“1+1+1=3: Robert MacPherson, Manfred Pernice, Kateřina Šedá”

For curator Trevor Smith, what separates Robert MacPherson, Manfred Pernice, and Kateřina Šedá is as consequential as what unites them. Representing distinct generations and practices, the output of each emerges from its local culture to reflect the social transformations of our time. Thus, although at first glance the juxtaposition of these artists in the inaugural exhibition of the Culturgest “1+1+1=3” program may be surprising, careful observation of the works on view justifies Smith’s decision. Contrary to custom, this was not a group show subordinated to a given theme but three solo shows, each independent of the other. Pernice has mounted a new installation; Šedá displays variations of a single project, to the extent that all her contributions deal with the same subject; MacPherson presents a vast array of pieces that form a compact anthology of his career.

Šedá’s project is the one that most attracts the viewer’s attention from an emotional standpoint. Its principal axis consists of two pieces with the same title, Je to jedno (It Doesn’t Matter), a suite of drawings from 2005–2007 and a video from 2006. In the video, an elderly woman draws slowly, repeating spontaneous gestures and uncomplicated strokes while responding to the artist’s questions. She is Jana Šedá, the artist’s grandmother, who died in 2007. The video synthesizes an exercise that she undertook, accompanied by her granddaughter, during the last two years of her life: drawing dozens of the products sold in the large Brno department store, in the former Czechoslovakia, where she worked between 1950 and 1983. For both of them, this process served as therapy, and the grandmother recovered her youthful enthusiasm for life when she recalled that period. At the gallery, opposite a wall lined with paper that replicates the red floral-patterned tablecloth on which Šedá’s grandmother drew, were exhibited 176 of some 600 drawings, all depicting the tools from the hardware section that Jana Šedá managed for many years. Mixing personal history with a larger narrative, this archive constitutes an allegory of the conditions of postwar life in Eastern Europe.

Reaction to recent historical changes that have taken place in Central Europe marks Pernice’s activity in general and the installation Tiefengarage, 2008, in particular. “Tiefengarage” is a coinage that associates a psychological dimension (“Tiefenpsychologie” in German means “depth psychology”) to a specific spatial configuration, the underground parking garage, normally “Tiefgarage.” Through the arrangement of construction materials and precarious found objects, Pernice often simulates the non-places that still define much of the contemporary urban landscape, as seen in Berlin, for example, where he lives. Here, taking inspiration from characteristics of the Culturgest building (typical of the empty monumentality of corporate architecture) and including reproductions of illustrations and personal photographs from the former German Democratic Republic, Pernice examines the promises and failures of modernist rationalism.

Something similar could be said of MacPherson’s most emblematic series of works, such as “Frog Poems,” 1982–, and “Mayfair,” 1992–. In the first case, the labeling of trivial objects (such as shirts or shoes) with the Latin names of Australian frogs written in wood placards results in an ironic dissociation derived from the juxtaposition of vernacular elements with an erudite language. In the second, stenciled texts painted on Masonite panels evoke a vision from the street—like the placards carried by protesters, for example—and suggest the sense of urgency that marks political activism. Though anchored in a formalist approach to materials, both MacPherson’s and Pernice’s investigations possess an intellectual component that echoes Šedá’s project, demonstrating Smith’s discernment in bringing together these singular projects.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.