History of the Prague Stuckists

Robert Janás

The Prague Stuckists are Robert Janás (founder of the group), Igor Grimmich, Lukáš Orlita, Marek Slavík, Jan Spěváček, Tomáš Spevák.

In 2004 I spent a couple of months in London. I was exploring the art scene in London and got to know about Stuckism, an art movement founded by Charles Thomson in 1999. Without any deeper knowledge of further activities and characters of its protagonists I saw stuckism just as an art movement promoting painting as a principal means of contemporary art and defending pluralism and freedom of expression in art at the same time. As I came from the Czech Republic I was excited by the idea of an international art movement against the rise of conceptual art. Fine art in the Czech Republic has very strong traditon of modernism. The Czech Republic is a bulwark of anti-classic art movements of the 20th century. In the beginning of the 21st century art informel is still seen as the top of the development of modern art. Czech art is wide open to concept, intermedia, environment, minimalism and similar art styles. On the contrary painting was considered to be matter of the past in those days. In the 1990´s it was nearly impossible to organize an exhibition of contemporary painting. The public almost believed there were no young painters in the Czech Republic.

Stuckism was the first art movement systematically promoting an idea that painting would be a viable art form even in the future. A big weakness of Stuckism was the fact that everybody could become a member without even elementary demands on his artistic quality. Stuckism became a major social and cultural phenomenon but it was not accompanied by success of its protagonists as individual artists. It was obvious that Stuckists would be overshadowed by quality painters with a general revival of painting in the future.

I wanted to avoid the danger but I did not want to give up an opportunity to join an international art movement primarily focused on painting. In 2004 there was a great tension between representatives of classical and conceptual art in the Czech Republic. Involvement in an international art movement seemed to me like a good way to get a background for representatives of the young generation of Czech and Moravian painters. I therefore decided to form the Prague Stuckists as a loose association of artists from Bohemia and Moravia, with an emphasis on balanced participation of artists from two major artistic centres of Prague and Brno. I considered as crucial that the group would be strictly selective to eliminate artistic dilettantes in advance. This way I actually broke one of the basic principles of Stuckism at the very beginning. I did not want to form the Prague Stuckists as a definitively closed group but as a kind of pattern, impulse to encourage another young contemporary painters of diverse painting styles to a self-confident start of their professional careers in an enviroment mostly focused on conceptual art. With an emphasis on pluralism in art, I wanted to speak out against a widespread malady of Czech painters which regard painters from different circles of painters or different studios in an academy of fine arts as daubers and bunglers. That´s why I composed Prague Stuckists as a group of painters representing different styles of painting and art studios. At the same time, I decided to join the project as a photographer because photographers, filmmakers and sculptors were members of Stuckism too. However my participation in the group as an artist was focused on another goal. I was afraid some painters would try to push out other members from the group and usurp the glory for themselves in case the Prague Stuckists would succeed. As later turned out it was a justified fear. My photographs displayed in shows should have been a constant reminder that the Prague Stuckists were my project and not a self-activity of the participating painters to which I belonged just as an external curator. Although I had a solo exhibition of my photographs in a respected municipal gallery of the Cultural Centre of Brno in 2002 I did not want to use the Prague Stuckists as a means of my self promotion as an artist. In the Prague Stuckists shows I (as a curator) placed my photographs to low-profile spots. I did not want to distract attention of public from the main goal of the Prague Stuckists, the promotion of young contemporary painting.

2004 – 2005 Formation

Returning from London to Prague in summer 2004 I had a line-up of the future Prague Stuckists on my mind.  My vision of the future line-up was: Robert Janás, Petr Vaňous as a prominent young curator who once pursued drawing as an artist, as representatives of Brno Pavel Čech by whose paintings I was fascinated despite his absence of academic training made him an outsider artist, Jan Spěváček, Lukáš Orlita, Katežina Pažoutová and one student of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno (I was thinking of Martin Salajka or Jana Prekopová), as representatives of Prague Jaroslav Valečka, Jiří  Petrbok, Filip Kudrnáč, Peter Malina and somebody from hyperrealists, students of Professor Zdeněk Beran in the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (with names Zdeněk Daněk and Marek Slavík most often coming on my mind). I started to offer a participation in the group to respective artists. Pavel Čech was the first painter who resolutely refused to participate. I was sorry about it. Pavel Čech did not attend a fine art school. Such artists are usually ignored by art galleries, critics and curators in the Czech Republic. I wanted to help Pavel Čech to ovecome his handicap by his involvement in a group composed of graduated artists.  As it turned out later Pavel Čech finally became a respected artist by himself, even without a membership in the Prague Stuckists. After long hesitation, Petr Malina and Jiří Petrbok refused their involvement in the Prague Stuckists too. I offered a membership in the Prague Stuckists to Lubomír Typlt. His figural expressionism  matched to the structure of the Prague Stuckists to a place originally inteded for Jiří Petrbok. Neither Typlt was interested to join the group. I did not manage to ask Petr Vaňous and any of hyperrealists about their possible involvement in the Prague Stuckists.

At that moment the original line-up of the Prague Stuckists was completed. They were Robert Janás, Filip Kudrnáč, Lukáš Orlita, Kateřina Pažoutová, Martin Salajka, Jan Spěváček, Jaroslav Valečka. This way Stuckism broke to the former Eastern Bloc. Zagan Stuckists were founded in Poland in 2003. It was a group made from one member who had no visible active participation in the international Stuckism. The Prague Stuckists were founded as the first multi-member stuckist group “East of the West.” I started to form the project in 2004. It was quite an early date in the history of Stuckism in general. It was the year when for example Paul Harvey joined Stuckism. There were further reasons why the Prague Stuckists were attractive for Charles Thomson. An important feature of the Prague Stuskists was that they were one of very few stuskist groups made up from trained artists. Almost everyone of them was able to achieve a succesful career without an umbrella of Stuckism. Anyway the issue of quality of artists has never been a matter of importance for Charles Thomson. Another feature was important. Composed of eight artists the Prague Stuckists were superior in numbers among a huge amount of stuckist groups made up from one, two or three people. The aspect of quantity in Stuckism was always crucial for Charles Thomson. On top of that I was one of a handful of art writers favourably disposed to Stuckism. Moreover, I was maybe the first art writer who made an analysis of Stuckism as art. I was not just one of the supporters who positively accepted Stuckism for its activism against conceptual art establishment, for its demonstrations and declarations. My long article about Stuckism published in Czech art magazine Art & Antiques in 2005 was something exceptional in a global context for its extent and for having been printed in a major art magazine. All these factors initiated an intense cooperation between the Prague Stuckists and British Stuckists.

In 2005 photographer Václav Jirásek introduced me to Jaromír 99, frontman of my favourite band Priessnitz. Jaromír 99 asked me to help Jiri Hauschka in his artistic career. Hauschka was an account manager in a PR agency. He pursued painting as his hobby. As a mature man in his forties he decided to start to build his career of painter. A degree from an art academy or university is considered to be an entrance ticket to the class of professional artists in the Czech Republic. There is a big gap between artists with and without a degree. Very few untrained artists overcame the gap and were accepted as real artists. Hauschka had no art training, nor were his paintings distinctive enough to avoid a fate of another amateur painters destined to put their art works on display in pubs and bars. I supposed one untrained painter in an art group of eight people would be acceptable. So I invited Hauschka to join the Prague Stuckists. Even before we met Hauschka was decided to leave for London to try to succeed as an artist. I recommended him to Charles Thomson and gave him a magazine with my article about Stuckism, as a kind of entrance ticket to the founder of Stuckism. Hauschka met Thomson in London and Thomson invited him to take a part in a Turner Prize Stuckist demo. Hauschka spent in the UK almost a year, mostly as a hospital attendant in Brighton. He did not succeed as artist, nor had developed any deeper cooperation with stuckists. However the pure fact he stayed in England for almost a year became a foundation for his personal legend. In the Czech Republic he could develop a personal legend of an artist who had a success in London and this way to compensate his lack of art degree.

2006 – 2009 Shows and gallerists

The group was formed. I have been developing contacts with stuckists in the UK. With the Prague Stuckists the Czech Republic got a promising spot on the map of international Stuckism. Anyway one component of a succesful group was still missing. The Prague Stuckists project would have made no sense without art shows. There was a question Where could we exhibit our art works? A group of young artists could not expect their first group exhibition would be held in the National Gallery in Prague or in the Moravian Gallery in Brno. It was necessary to start in small private galleries. I needed to find a cross-cutting dimension for a cooperation with gallerists. To do this it was necessary to find the intersection with the interests of gallerists. The first opportunity came when private Dolmen Gallery from Brno decided to found its branch in Prague. The owner of the Dolmen Gallery asked me to curate a show of artists from Brno and Prague in Prague. As some of Brno painters represented by the gallery were members of the Prague Stuckists it was a unique opportunity to make a group art show of the Prague Stuckists. A series of exhibitions titled Stuck in the Middle of November/Uvízli v listopadu started this way. I invented the title as a bilingual combination of stuckist pattern in English and a memory of Classical Modernism in Czech. It became the rule I would invent a bilingual title for all future Prague Stuckists shows, a Czech one for the Czech Republic, an English one for abroad.

The cooperation with gallerists was very helpful but it caused typical problems at the same time. Gallery owners wanted to customize the art group for their own needs. Gallerists anticipated comercial potential in some artists. They wanted to get rid of other ones and pushed on me to remove such artists from the group. It was in a sharp contradiction with key principles of the Prague Stuckists. There is not such a wide range of art styles in the Czech Republic as it is in the UK or USA. In spite of that different artists are consdidered to be bad artists by another artists and art critics just because they pursue different style of painting. Unlike stuckists in the UK I put emphasis on fundamental quality of art works while founding the Prague Stuckists. Once I invited an artist to the group I put stress on democracy and pluralism among artists. I put emphasis on freedom of each artist to create what he wants.  Therefore I united diverse painters in the Prague Stuckists. It was very difficult to calm down mutual aversions between members of the Prague Stuckists. It was more difficult when the tension was accelerate by a factor of the gallerists. When an artist did not want to respect my principle of diverse painters I simply could to cease our cooperation and invite another artist to join the Prague Stuckists instead of him. It was more complicated in relations with gallerists. Shows in private galleries depended on their owners. An art show was a kind of his investment. It was understandable a gallerist wanted to exercise influnce on such a show. When a gallery owner pushed on removing of an artist from the Prague Stuckists with an unbearable intensity I choose a termination of our cooperation to keep the Prague Stuckists intact.

Shows in London 2010 – 2012

In 2010 I invited Jaromír 99 and Markéta Urbanová to join the Prague Stuckists. Markéta Urbanová filled the gap I have had intended for a hyperrealist painter graduated from the studio of Professor Beran. It was at the time when the show Enemies of Art in London, Lauderdale House was approaching. In terms of number of countries represented by participating artists, the Enemies of Art was the largest stuckist exhibiton since The Stuckists Punk Victorian held in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 2004. Almost all members of the Prague Stuckists exhibited their art works in the Enemies of Art show but not all of them came to London in person and I could not introduce them to British stuckists. That moment turned out to be crucial for further development of Stuckism in the Czech Republic.

While Stuckism was joined especially by artistic dilettantes in the UK, in regions out of the Western Europe Stuckism was appealing even for artists exhibiting in official galleries in their respective countries. Some members of the Prague Stuckists refused to participate in Czech art shows together with not so skilled artists because they were afraid to harm their own artistic reputation this way. Contrary to that they did not hesitate to participate in international art shows with much weaker foreign artists just because they had a value of artist from the high-prestige UK. From the sociological perspective it is a quite interesting phenomenon of an international organism founded on a special symbiosis of the West as a traditional centre of global culture and the East as a cultural periphery. Eastern artists could boast their participation in art shows with the artists from the fabled West. In the same way Western artists could become a subject of major newspapers or even TV broadcasting not just as activists but as real artists in the Czech Republic. It was something they could not even dream of in their home countries.

From my point of view art shows in London were an interesting opportunity to participate in a development of an international art movement in the capital of contemporary art. Some Czech painters from the Prague Stuckists saw the main purpose of activities in London in PR focused on the Czech Republic. They wanted to use them as a means for persuading Czech art collectors about an importance of their paintings, as a means for breaking into major Czech galleries. A success of a Czech artist in the West is percieved as a certificate of quality in the Czech Republic. At the same time the most of people in the Czech Republic has no deep insight into the art scene in the UK. Taking into account both features some members of the Prague Stuckits rented cheap galleries in London suburbs where they could put on display paintings of their choice for an acceptable sum of money. Although the art shows passed off almost unnoticed in London they were presented in the Czech Republic as a huge success of the artists abroad. The strategy brought unwanted side effects. During the Enemies of Art show, Jaroslav Valečka and Jiří Hauschka rented a gallery in Brixton for their joint art show. Brixton is sometimes called „the drugs capital of London“ but it is an empty spot on the London map of major museums and galleries. The gallery ceased to exist after the owner Yara Tschallener left London with money paid by various artists for future art shows which would be never materialized. The minor local gallery became even a subject of an article in the online edition of The Guardian because of the incident. While Yara Tschallener was hiding from the deceived artists in France, an important Czech art magazine Ateliér published a review of the show of Valečka and Hauschka in her gallery written by Yara Tschallener herself. Thus the Czech Republic became the unique place where Yara Tschallener got an entry to the art history bibliography. An another means used by some members of the Prague Stuckists to entice Czech buyers was feigned sale of the paintings abroad and to the major Czech art museums.

The problem was the artists comfortable with questionable promotional strategies were the same artits I introduced to original London stuckists in person. They felt like they got a strong backing. They started to effectively eliminate other members of the Prague Stuckists from the group and adjust the group to their own personal promotion. As a consequence of it Filip Kudrnáč and Martin Salajka left the Prague Stuckists after the Art Prague fair in 2011 where the art works of the Prague Stuckists were put on display. At the beginning of 2012 painters inroduced by me to stuckists in London organized a show in a private gallery in Prague as the Prague Stuckists, without getting me know about that. It caused major problems. As the show was promoted as a show of the Prague Stuckists I was considered as a driving force of a show I would have never organized. Members of the Prague Stuckists who were not invited to participate in the show were effectively removed from the group. There was a danger the artists who used lying as important means of self-promotion would organize events that will harm my credibility because I would be associated with them. Therefore I made a suggestion to Valečka, Hauschka and Urbanová to found their own stuckist group, independent on the Prague Stuckists. As I introduced them to British stuckists I did not suppose it would be a problem for them to pursue Stuckism their own way. Anyway their idea was completely different from that of mine. They wanted to use the label Prague Stuckists for their own events without other members of the group and with me just as an unpaid promoter. Their idea completely missed the reason and goals I had founded the Prague Stuckists for. In between Jaromír 99 left the Prague Stuckists.

It seemed to me the only possible way to save the group was firing Jaroslav Valečka from the Prague Stuckists. I told him I would not cooperate with him anymore. When I stopped cooperating with Valečka Martin Salajka immediately returned to the Prague Stuckists. I invited Igor Grimmich and Jan Gemrot to the group. Jiří Hauschka and Markéta Urbanová wanted to remain members of the Prague Stuckists. I agreed provided they would respect clearly defined boundaries between activities of the Prague Stuckists and Jaroslav Valečka. After the restructuring the Prague Stuckists exhibited in the Letovice Castle and participated in the international stuckist show Stuckists: Elizabethan Avant-Garde in Bermondsey Project Space in London. The title of the London show paraphrased the title of the exhibiton Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde held in the Tate Britain in the same time.

Fabricated pieces of information and stories are more effective means of promotion for atists than strict adherence to facts emphasized by me, an art historian. Hauschka and Urbanová quietly started to work on joint stuckist project with Valečka. Their crossing the dividing line and blending in activities of Valečka resulted in Salajka´s final decision to leave the Prague Stuckists. At the end of 2013 Hauschka and Urbanová proclaimed openly their changeover to the Central Europe Stuckists founded by Valečka. At the same time Gemrot left the Prague Stuckists too.

2013 – 2016 Focus on major projects

Founding of a new Czech stuckist group enriched history of stuckism with a new, perhaps typical Czech phenomenon. Promotion based on a completely new group complicated advertising strategy used by leading artists of the Central Europe Stuckists. They tried to give the impression of that the Prague Stuckists did not exist anymore and the Central Europe Stuckists were the succesors of the original group. They found a very useful tool in the internet. The internet is the most modern information medium but it is the best medium for spreading untrue and unverified information at the same time. The artists misused wikipedia and other websites. Wikipedia is the lagest online encyclopedia but it is not a subject of a professional  editorial control. There is a lot of articles containing false and misleading information in non-English versions in wikipedia in particular. Redirection of links to Prague Stuckists websites to non-existent websites and creating fake websites dishonesting the Prague Stuckists were another means of misusing the internet against the Prague Stuckists. The Central Europe Stuckists utilized typical character traits of a number of Czech journalists, i. e. not verifying of information they got. This way they succeeded in distribution of pieces of false information to online newspapers.

The battle of some kind of monopoly over Stuckism in the Czech Republic move the cultural phenomenon into a ironical position regarding the situation of Stuckism in its native country. British art writers supporting Stuckism emphasize they are not stuckists and does not agree with every point of stuckist manifestos but they like some aspects of stuckism. They usually appreciate its antielitarism and pluralism. They appreciate the Stuckists for their activism and not for quality level of their paintings.

With the 10th anniversary of the Prague Stuckists approaching it was time to make a break with the mode of organizing of a large number of small shows focused on the publishing of a catalogue. The mode became counterproductive when it was transformed into a mass production of catalogues even to a marginal shows by some former members of the Prague Stuckists. Since the Prague Stuckists established themselves as a quite respectful art group in the Czech Republic it was possible to think about an exhibition in a major museum. Preliminary stages of such an exhibition are demanding. It was necessary to fully concentrate on the large project and not to waste time in small shows. At the end of 2013 a major exhibition in the Brno City Museum started to be prepared with a date of opening in the first half of 2016. There were two new members in the line-up of the Prague Stuckists in the preliminary stage of the exhibition. I invited Marek Slavík and Tomáš Spevák to the group. With Marek Slavík as a representative of former students of late Professor Beran I finally came to the painter I was thinking about when the Prague Stuckists existed just on my mind.

Prague Stuckists exhibitions
  • 2007  Topičův salón, Praha – Uvízli v listopadu/Stuck in the Middle of November
  • 2008  Galerie XXL, Louny – Mezi snem a skutečností/Between dream and reality
  • 2008 Galerie Dolmen, Brno, Praha – Uvízli v listopadu II/Stuck in the Middle of November II
  • 2010  Galerie 21. století, Praha – Stuckisté a hosté/Stuck at the National Gallery
  • 2011  Výstavní síň v Divadle Karla Pippicha, Chrudim – Prague Stuckists
  • 2011  Lauderdale House, London – Enemies of Art
  • 2011  Výstavní síň Mánes, Praha – Art Prague
  • 2012   Letovice Castle – Pražští stuckisté/Stuck in the Castle
  • 2012  Bermondsey Project Space, London – Stuckists: Elizabethan Avant-Garde
  • 2016  Muzeum města Brna, Brno – Prague Stuckists
Stuckist groups in the Czech Republic

Prague Stuckists (founded 2004)

  • Robert Janás (since 2004) (exh. 2007, 2008a, 2008b, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012a, 2012b, 2016)
  • Lukáš Orlita (since 2004) (exh. 2007, 2008b, 2010, 2011a, 2011c, 2012a, 2012b, 2016)
  • Jan Spěváček (since 2004) (exh. 2007, 2008a, 2008b, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012a, 2012b, 2016)
  • Igor Grimmich (since 2012) (exh. 2012a, 2012b, 2016)
  • Marek Slavík (since 2013) (exh. 2016)
  • Tomáš Spevák (since 2014) (exh. 2016)
Former members of the Prague Stuckists
  • Filip Kudrnáč (2004 – 2011) (exh. 2007, 2008b, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c)
  • Kateřina Pažoutová (2004 – ) (exh. 2007, 2008b, 2011b, 2011c)
  • Martin Salajka (2004 – 2011, 2012 – 2013) (exh. 2008b, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2012a, 2012b)
  • Jaroslav Valečka (2004 – 2012) (exh. 2007, 2008b, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c)
  • Jiří Hauschka (2005 – 2013) (exh. 2007, 2008a, 2008b, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012a, 2012b)
  • Jaromír 99 (2010 – 2012) (exh. 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c)
  • Markéta Urbanová (2010 – 2013) (exh. 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012b)
  • Jan Gemrot (2012 – 2013) (exh. 2010, 2012a, 2012b)
Guests at the Prague Stuckists shows
  • Jan Karpíšek (exh. 2007, 2008b)
  • Barbora Lungová (exh. 2007, 2008b)
  • Jana Prekopová (exh. 2007)
  • Roman Franta (exh. 2010)
  • Karel Jerie (exh. 2010)
  • Lukáš Miffek (exh. 2010)

Prague 7 Stuckists (founded 2005)

  • Kip Allan Bauersfeld (since 2005)

Bohemia Stuckists (founded 2008)

  • Jane Dunn (since 2008)

Central Europe Stuckists (founded 2012)

  • Jaroslav Valečka (since 2012)
  • Markéta Korečková (since 2012)
  • Ján Macko (since 2012)
  • Jiří Hauschka (since 2013)
  • Markéta Urbanová (since 2013)