9 | 9 – 27 | 10 | 2017



 curated by: Pavel Vančát

special cooperation: Terezie Petišková



A selection of black and white photographic work from the 1970s and 80s, by the Brno-based photographer (b. 1946, Brno, Czechoslovakia), which uniquely bridges the development of conceptual tendencies in Czech visual arts with Czech art photography from the same period.  Since 1971, Marie Kratochvílová has been making  photographic documentation of the Brno conceptual artists‘ activities; namely those of Jiří Valoch, J. H. Kocman, Dalibor Chatrný, Marian Palla among others. This has brought her new possibilities for content and expression in her photographs, which balance between the minimal and surreal, always intelligent and lucid.

“I have always felt myself to be fascinated by small, ordinary things, objects, environments, people and their ‘history’ and fortunes. I have attempted to blend reality and photography, closeness of an object and people, the objectivity of the lens,” wrote Kratochvílová in her artist’s statement a few years ago. Although her cycles were often made over a very short period of time, as if at one go (“photography was for me like going through an epileptic fit: it required that I was alone and completely concentrated”), the more condensed, intense, the more sensitive was the result. Photographs by Kratochvílová have always had the feeling of the softness of freshly fallen snow and the fragility of glasshouse flora.

A photographic oeuvre, the complete outcome of which (if we disregard gifted and commissioned photographs) can be stored in a single large box is truly a rarity among photographers who normally tend to be very productive. We might perhaps talk here about something like “picture ecology”, modest sustainability of the surrounding world and her own ambitions. Viewing the work of Marie Kratochvílová as a whole there emanates a circumspection and concentration unusual under local circumstances, not straining to achieve effect or amusement. The photographs are often dry, but all the more intense for it, always grounded in social empathy and careful avoidance of cheap gimmickry. This may be the reason why to this day they have admirably survived more contemporary styles without necessarily having to be observed exclusively through the prism of their time. Kratochvílová’s artistic career and her own attitude towards it are equally modest and free of pathos.


Pavel Vančát


The exhibition is accompanied by a monograph publication (ed. T. Petišková a P. Vančát), published by the Society of Friends of the Brno House of Arts and supported by a grant from  the Ministry of Culture of Czech Republic.


Special thanks  to:

Dům umění města Brna, Terezie Petišková, Kateřina Tlachová, Tomáš Trnobranský, Robert Helbich. M. K.




White Corridors / Department of Anatomy, 1974–1976

The most minimalistic series by Marie Kratochílová captures the petrified and sterile, almost abstract constellations of her workplace from that time, at Brno‘s medical university.



Urban Scultprures, 1975–86

Marie Kratochílová’s  most extensive and flagship cycle is Urban Sculptures, which is actually an umbrella label for quite a varied group  of cycles; chronologically the first of which  is Windows, created between 1975 and 76.  In all of the Urban Sculptures, Kratochvílová applies her sociological observations, admittedly with a strong poetic element. It is also about a sensitivity which is not so much photographic as urban, attuned to the small nuances of  cultural and social metamorphoses and their inherent atmosphere. According to the artist it is also possible to include the independently presented  set called Botanical Garden (1979–1984) (also presented in the format of an author’s book) under the Urban Sculptures‘ umbrella.



Ma France, 1977

A long-term inclination towards French culture culminated for Kratochvílová in the summer of 1977, when after long preparations and administrative obstructions, she set off on a three week journey across France which, photographically speaking, completely absorbed her. In contrast to the calm snapshots from the quiet Brno suburbs she was suddenly confronted with sophisticated commercial pop culture: in this regard it is interesting that Kratochvílová often concentrated on signs, whether textual or pictorial, as the primary elements of the visual (and French) language. In this respect, we can say there was a close relationship with Valoch’s circle in Brno which was  strongly influenced by linguistic structuralism.

Kratochvílová captured French culture in a surprising photographic mode reminiscent of  explorations into unknown civilisations. The whole set was approached by the artist with a new format: instead of photographs assembled into free cycles, the selection from the French material is arranged into an author’s book, which the artist made in only five copies.  The book concept was conceived by Kratochvílová immediately after her return based on her original material which served as a diary of her hesitation between emigration and returning home and, simultaneously, of a journey strictly subordinated to her photographic aims. The book  starts with a skeleton list stating the time of departure, arrival and the places that she visited: “13/8/1977 – Strasbourg – Nancy – Ronchamp – Paris – Chambord – Ile de Ré – La Rochelle – Le Parc – Avranches – Le Mont St. Michel – Granville – Paris – 2/9/1977.” This is all that we learn of the more concrete aspects about the journey. The rest are observations on French culture and society, wrapped in sensitive photographic narration, which admittedly must have been unusually incisive in its time and is often obsessed with details. The bolted boards with a decent blind blocked title encapsulate 37 photographs pasted on black cardboard sheets, accompanied by a few fragments of text as well as inserted glued objects – metro tickets, wrappings from cigarettes and biscuits.

Ma France is one of the most original ventures in Czech photography in the 1970s: on the one side for its subjectivity and intimacy, which heralded  postmodern approaches, and on the other for the condensed poetics, firmly enclosed within an abstract story. Given the speed and intensity of work it might actually be labelled as a three week long photographic happening with a frequent alteration of the role of the eye and the camera, often on the boundaries of psychic self-mutilation.




Dalibor Chatrný: Portrait of M. K. (based on the  series Reduced Portraits), 1979

Rare drawing is based on Chatrný‘s series of Reduced Portraits, for which M. K. not only provided photographic material but also posed as one of the models.