Fascinating Art Brut at Museum Montanelli in Prague

On one of my art "reconnaissance" tour through Central and Eastern Europe last year I discovered for myself a gallery with a well recognized cashe that had somehow escaped my attention before- Museum Montanelli. Sadly overlooked the gallery is recognized as one of the most intriguing contemporary small private art museums in Central Europe.

Winter being the high art season, I didn't have a chance to write about my visit at the time but the recent Foundation Beyeler Museum's retrospective of works by the indomitable art spirit Jean Dubuffet was a reminder of necessity to rectify my oversight. 

Jean Dubuffet is perhaps most well known as the founder of Art Brut  (aka “outsider art”),-  term coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym to its French equivalent art brut traditionally translated as "raw" or "rough" art.  Jean Dubuffet is not only responsible for the French term to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture but also for the eponymous style he pioneered.  Dubuffet found his stylistic expression when being influenced by art of those on the outside of the art establishment, such as psychiatric hospital patients and children.  

My visit to Montanelli Gallery coincided with the exhibition project “Crossroads,” presenting works by three contemporary international art brut artists who share a common theme: the city as space that defines our lives:  Stefan Hafner, Marcel Schmitz, and Ota Prouza.

German artist Stefan Häfner creates three-dimensional residential modules with a carefully thought-out interior design to represent his vision of the “city of the future.” Belgian artist Marcel Schmitz explores in his paintings the anonymous metropolis as an extraordinary, multilayered structure.

Personally, I found of the Ota Prouza the most fascinating.  Several meters in length, drawings of this recently discovered Czech artist are an infinite tangle of roads and railway tracks surrounded by skyscrapers seen from a bird’s-eye view.  I was also taken aback by his drawings of wasps.  They are both terror- evoking and beautifully mesmerizing. 

"In all three artists’ work, urban space is a mental space as well." That statement acquires a different dimension when one considers that all three of these artists are mentally handicapped.  One can't disagree with the curators' conclusion that the artists' attempts at finding their bearings within this urban environment, so far removed from the nature (i.e. natural state of being) or controlling it through the artistic act is possibly their attempt at making themselves at home in their own mental territory.