, menacing shades of colour.
Lukáč, too, uses swathes of black paint to overlay the primary colours in abstract patterns underneath. Reichel’s collection of shapes in vivid colours such as pink, yellow, blue, and orange are similarly marked alongside greys, blacks and deep violets. There is an undeniable sense of collaboration in each artist’s use of their colour palette, this being the key visual language in their exploration of ‘contemporary culture and its propensity to overload us with visual stimulation.’ By using colour in this way, the group of canvases evoke a slightly unsettling atmosphere that probes much deeper than the playful and light-hearted abstractions that they first seem to be. In truth, they are deliberately difficult to interpret, because it seems as if each artist has intentionally tried to confuse the viewer. Interestingly, each canvas shares the same title - ‘BHG’, followed by a consecutive number - bringing the works together in terms of a collective production.
Downstairs, a mirrored wall is covered with similar motifs as can be seen in each canvas upstairs. This playful aspect of the show recalls Reichel’s background in graffiti art, and pulls the exhibition away from being a conventional showcase focussed on painting alone. Leading into a basement room, six printed canvases are on display - propped up against the wall, rather than hung like the paintings upstairs - overthrowing a more traditional curatorial approach. Again, these prints are a collaborative effort - almost propaganda-like in their declaration of ‘THE KINGS ARE BACK’ or ‘BHG’ repeated over and over - reinforcing the identity of the collective in an artistic as well as typographic language. There is a repetitive nature to the paintings, too, although juxtaposed with random motifs. The background of each printed canvas is taken from the original paintings upstairs, but the use of typography references mass-production. It's as if they're offering a critique of modern artistic production and of contemporary culture. One might think of the Black Hole Generation artists as modern Pop artists - albeit in a post-Pop era of contemporary art - certainly, the bold use of typography in the six printed canvases on display in the basement recalls the work of Ed Ruscha.
Undeniably, the work of the collective is exciting, and I am intrigued to see how they evolve both as a group as well as individual creatives. The artists very rarely show a collection works within a single medium, making this an exciting display of their contemporary aims and objectives using, as a primary tool, one of the most traditional mediums.
Written by Georgia Messervy, a Contributor to Arteviste.