Critics’ Picks

Juraj Gavula, Return from the Universe, 1978,  duralumin, 14 x 8.5 x 5.5 in. Photo: Peter Sit.

Juraj Gavula, Return from the Universe, 1978, duralumin, 14 x 8.5 x 5.5 in. Photo: Peter Sit.


Juraj Gavula

Bratislava City Gallery, Mirbach Palace
Františkánske nám. 11
June 30–October 24, 2021

In the late 1950s, Juraj Gavula left his native Ruthenian village of Čabiny in what is now northeastern Slovakia to become an artist in Bratislava. Having graduated in 1969 from the Academy of Fine Arts’s Department of Glass in Architecture—conceived by sculptor Václav Cigler as an experimental school of thought—Gavula embarked on a lifelong sculptural exploration of organic abstraction in his preferred medium, stone. His oeuvre offers an alternative to the narrative of the dark age of “normalization,” the period in Czechoslovakia following the Soviet suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring. While many uncompromising artists were driven underground during this time, Gavula’s retrospective “Vital Forms” suggests that the artist stayed openly active, channeling his formal experimentation into public art commissions. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s in particular, as Socialist welfare materialized across a rapidly industrializing nation, Gavula’s sculptural cornerstones, fountains, and reliefs could be found accompanying many late-modernist public buildings, from hospitals to bus terminals. Public works such as Energies, 1980, speak to the socialist citizen seeking a balance between technological optimism and harmony with nature.

Conceived as a stone garden, the retrospective’s core could equally be read as a site of archaeological excavation. Sculptures in marble, sandstone, and limestone serve as entry points for the monumental works, represented through models and archival material including sketchbooks and diaries as well as documentation tracking their ruin in recent decades. The exhibition is thus not just recognition of a singular artist, but rather a Sebaldian meditation on creation, endurance, and destruction—not by war, but by the proverbial invisible hand of the market.