Welcome to DOX, and Welcome to Capitalism!
The sky grew dark over the terrace, and our hands were getting colder when we realized it was closing time and we had spent most of the afternoon immersed in DOX´s inaugural exhibition, Welcome to Capitalism! It was too easy to spend a long afternoon in this unique and amazing new space, which seems to freshly protrude from its scruffier Holešovice surroundings as architectural boldness, a conceptual artistic piece in its own right.
The exhibition transforms its visitors into active participants, and we found ourselves engrossed in an intense collective interpretation–miniaturized yet strikingly magnified–of the capitalist society that engulfs much of today´s world. Welcome to Capitalism! is visually stimulating and thought provoking enough for a half-day endeavor, but there are other factors contributing to the extended stay at DOX. Exploring the enormous new space is entertaining in itself; browsing the multitude of unusual objects in the design shop consumes plenty of time; and stopping to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee at the built-in café is wonderfully convenient.
Welcome to Capitalism! has the intentional context of connecting art to capital, and you can´t help but appreciate that it is perfectly synchronized with current events (particularly recent financial atrocities), the evolution of the Czech Republic, and obviously with the motivation behind DOX itself. José María Cano, the world-renowned Spanish artist whose installations compose the heaviest portion of the exhibition, is particularly passionate about expressing this connection between capitalist culture and art.
“[T]he most important artists in the last century were the ones who were most concerned about the market,” says Cano. “ Nothing in the art market happens naturally. Everything is a strategy and everything is helped by marketing and ideals. Only normally it doesn´t look obvious. The world of art is a circle where everything is protected.”
Rows of Cano´s wax paintings fill the largest of the first floor rooms. Attached to long metal columns (remainders of the building´s 19th century metal factory), the blown-up recreations of newspaper portraits of famous capitalist movers and shakers, such as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Alan Greenspan (whose reprinted face also spreads vastly across the exterior of DOX), fill the room. Although the pieces are bold and authoritative in size, a closer, more pixilated observation both increases the intensity of the stiff shapes while also somehow softening them. This part of Cano´s installation is less about each piece and more about the collective whole, typical of Cano´s work, as he always works in series.
Ah, and the pieces that feature the faces of Queen Elizabeth as well as Kate Moss—the portraits used in all of the DOX promo and advertising materials—don´t bother looking for them. They were supposed to arrive in Prague for the exhibition, but didn´t make it. (That´s the furthest I could get of an explanation.)
Once you´ve woven through the faces of the world market players, recalling quietly the significance of each person´s name, you can go back to that massive installation to the right of the entry way–the one which, if you´re as sophisticated as I am, made you say “holy sh*t” as soon as you walked through the door.
Matej Krén´s installation, The Sediment, speaks volumes. Literally. It´s a huge curved wall made out of over 70,000 books. It´s visually exciting, first and foremost, to stand back and admire it in its entirety, then, nearer, run your eyes along the plethora of titles in the stacks, or, ever so discreetly, run your fingers down the rows (just because it´s so difficult to resist the urge). And its especially fun to step inside the wall´s tiny doorway, onto a balcony where you´ll be surrounded by optical trickery as the dark abyss of books and minuscule lights seems infinite.
In the DOX “Start” book, there is an interesting quote pertinent to The Sediment and its mysterious doorway:
“In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the future.” Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”
The large neon image projections, which “fall” down the wall in the next part of the exhibition, are entrancing. Hilary Clinton´s face, dollar figures, flags, grenades, and other symbols of “real time news” are projected vividly in continuous motion, according to real headlines, in Falling Times, the installation by Michael Bielicky and Kamila Richter. The computer sits aside the wall projections, presenting the same symbols, only here you can click on the different icons and read headlines from news sources all over the world. The simple pictogram language intends to make basic what the media communicates as complicated, and the installation, overall, communicates the media-saturated, “info-polluted” capitalist world that envelopes us.
And there is plenty more to be discovered at Welcome to Capitalism! Cano´s paintings are displayed vivaciously in more of the six rooms, each using the newspaper-recreation format in wax paintings, including clippings from The Financial Times, and giant Spanish call-girl ads. The Archive, assembled by Jiří Hůla in 1984 and picked up as an installation by the young Czech artist Dominik Lang, is an enormous room filled to the brim with documentation on artistic activities in the Czech Republic. It´s a wonderland of boxes and files.
DOX´s design shop kept us occupied for at least an additional hour, maybe more. Stacking the shelves of a long wall are the best eye-candy art and design books (in Czech and in English), just dying to be adopted by and displayed on coffee tables. (Housewarming gift, anyone?) The opposite wall is a long glass case filled with the most interesting and unusual home décor items, like glass-blown bowls, vases, and other one-of-a-kinds that creative types and art-aficionados would love to add to their flats or studios. I liked one of the bright blue bowls and noticed it was 160,oooCZK. “Oh, maybe next week.”
As my friends and I roamed up and down, and round and round the shop area, we excitedly kept finding new things to ooh-and-aah over, pulling each other´s arms in different directions. “Look at these freaky candle-holder melted doll heads that I want so badly!” Then silence, as my friends gave me a strange look.
A gentle autumn day beckoned us to DOX´s terrace, where we sipped wine served to us by the café staff, and flipped through the “DOX Centre for Contemporary Art – Start” books we purchased. The book articulates the purpose of the space, and provides insight on the inaugural exhibition; but, above all, it is filled with beautiful photographs of the history of the building and the sequence of its construction, the process of constructing The Sediment, as well as pictures of the various Welcome to Capitalism! pieces. It´s well worth the 290CZK.
I tried to snap some more photos one last time on our way out, and was approached by a man who told me not to take photos with the flash on. I recognized him from the press conference as one of the Centre´s directors. He seemed very nervous and irritable. “It´s amazing,” I said to him, “We´ve really enjoyed the exhibition so much.” He nodded and walked away before I could speak with him further. I didn´t take it personally; he had hives that opening day, and I probably made it worse by inquiring on the whereabouts of the Kate Moss and Queen Elizabeth paintings.
Welcome to Capitalism! is open through the end of November. Admission is 120CZK.
DOX Centre for Contemporary Art
Osadní 34, Prague 7 – Holešovice
Hours: Mon., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Admission: 120 Kč
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Jessica Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org