ARTDIALOG: PRAHA/LOS ANGELES VISUAL TIMELINE
Zdenka Gabalova, circa 1985
Dialog: Prague/Los Angeles began as an idea between two women: Barbara Benish (USA) and Zdenka Gabalova (CZ).
They had a vision to start a conversation through art that would bridge the two countries- in the years before the Velvet Revolution was even imagined.
Benish was searching for ways to expand traditional exhibition practices as an artist, which in California in the 1980's had hit a market high. She bonded with the artists in Prague and Brno working in the parallel structures and showing their art in the hops fields and dvoreks of Prague.
In Czechoslovakia the parallel systems' art scene was thriving; presenting a cultural phenomenon in the otherwise repressive totalitarian regime that had kept the borders closed to the west for nearly 40 years.
The exchange didn't come immediately either but rather took a few years of planning, smuggled letters and coded messages, fundraising, maxed out credit cards, and diplomatic negotiations in order to make the vision a reality.
And more than just an exhibition; it would be a cultural exchange, an experiment in soft diplomacy, and a challenge to the suffocating regimes in the Soviet Bloc.
Without financial backing from either countries governments, the two women solidified the framework for an art exchange between Czech and American artists to take place in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
When the artists first arrived in Czechoslovakia, a country none of them would have imagined entering prior- they reveled in the beautiful countryside. They visited the studio of Ales Vesely and each American artist stayed with a different Czech artist. They had access to their studios and shared their dwellings.
In this interaction came collaborations, and the sharing of the two cultures. One of the many dialogues that this project created.
Participating artists from Czechoslovakia:
Participating Artists from California:
The Czech and American artists exhibit together at three different locations in Prague; Galerie Mladych, Lidovy Dum, and Gong Galerie .
The exhibitions preceeded the fall of the Berlin wall by three months. During this tumultuous time, secret service surrounded the opening at Lidovy Dum in Praha and Gong Gallery where a symposium was held as well as Zdenka Gabalova's home.
To document this monumental cultural event. STB cameras filmed all artists and the 1000 people that streamed into Prague from villages across the country to see the show.
This gathering of the Czech public and the 12 artists joined together to support and defy the regime. It was a small turning point in a summer of many.
A few weeks later, the Berlin wall came down opening the borders to the west. And in November of 1989, the Czechoslovaks turned over the communist regime.
Vaclav Havel- a writer, artist, and former dissident became the president of Czechoslovakia.