Ondřej Brody and Evžen Šimera want to apply their iconoclastic and contrarian tendencies to the teaching of art, which, they say, is too rigid in existing Czech schools
The proposal for a new art school in the Palác Electrických Podníků in Prague 7 will continue to transform the building into a hub of Prague’s artistic scene. Scholastika, which plans to open in early 2012 (and which has an open day on Jan. 19), will invite the next generation of artists into the building’s existing community of artists and designers.
The school is touted as the Czech Republic’s first private art academy. It is the brainchild of Evžen Šimera and Ondřej Brody. Šimera is a conceptual artist whose work includes the minimalist new drippings series and the “zero gravity” paintings, which he painted in controlled free-fall.
Brody is one half of the “conceptual neo-dadaistic artistic couple” Brody and Pateau. His partner is the Finnish-born artist Kristofer Paetau. Together they create photos (and videos) that are shocking, rude and often quite funny.
Now, Brody and Šimera want to apply their iconoclastic and contrarian tendencies to the teaching of art. Their new school will be a reaction to what they see as the rigid way in which art is taught in the Czech Republic. For them, the existing approached doesn't relate to the outside world.
Anyone who has ever visited the Palác Electrických Podníků will be familiar with its ambience
Given that both artists studied at Akademie Vytvarných Umění (The Academy of Fine Art) or AVU, and still quite young, they have some experience with the education system here. “We experienced this on our own, and Scholastika is our own vision about a platform that not only educates about art and theory but stimulates creativity in the first place,” Šimera said.
One of the attractions of the school, as well as the means by which it differentiates itself from the established art schools, is that the teaching staff are “insiders” of the art world both local and international.
Richard Štipl is known for his life-like, grotesque and surreal sculptures
Some of those people include the painter and stencil artist Robert Šalanda; David Böhm whose “action comics” can be seen at the metro stop Pražského Povstání; and Richard Štipl, a sculptor who produces hyper-real figures which are at turns grotesque and surreal. If there is one common thread to this group it is that they all share the irreverence of the school’s founders.
Yet, the artists are serious about the type of education the students gets. The school will have seven departments, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and video, graphic design, conceptual art and art history. Students will be free to select from these options rather than being pushed in one direction.
Hitler Gay Self Portraits by Ondřej Brody and Kristofer Paetau
Apart from the skills and theory, Scholastika will offer students individual consultations regarding the creation and management a professional portfolio, application of grants. “The first year will function as a sort of ‘pilot year’ for students applying to AVU or VŠUP,” Šimera said, referring to the Academy of Art and Design in Prague.
The school also has some guiding principles which sets it apart from other schools. These principles would change. Šimera, perhaps because he is an artist, likened them to manifestos.
These ideas include that the main teaching method is dialogue with an emphasis placed on the equality of teachers and students. The school is open to all mediums of artistic expression. For them, it is more important to “promote maintaining energy in the given object and we consider that to be better than defining and classifying it.” ‘We are searching for the right proportion of skepticism and optimism.’
They also consider the ethical dimensions of an artistic career and support projects which are “daring and unrealizable”; Brody perhaps summed it up best when he said, “We are searching for the right proportion of skepticism and optimism.”
The modern philosophy of the school seems to be reflected in its physical appearance. The studios are open white. The edges of the desks, with their bars of different colors, recall the parallel lines of Šimera's drip series.
“It is true, we designed that table, because we are think about every piece of furniture there ... we have limited budget ... but you can make a great, intelligent and inspiring environment when you feel some love to your project,” Šimera said.
Being located in the Palác Electrických Podníků means students will be surrounded by some of the renowned artists and designers. In the broad corridors of the building, people can find graphic designers ExLovers, designer Maxim Velčovský, Laboratorio Gallery and the publisher Divus, which releases the magazine Umělec and hosts Prager Kabarett.
‘In order for Scholastika to function well it is important for it to be situated in ... [a building] that draws the attention of people captivated by visual culture.’
Anyone who has ever visited the Palác Electrických Podníků will be familiar with its ambience. “In order for Scholastika to function well it is important for it to be situated in an architectonically (sic) valuable building that draws the attention of people captivated by visual culture,” Šimera said.
Both men are confident that demand will exist for this school because of its approach. “The state universities went through a process of transformation about 20 years ago but since then, they seemed to fall into a coma again,” Brody said.
Regarding the other private schools Šimera and Brody believe that they will not pose as much competition for what they see as “the dubious team of teachers or staff and their quality standards.”
As to whether Šimera and Brody are right in their assessment of the quality of art education in the Czech Republic we asked, Jindřich Smetana, the Chancellor of Vysoká škola uměleckoprůmyslová v Praze(VŠUP) for a comment.
“This question (about whether the system needs to modernize) gives me the impression of ignorance or youthful immaturity. Indeed, it is a prerequisite for any quality institution to continuously evolve in order to fulfill its mission best on any given day and implant into the process, everything new, what makes sense and moves the subject forward,” he answered via email.
Smetana also added, “The need to declare that ‘I am the modern’ who defines oneself from the old-fashioned, is a sign of uncertainly that my meaningful modernity will be apparent even without comment.”
It seems even before the school’s doors have opened, Šimera and Brody may already be stirring up Prague’s artworld.
— Ryan Scott is a Prague-based freelance journalist