Gallery spol. s r. o.

Jiří Kolář

National Gallery in Prague
Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art 
Veletržní palác
Dukelských hrdinů 47, Praha 7

19. 10. 2001
3. 2. 2002
daily except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The exhibition is held under the auspices of Jan Kasl, Mayor of Prague 

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Kamil Lhoták, Portrét Jiřího Koláře / Portrait of Jiří Kolář, 1947
olej, plátno / oil on canvas, 69 x 61 cm


The exceptional character of Jiří Kolář’s personal collection is, in large measure, the result of a selection of artwork that documents the origins of individual artistic efforts as much as several collective tendencies. Kolář has, as a collector, never concentrated on acquisition of a mass of property of more or less evident value. The authors and work were selected only according to his own captivation by the given theme or artistic personality. For his entire life, Jiří Kolář has maintained, both as artist and as collector, an existential bond with experimentation. It might therefore have seemed logical to start from this feature when designing the exhibition and to arrange it around a straightforward chronology, as the majority of authors represented in it turned more or less radically against official trends and contemporary fashions.

Given the personality of the collector, however, it ultimately seemed more informative to arrange it round the individual stages in Kolář’s life, since these reflect social events, his own activity as an artist linked up with his collecting interests, and his friendly or professional contacts with some of the artists represented in the collection. Mutual exchanges, gifts, commissions, purchases at auctions, in second-hand bookshops, antique shops, purchases from estates, purchases as a way of saving works condemned to oblivion or destruction.  All these and probably yet other methods by which Kolář extended his collection naturally fell into several smaller subdivisions: In the Circle of Group 42; Experiment, act, concept; Vladimír Boudník; Ladislav Novák; Jiří Kolář the collector; The National Gallery Collection in Prague  a Paris Exile. 


Kamil Lhoták, Geometři / Geometers, 1943
olej, lepenka / oil on cardboard, 19,5 x 28,5 cm


In the Circle of Group 42

The beginnings of the collection date back to 1937, when  Jiří Kolář entered the Prague art scene, first with an exhibition of collages at E. F. Burian’s and then by joining Group 42.  The personal dedications on the first donated drawings and prints confirm Kolář’s rapid involvement in artistic life and his natural ability to establish friendly contacts even with artists of other generations.  His first acquisitions were mainly friendly gifts and exchanges for poems dedicated not only to Group colleagues, but also for example to František Tichý. After the war the collection, in which members of Group 42 were already well represented, grew with the addition of works by Josef Šíma. Kolář’s group collection reflects the lively history of the founding of Group 42, its survival during the war years and disintegration in 1948. Presence of several artists continues after the Group 42 circle and into the late Fifties and early Sixties.


Vladimír Burda, Prométheovo pokolení / Descendents of Prometheus, 1968
plexi krabička, sirky, zapalovače,.../ plexiglass box, matches, cigarette lighters v./ht. 5,5cm


Experiment, action, concept

Experiment, action, concept Most akin to Jiří Kolář interests were, understandably, literary experiment, yet he was able to recognize, and moreover value, experimental daring even in artistic methods and tendencies that he never employed. Kolář has always opposed experimentation for its own sake, one not grounded in original thought and satisfied merely with the provocative gesture. His basic conviction is that "art, however free it may be, still has its laws and its responsibilities, not only toward human fates, but towards itself". Several names occurring in the collection are those linked to the earliest tendencies towards abstraction in Czech and worldwide art. The section intended for experimental, action and conceptual art concentrates on those artist who strove to renew the possibilities of communication, offering the viewers and participants of actions a new experience of a transformed reality and making use of non-artistic means to break through quotidian expectations.


Vladimír Boudník, Strukturální grafika / Structural print, 1960
strukturální technika, papír / structural technique on paper 37,4 x 21,4 cm


Vladimír Boudník  

To date around 88 Boudník prints have been found in the Kolář collection, and this represents the largest number of works by any single artist in the collection. Although the whole set was originally probably even larger, even in its current form it provides an unusually clear overview of the most striking phases of Boudník’s work.

It is worth noting that Jiří Kolář had a precise sense of which were  Boudník’s finest  works – his collection contains both key large  structural prints, experimental overprints on reproductions using the artists’ own plates and some rare prints. Kolář even provided the impetus for the birth of some of these works himself (Derealizations), and often gave Boudník financial assistance by buying him new print sheets.

In 1958 Jiří Kolář was undoubtedly primarily taken by the authentic, stylistically unencumbered character of Boudník’s action prints.  He too was an artist who always stuck to his own principles and in the later 1950s started to develop one of his numerous innovative approaches. It was in their inner freedom, and in the tension between the rawness of Boudník’s action approaches and Kolář’s sober ironic view of cultural tradition, that the innovative spirit of these two psychologically so contrasting artists came together and interacted in the1950s.


Ladislav Novák, Poezie / Poetry, 1962
ostnatý drát, papír, překližka /barbed wire, paper, plywood,
v./ht. 9 cm


Ladislav Novák

The first personal meeting between the two artist occurred in 1961 was arranged by the painter Mikuláš Medek. For several previous years, though, Novák had been engaged with the search for a personal form of poetic and visual creation, similar to the methods of experimental poetry, and had begun to introduce visual images into his poetic texts.

At the beginning of the 1960s, a creative figure not confined by written poetry, as Novák was, formed the natural partner for Kolář. Both artists soon came to realize that they were violating the frontier long assumed to separate verbal and visual arts with very similar approaches and methods.  Over several years, their acquaintance grew into an intensive working friendship of repeated visits and exchanges of artwork, mutually sharing examples of their newest discoveries.  Examination of the ensemble of work defined by the period of Kolář’s collection reveals a startling quantity of ideas developed in collaboration. Indeed, the common utilization and refinement of new relations between image and text occurred with such immediacy that it now is frequently difficult to determine the original authorship of individual impulses. During this intensive period, both artists likewise formed a store of inspiration that served them for several years to come.


František Kupka, Abstrakce, kolem 1930 / Abstraction, c. 1930
kvaš, papír / gouache on paper, 28 x 27,9 cm


Jiří Kolář the Collector

“You know about my love for pictures...” wrote Jiří Kolář in 1936. At present, when the very word “collage” evokes the name of Kolář, it would hardly appear necessary to cite reasons for or explanations of his lifelong interest in contemporary artistic activity. Kolář’s receptivity to various manifestations of urban folklore, to poster, caricatures, illustrations, advertising designs, artifacts verging on kitsch, and indeed to perhaps all artistic experiments, has understandably determined the breadth of his collection and the wide spectrum of its authors. The quality of the work varies widely, from unique items not to be found elsewhere to second-rate printed matter and half-amateur donations from friends. One reason for their preservation in Kolář’s lifelong, complexly layered, and partially deliberately conceived collection may be a remembrance of a personal meeting or a particularly difficult period of life.

            Kolář’s collection casts light not only on individual interests and knowledge, but also on art as a social activity, and it also extends the range of projects that offer, at least in outline, some comparison between art created in the Czech Lands and world art. With his legendary ability to stimulate aesthetic originality, especially at times when it was continually repressed by the authorities, Kolář always emphasised the need for the artist to make his own discoveries and develop his own creative self-confidence. Kolář himself used every opportunity to visit foreign artists, gallery directors and theorists in Prague, and later on his trips abroad, in order to obtain information and establish the contacts important both for him and the other artists of whose unique value he was convinced. Jiří Kolář helped and supported not only young artists at the beginning of their careers, but also his own forgotten colleagues whose independent work had been threatened by the repressive conditions.  He helped them by buying their works and generally expressing an interest.


Karel Malich, Boogie, 1960
koláž, pastel, tuš, papír / collage, pastel, ink, paper 68,5 x 51,5 cm



Radek Kratina, Variabily / Varibles, 1970
závěsný objekt, chromovaný kov / suspended object,
chromium plated metal 27,7 x 28 x 10 cm


Josef Šíma, Podivuhodné odpoledne / Miracolous Afternoon, 1932
olej, plátno / oil on canvas, 122 x 58 cm
Národní galerie v Praze, inv. č. / inv. No.: O 15472


 The Collection of the National Gallery in Prague

During the Jiří Kolář stay in Paris in 1980 the period of his exile in France begins. By verdict of the District Court in Prague Jiří Kolář was then convicted in absentia for the criminal act of deserting his country and the National Gallery was summoned to comment upon the attached list of works that were transferred into state ownership. The Gallery confirmed its interest in the entire proposition and thus acquired its present-day collection. The collection was made complete with the purchase of works offered by B. Kolářová before her departure to Paris, in order to redeem and get back into ownership at least part of the original possessions. Jiří Kolář legalized the transfer via a gift contract in the 1990’s.

The collection at the National Gallery is a smaller variation of Kolář’s entire collection, because it illustrates through individual works all of its periods and actually documents all of Kolář’s acquisition approaches as well. On the other hand some of the artists are represented only in this reduced selection and were therefore missing in previous chapters or were mentioned only superficially, although they often meant a lot to Kolář personally as well as artistically and were markedly presented in his collection.


Aurélie Nemours, Face, 1971
olej, plátno / oil on canvas, 60x60cm


Parisian Exile

The final part of the collection of Jiří Kolář contains works acquired during a stay in Berlin on stipendium, which turned into permanent emigration to France. Kolář’s previous acquisition approaches repeat themselves once again. Kolář`s collecting period in Paris focused especially on geometric abstraction, minimalism, neoconstructivism and kinetic art. The artists of these new acquisitions did not exclude names mentioned in the previous chapter. Kolář’s Parisian studio was visited in the 1980’s not only by Czech artists living in exile, but also friends from Czechoslovakia on occasion.

While in Paris Jiří Kolář visited not only a number of art openings and exhibitions, but regularly attended markets and annual bazaars in individual quarters. On these trips he would sometimes discover among the street offers of gallery stands some valuable prints or work on paper. The most significant purchase was the acquisition in 1985 of a painting by Antonín Slavíček Motif from Kameničky, 1904.

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