Ester Krumbachová @ CCA

Ester Krumbachová was a key figure in the Czech New Wave cinema in the 1960s before she was forced underground and all but prevented from making art during Soviet "normalisation"

Review by Adam Benmakhlouf | 11 Jan 2019

Smoothly confounding audience expectations, the exhibition of work by Czech New Wave costume designer, filmmaker and artist Ester Krumbachová (1923-1996) turns from a group show of recognisable contemporary artists mostly working in Scotland, to a staged domestic environment adorned with items from the archive of Krumbachová’s life and work.

Around dressing table mirrors, a huge number of her drawings, Polaroids and other photos are arranged, looking like the covered kitchen and bedroom walls of a social and prolific creative. The sense of an intimate glimpse into the disarray of a private space supersedes any commitment to the museological or chronological presentation of a neat biography.

Without the stability of a gallery text, even, the works of the contemporary artists merge easily with the archival materials. France-Lise McGurn’s paintings, for example, evidence the same stylishly subtle caricaturing and eye for garment detail as Krumbachová’s drawings. The singular identity of the artist at the centre of the retrospective is displaced in favour of resonances and non-prescribed insight through juxtaposition.

Among the anarchic soundscape of the main gallery space, one of the actors in the newly-produced video works wears all black face paint except for whitened eye sockets and white teeth painted above their lip. The volume is too low to hear the text that is being read to have a context for the apparent blackface, making curated disarray swing towards (at best) thoughtlessly troubling consequences.

In the last room, added to the constellation of reels, letter and snapshots, there’s a full feature-length documentary. Even if it’s a concession to some linear information-giving, it’s still a small part of the hours of content already present. In frustrating conventions of exhibition-making and especially large historical solo shows, the Krumbachová retrospective draws out new possibilities for this exhibition genre.

A Weakness for Raisins, CCA Glasgow, until 27 Jan, free