Jakub Dolejs

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Northern Exposure


Robert Ayers, www.artinfo.com

The Toronto-based Angell Gallery looks like it’s going to have an intriguing booth, with large-scale lambda prints by Jakub Dolejs, … Jakub Dolejs, “Enlightened Parts” (2007). Edition 1/5. Lambda print. 48 x 72 in.

TORONTO—Ever on the lookout for new art-world excitement, it occurred to me that the Toronto International Art Fair (October 25-29) is not only a sizable affair, it also hosts a number of galleries that I’d never encountered (or even heard of) before, although it's just a quick flight from New York. Here we offer my sneak preview editor’s picks of work that galleries, both familiar and unfamiliar, will have for sale up there. All prices are in those newly valuable Canadian dollars unless stated otherwise.

Gallery Going


Gary Michael Dault, The Globe and Mail

La Nuit américaine is $30,000. Until Oct. 13, 890 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-530-0444
La Nuit américaine is an exhibition of glittering fragments, an inspectable conceit in which a corner of a rather starchy, opulently wallpapered gallery room offers a selection of French pre-Revolutionary paintings that Dolejs has cunningly painted himself: paintings by Fragonard (a view of some good-natured ruins), Chardin (a monkey-painter at work), a Watteau and a visionary Hubert Robert view of the Louvre in ruins.
These French masterworks, remastered by Dolejs, appear here only as fragments. What it must be like to paint (or rather repaint) half a Chardin I cannot quite imagine, but Dolejs has done it here. And these painting-fragments are hanging in what appears to be a freestanding closet-shaped room within the gallery with two of the walls removed. . So, La Nuit américaine is a set of fragments within a fragment, a sort of sampling only of gallery atmosphere and of the art-historical meaning that is dutifully housed in galleries but which remains largely unavailable to us, given our inevitable hastiness in looking, and the seeping away of scholarly memory. This art-historical flicker of Dolejs's stands in the larger gallery like the very image of aesthetic and intellectual retreat - a postmodern dance in which you are first offered history and then made to revel in its spuriousness or irrelevance.

Related link: Jakub Dolejs – La nuit américaine

Group hug at Angell


DAVID JAGER, Now Magazine

Exhibition puts Jamie Angell's excellent curating instincts on display

ANGEL 10: TOP 10 at Angell Gallery (890 Queen West), to December 23. 416-530-0444.
Rating: NNNN

Jamie Angell celebrates 10 years at his Queen West gallery with an exhibit of 10 of his best artists.

Angell is a collector who goes with his gut, so you'll be hard pressed to find any overarching aesthetic or agenda among these works. They range from lo-fi Art Brut to high-end photographic conceptualism.

Whatever their chosen vernacular, every artist here has a voice. Kim Dorland opens the show with a muscular painting of a green elk crossing through traffic. There's a new sure-footedness in the way he sculpts and renders forms. With its sizzling sense of colour, this is strong work from an already formidable young painter hitting his stride.

A Jakub Dolejs piece sits on the opposite wall posing an elegant and subdued visual paradox: it's a photograph of a set painted by Dolejs, lit by a single stage light. Next to it hang indescribable figures painted by Kineko Ivic . In Still All Alone, a glum tree-trunk-headed creature with spider legs wears the painting's title on its chest. Outsider art comes to mind, and yet there's something engagingly clever and warm behind the outlandishness.

Nick and Shiela Pye map out the permutations of marriage and relationship in a cool, almost academic conceptual photo in which they swing toward each other on ropes in front of a constructed set. Against the surreal clarity that surrounds them, they appear weightless.

Geoffrey Pugen pushes the photographic edge even further in Fat Cat, a modified print featuring a cat-headed man wearing urban hipster duds who sits in an armchair holding an owl and flanked by a large ceramic bulldog. Its deadpan weirdness and comic attention to detail somehow manage to justify it.

Coop-Housing Cultural Remix, a complex and multi-layered painting by Jason Gringler , deserves a room of its own. This very large and ambitious deconstruction of urban landscape in Gringler's distinctive style of bold lines and geometric permutations nearly devours the entire back room.

Kristine Moran 's compact and intricately fractured cityscape is another arresting painting musing on modern urban space, hovering somewhere between utopian dream and nightmare.

Two of the artists here were RBC Canadian Painting Competition regional finalists over the last five years, a fact that underlines Angell's intuitive knack for finding and cultivating relevant and exciting contemporary work.

Related link: Angell '10' – Top 10

Paintings, photography tattle their tales; Artist puts one medium up against the other


Peter Goddard, The Toronto Star

Growing up in Prague, Jakub Dolejs was used to rubbing shoulders with history, whether that meant the 14th-century Gothic style found in the Cathedral of St. Vitus or the 17th-century Baroque of the Czernin Palace.
"When I was just 10, I knew the difference between the Renaissance and the Baroque," he says.
"It was first-hand. I lived it. It wasn't until I moved to Canada that I began to imagine this old history."
With Mirabilia, a limited-edition book launched at the Angell Gallery earlier this week, Dolejs's historically inflected imagination goes into a time warp in warp drive. About as thick as a vintage double-LP compilation, the 36-page Mirabilia nevertheless has enough going on between its Vegas-like gold covers to bulk up a university textbook.
Its subject is certainly textbook-worthy - history as transcribed by photography and painting in their divergent, even contradictory ways.
"Photography records history in one way and painting records it in another," writes the Norwich Gallery's Lynda Morris in her incisive essay included in Mirabilia. North America's history has been recorded mechanically by photography. "Europe's history has been recorded in handmade images," says the British curator.
With Dolejs we find an artist whose life represents a meeting place for the two histories, and who understands how photography can fiddle with how painting is perceived - and vice-versa.
He himself paints and photographs with equal ease. In past shows, the 31-year-old Toronto artist has photographed theatrically staged tableaux of historical settings, for which he's painted the backdrop.
At Angell Gallery three years back, his Casa Loma - Toronto's Castle, 1917 (2002), presented a carefully staged portrait of old WASP Toronto, where grime and poverty existed somewhere else. But the dumbfounded maid shown staring at the luxury is clearly seeing it from our 21st-century point of view.
Every new, modern intrusion into history leaves its mark on that history, is the point here. Traces of the new will never be erased from the old.
Casa Loma is child's play compared to the demands made by Mirabilia, designed in a surprisingly conventional manner by Sandra Friesen.
(Mirabilia is not really for buyers seeking slick Christmas coffee table gift books for their special someones, but rather for those looking for an art piece in its own right.)
At its most basic, Mirabilia is Dolejs's painting/photo remix of a gossipy 18th-century painting, The Tribuna of the Uffizi (1772- 1778) by British society painter Johann Zoffany. The painting shows an ornate salon simply packed with paintings and sculpture, and notables looking at both.
The German-born Zoffany was desperate to win the approval of his newfound masters. His metier was conversation portraits, where the well-connected were depicted among their own kind in the comforts of the great homes and clubs.
Tribuna shows a well-heeled crowd of gentry, nobility and assorted English collectors, including the Third Earl Cowper, taking the Grand Tour of Europe, gawking at art in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
What particularly piqued Dolejs's interest in the painting was the evidence it provides of art consumerism of the period.
"It was a time when the court system was still going strong," says the photographer/painter, "but it also was a time when global trading had started. A lot of references (in the original) portray consumerism in a not very favourable light."
In the Dolejs remix of the Zoffany work, a photo of the Uffizi original gets chopped, cropped and reworked. There are small, byte- size samples. There's a heftier - the club-mix version maybe? - two- page photo taken of the painting Dolejs made in his Paris studio of the small model he constructed of the original Tribuna painting. There's also what Dolejs calls his "Louvre Remix," photo, where he's replaced paintings shown in Tribuna with those from the vast Louvre collection in Paris. (Dolejs had an artist residency in Paris earlier this year.)
Things only start to get interesting at this point. Mirabilia has a photograph of the Tribuna as it now appears in the Uffizi, as well as photographs of a French replication of the room, not the works, established at the Chateau de Chantilly.
Further complicating this hall-of-mirrors effect, there are the artist's paintings of a photo of the original Tribuna gallery - although he has never stepped foot inside the Italian gallery - as well as his paintings of the Chantilly replica.
If nothing else, Zoffany was a terrific technician with a terrific ego. His copies of famous pieces such as Correggio's Virgin and Child made Tribuna a superb form of self-advertisement. Still, King George III loved Zoffany's stuff and boosted the painter's reputation for a time.
For his part, Dolejs insists he wasn't trying to out-Zoffany, Zoffany. "It's not to show off technique," says Dolejs. "If you look at my paintings (of the original works), you can see they're really often rough work."
It would seem Dolejs is merely following in that great Canadian tradition of giveaway trompe l'oeil photography from Rodney Graham or Carlos and Jason Sanchez brothers of Montreal, wherein the photograph allows us in on the chicanery that went into its production.
"People like to have it revealed how they're being tricked," he says.
Jakub Dolejs's Mirabilia is available for $40 at Angell Gallery, 890 Queen St. W., by phone at 416-530-0444 or at info @ angellgallery.com.

Related link: Jakub Dolejs – Tribune

Jakub Dolejs at Angell Gallery


Gary Michael Dault, The Globe and Mail

Tribune, by Toronto-based Czech artist Jakub Dolejs at the city's Angell Gallery, is an odd and heady amalgam of the resources and possibilities of photography and painting as they overlap, interrelate and confound one another.

At the centre of the exhibition are two enormous lambda prints (photographic prints that are imaged directly from digital files) that are both titled Tribune and are both photographs of nearly the same subject: a painting by 18th-century German-born artist Johan Zoffany (1733-1810). Well, let's say, speaking more specifically, that a painting by Johan Zoffany lies at the heart of the splendid, crowded and panoramic images that now anchor Dolejs's exhibition.

The original painting, titled The Tribune of the Uffizi, dates from some time between 1772 and 1778, and shows about half of an octagonal room in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, which, stuffed with dazzling antiquities and priceless bits of aesthetic bric-a-brac from the High Renaissance and Bolognese periods, became, as Dolejs puts it in his gallery statement, "the focal point for visitors to Florence. By the 1770s," he continues, "it was arguably the most famous room in the world".

As it stands -- both in the Zoffany original and in Dolejs's take on it -- the room is crowded with connoisseurs, diplomats and visitors of every well-bred sort, at the centre of which Zoffany himself clutches a comely Raphael, owned by one of the painter's patrons, George Nassau Cowper, which the two of them are apparently trying to sell to George III of England.

Marginally interesting stuff, I guess (especially to art historians) but, given its front-and-centre presence in a gallery of contemporary art, who really cares?

Well, Dolejs seems to. For him, the Zoffany painting appears to have generated a whole clutch of rich meanings and associations, some of them central to contemporary art discourse.

First, let's get something clear. What we're actually looking at here is a large-scale photograph of Jakub Dolejs's painting of Johan Zoffany's painting. And there's even more perceptual flim-flammery to it than that: For in addition to repainting the Zoffany in his own terms (adding and subtracting figures here and there, adding and subtracting works of art here and there), the artist has painted extra, spurious bits of the Zoffany and propped them up in the foreground of this new, stitched-together Frankenstein's monster of a painting, digitally melded them carefully (but not too carefully) back into his first version of the work and then re-photographed the whole thing.

To what end? Well, I suppose this pastiche-processing speaks, albeit mechanically, to the changing vicissitudes of accepted taste (then and now), and to the ways authenticity has always been fetishized. It also seems to address the way genuine mastery in the fine arts is being largely replaced by various semi-satisfactory, increasingly oblique approaches to any sort of important aesthetic meaning: in a way, Dolejs's re-presenting of the original Zoffany constitutes an incarnation of our culture's distracted acceptance of almost any settled-for or agreed-upon near-experience, as opposed to any effortful demand for the real thing (which sounds, in a sense, like the story of digitalization itself).

Where does Dolejs really stand on all this dizzying duality? Hard to say. His exhibition, dazzling and ersatz in equal measure, is so sumptuously deadpan, it's hard to know if he deplores or embraces the very cultural conditions he manipulates so skillfully.

Related link: Jakub Dolejs – Tribune

Eye Candy



Jakub Dolejs made a graceful Toronto debut at Angell Gallery last fall with his large-format photographs of period-outfitted models arranged, tableau style, in front of obviously painted backdrops: like Rodney Graham or Jeff Wall, Dolejs managed a sly yet beautiful investigation of art's cyclical commingling with the past. His new show, "AutumnFall," presses harder on the postmodernity of such ideas, leaving behind the romance; the images are still big, but detached and concertedly minimal. In fact, Dolejs manages to address the semiotic ambiguities of his Prague childhood (when Cyrillic Russian propaganda melded with the Latin text of his native Czech) without a touch of intimacy. Here, models confront large, mirrored fonts like they're lost, Tron-like, in some Northern European boutique hotel, or about to be swallowed by a Liam Gillick installation. DAVID BALZER
Jakub Dolejs' "AutumnFall" runs to Nov 20. Angell Gallery, 890 Queen W. 416-530-0444. www.angellgallery.com.

Related link: Jakub Dolejs – AutumnFall

At home in the prison-house of language

Richard Vaughan, The National Post

Czech-Canadian photographer Jakub Dolejs, famed for creating a series of large carefully staged photos that looked like a cross between historical images and film stills, has decided to turn his lens on himself.
Coming of age in several cultures, Dolejs has, to say the least, an ambivalent relationship with language and the way words shape entire cultures and individual personalities. If the late Derrida is to be believed (and I’m a believer), all experience is rooted in language – even the very intimate experience of looking in a mirror.
For his second solo exhibition, AutumnFall, at Angell gallery, Dolejs takes this unspoken (pun intended) self/words relationship and makes some big noise, offering the viewer a collection of large photographs depicting himself and his partner literally cornered by language.
Reminiscent of The Lady from Shanghai’s hall of mirrors ending, minus the gunplay, Dolejs’s new photographs employ mirror and the austere body language of fashion photography to show us people who are living in multiple worlds: an act that requires a level of self-consciousness, and continuous alertness, that those of us raised in one familiar culture cannot imagine.
Loaded with tension and a curious kind of anxious glamour, Dolejs’s photographs are deceptively simple acts of self-examination (and no small amount of playful self-deprecation – cute as they are, Dolejs and his partner are too apple-cheeked wholesome to be dour fashion models) that resonate with the outsider’s naturalized paranoia.

Related link: Jakub Dolejs – AutumnFall

Painting comes out of the cold for EAST


IAN COLLINS, Eastern Daily Press

Over 13 summers, the EAST exhibition of cutting-edge creativity has advanced annually to confirm the name of Norwich on the global art map. Now it is taking a very shocking (and wholly welcome) turn.
Having displayed the art of cluttered basements and putrefaction – of video installations and countless conceptual conceits – this grand and sweeping survey has rediscovered what co-selector Neo Rauch calls the “perfume of painting”.
Drawing, the true foundation and springboard of art, has been dismissed in art schools for decades – and, all too often, paint has been given the brush-off.
Well, now these traditional tools are being reapplied for new and novel purposes. Painting is bursting back.
For many art students art history is something that began around 1997, but it's fitting that East Anglia – the home of Gainsborough and Constable, and the birthplace of Crome and Cotman's Norwich School 201 years ago – should now ponder paint afresh.
And the Norwich Gallery – showcase of the Norwich School of Art and Design, whose past luminaries range from Alfred Munnings to Michael Andrews – is the perfect venue for such a show.
Rauch and Gerd Harry Lybke have selected the work of 30 artists from Europe, North America and Asia – choosing from 1620 entries from 38 countries (a measure of the esteem with which EAST is now held across the art world).
The exhibition, which opens to the public today, is arranged in a series of one-person displays – of figurative and abstract painting, collage, photography and (still claiming a space) video.
Norwich Gallery curator Lynda Morris says: “The selectors chose images that show us not only what it looks like to live now, but also what it feels like to be alive now.
“They looked for work that was made from observed experience rather than images mediated by photography or film. They responded to work that was concerned with personal experience and human values, plus the skills of draughtsmanship and composition.
“Many of the paintings and photographs represent the life cycle from childhood and family life, though to old age and death.
“Most of all, the selectors talked about the way the language of depiction expresses emotions and feelings.”
EAST took its title not only from East Anglia but also from the new spirit emerging after East-West conflict.
This year, with eight former Communist countries joining the European Union, and others set to follow, the political geography of art – and the sense of a continent as a domestic arena – seemed particularly timely.
Painter Rauch and dealer Lybke have been associated for 20 years, since the latter launched a commercial gallery in then-Marxist Leipzig and East Berlin. They know a lot about walls and bridges.
Rauch, a winner of the Van Gogh Prize (Europe's Turner Prize), has a big reputation on the continent and in America. It's ironic that he is making an initial mark in Britain as a selector!
For both men the key iconic image in the show is probably Escape to West Germany 1972 by the Czech-born, Toronto-residing Jakub Dolejs – a blending of paint and photography which imagines his mother's flight across the Iron Curtain.
But other featured artists concentrate on an escape from fact into fiction.
Mexico-born, London-based Alicia Paz produces collage paintings like Catholic shrines reassembled higgledy-piggledy on Mars, which contrast vividly with a voyage into science fiction and surrealism by Leipzig's Rosa Loy. Both propel women into the weirdest landscapes.
Veteran painter Rose Wylie (70 this year) offers huge canvases of cartoon-like figures which toy with the art of graffiti while being unable to avoid a rough beauty.
But viewers may be pulled up sharp – or else move swiftly on – after encountering the photos of Liz Nicol. Having focused on the birth of her son, she has now snapped her dead partner, Willy.
There he lies, hands clasped and wearing a baseball cap whose peak projects above the open coffin. Pathos mingles with bathos (I thought of the Alan Bennett line from the director of a nursing home who said: “We've just welcomed our first Darren.”)
There are some gorgeous, witty and glorious paintings by America's Ridley Howard and Leipzig's Christoph Ruckhaberle.
But – surprise, surprise – my favourite one-person show in the 14th EAST exhibition turns out to be a video.
Germany's Lela Budde, who works in London and Munich, has shot (apparently literally) a spaghetti western gunfight in which blood spurts and spouts freely from writhing bodies.
Then Lela herself appears, in a 1960s nurse's uniform, to dress wounds and give injections.
A moving version of America's Cindy Sherman who pictures herself in endless guises, this splendid artist proves that wit really can be the deadliest weapon.
There's much to enjoy in this year's EAST assembly – with the overall EASTaward winner to be announced at a reception tonight.
But, with this month's trend-setting Basle Art Fair also being all about painting, this up-to-the-minute offering has already generated unprecedented interest.
Lynda Morris has responded to two particularly important requests for emailed images.
One caller was Jay Jopling of London's influential White Cube gallery. The other was Charles Saatchi.
One of the most recent and most sensational additions to the Saatchi Gallery in County Hall was a group of bold, brash paintings by John Bratby – the lately deceased star of the 1950s Kitchen Sink school.
I wonder how many of the painterly works now in the Norwich Gallery may soon be winging their way to London.

Related link: Jakub Dolejs – AutumnFall

Arts Best Bet



27-year-old Jakub Dolejs' large-format images use painted backgrounds to blur the line between photos and paintings and create a fictional setting. Works like "Marriage à la mode" (above), now showing at the Angell Gallery, examines the way photographs create histories, both real and fictional. Dolejs' work at the Propeller Centre for Visual Arts takes a radically conceptual approach. His photographs of paintings that mimic the effects of out-of-focus, poorly lit photography are works that at first seem nonsensical but upon closer inspection are visually haunting in their sparseness.

To Oct. 11 at Angell Gallery, 890 Queen W. 416-530-0444. Reception Sept. 18, 6-9:30pm; also runs to Sept. 28 at the Propeller Centre, 984 Queen W. 416-504-7142. Opening reception Sept. 19, 7-10pm.

This Month: Art

Betty Anne Jordan, Toronto Life

At 27, this recent émigré from Prague has landed squarely on his feet in Toronto. An artist who can paint as well as squeeze the shutter release, he creates over-sized photo tableaux, confident historic narratives involving costumed models set against skillfully rendered backdrops. In his hands, the past is subtly recreated with an eye to exposing contemporary mores. Particularly appealing is his pair of tableaux showing Napoleonic soldiers in anti-heroic off-moments. Doubled over in from of a simulated 19th. – century alleyway is a young infantryman in the process of being sick, presumably with fear. Dolejš’s senses of circularity of human affairs is also translated into a mountaintop scene inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s famous painting Wanderer, in which a frock-coated gentleman is seen from behind as he surveys a majestic vista. In Dolejš’s version, the fellow has gotten down to business: he has taken off his coat and started sketching the lush landscape. So convincingly has the artist entered into the romantic sensibility, it’s hard to accept that he wasn’t copying an actual painting by the master.

The maid and the castle


PETER GODDARD, The Toronto Star

Casa Loma — Toronto's Castle, 1917 (2002), by Jakub Dolejs
In what could be a scene out of Masterpiece Theatre, a young maid in a crisp black and white uniform looks longingly at an elegant sitting room in a baronial mansion in Jakub Dolejs' Casa Loma — Toronto's Castle, 1917. Without even being able to see her face you know she knows this luxury will never be hers, not the Persian carpet on the floor, the expensive vase, or the superb view out of the window radiant with daylight.
A closer look at the large-scale chronogenic photograph now at Gallery 44 reveals that the sitting room is architecturally lined up at a rather odd angle from where the maid stands. In fact, she appears to be staring at a stage set, one that's been painted rather crudely. But there's even more going on.
Dolejs, a Czech-born Toronto-based artist, has not only faked the setting, he's faked time, at least our sense of it. With Casa Loma — Toronto's Castle, 1917, you can't be sure if the photograph has done what photographs are supposed to do, freeze the time they're taking.
"I'm interested in the deceptive aspect of photography," says Dolejs. "In '98, when I first did this process, I was taking pictures in my studio and I noticed something strange happening when you had someone stand in front of a painting. I use the people in the photographs as links between two worlds, between what we imagine in the painting and our `real' world."
1 The set-like setting: "I have a vision of the final photograph that I want. I paint the backdrop and I figure out the perspective as I go. The painting is very rough. I use big brush strokes. I know how to position someone so that it all looks like the real thing."
2 Casa Loma: "I started looking at some old photographs of Toronto. It struck me how polluted the city was at the time Casa Loma was built (between 1910-1914). Everyone imagines it was an ideal period then, with steam trains, horse-drawn carriages and stuff. But it wasn't. So it was absurd for someone (Sir Henry Pellatt) to build a castle in this polluted world. You can see the smoke from the factories in the window I've drawn. Casa Loma was irrelevant. It was a publicity stunt. People still are building Casa Lomas in the suburbs. It's a much broader phenomenon now. And the game is a lot more visible."
3 The photograph's implied story: "She's cleaning up, moving around surroundings she could never afford. In this piece I'm not trying to criticize anyone. It's a very intimate story, about the maid who is being persecuted by someone in a way. I realize narrative is almost a no-no in art these days. It's not very popular at all. But I wanted to explore whether narrative has a place in art. Can I create something that people can relate to, something that's not just decorative? I borrowed the means to do this from the cinema where the narrative is still valid and still works."
4 The period: "I choose periods of time when things that happen are clear to us today — like the publicity stunt of building a castle. The maid is someone who would not have been photographed at the time."
Casa Loma — Toronto's Castle, 1917 is part of the Proof10 show at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, 401 Richmond St. W, Suite 120. It's on to Aug.9 alongside work from Colwyn Griffith, Ritian Lee, Nicholas Pye, Kim Waldron and Balint Zsako.