Daniel Pešta (born 1 May 1959) is a Czech multimedia artist.
Pešta was born into the family of architect Antonín Pešta and psychologist Helena Montanelli-Peštová. After completing secondary school of civil engineering, he studied at the Václav Hollar College of Art in Prague. During the communist era, Pešta became a part of the country's alternative culture scene and later earned a living as a graphic designer of posters and LP covers. After 2000, he finally left behind book illustrations and applied art and devoted himself exclusively to freelance art.
He made study trips to New York in 1998 and in 2000. Pešta has exhibited independently since 1992, and has participated in prestigious group exhibitions and biennals. Some of his most important projects include I was born in your bed, held at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. His subsequent work shown at the Venice Biennale was within the collateral projects titled Personal Structures, exhibited at the Palazzo Bembo (Nocturnal Head Records, 2015) and in Palazzo Mora (Screams, cycle of paintings, 2017). He was awarded the 2nd prize in painting at London Art Biennale in 2017 and also 2nd prize for expressionist art in 2019. His most important achievement so far was the extensive solo exhibition entitled DeTermination at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague in 2018.
He is married to Dadja Altenburg-Kohl. His daughter Karolína Peštová-Matoušová graduated in art theory at Charles University, Prague.
Before 1989, Daniel Pešta worked as a graphic designer. He created around a hundred covers for classical music records and won awards for book and poster design (1st prize for a political poster, Mexico, 1990). Since the early 1990s his main focus has been figurative and portrait painting and thanks to his artistic dexterity Pešta developed an easily recognizable style. He soon abandoned hyperrealistic painting in favor of a raw, expressive style, more closely reflecting his nature.
Pešta’s art is very intuitive, influenced by social themes and politics, reflecting the vulnerability of the individual and the internal complexity of the human being. He is unafraid of taking risks, as any work of art is also the expression of his radical social and political stance. The themes of his work touch upon the essence of human existence and the role of the individual in human society, often with social or political subtext and an emphasis on the risks of abuse of power. One of Pešta's central motifs is a mask. He sees it as a symbol of pretence or the loss of individual identity. When multiplied, the masks are shapeless forms with no specific features, no story, wherein a person becomes a statistic item.
In 1998, Pešta went on his first study trip to New York. This contact with the international art scene radically influenced his work, and he started to create sculptures and hanging installations in addition to painting, experimenting with wax, leather, textiles, or recycled photographs as part of naturalist assemblages. Since 2004, his favorite material has been clear epoxy resin, which he uses to cover older paintings and objects, thus conserving and devaluating them all at once. Later, he used the same technique for extensive photographic installations in the cycle Genetic Codes (I-IV, 2008-2013), the monumental work Václav Havel’s Wheels of Time (2011-2016), a commemoration of Václav Havel on permanent exhibition at the Church of St. Anne in Prague, the set of objects themed Ecce Homo (2004-2011) and Christ (2011), and the series of 21 assemblages Nocturnal Head Records (2012-2015), which represent a summary of the key themes of his work. In the Records series, Pešta combines old and new photographs with painting, woven nets and bizarre objects of uncertain origin. Some visions are sharp and present, others foggy and pushed into oblivion. According to the principles of dream logics, reality blends with childhood memory, and the series recounts a life from birth, through adolescence, erotic tension, fear and guilt, to unfulfilled expectations, exhaustion and fear of death.
Video art became an important part of Pešta’s work in 2009. In his expressive piece Narcissus (2010), he used the mask of his own face to represent his uncomfortable and limiting "alter ego”, ultimately eaten up and swallowed. A similar video entitled Scream (2010), part of an entire cycle of metaphoric works dealing with boundary states of the human existence, ends with a mouth being symbolically sewn shut. In the video art piece Chain (2017), a group of men in white shirts takes in a secret society or sect initiation rite of sorts, receiving fire from their leader, and rhythmically pound the table in front of them with hands burning. The image is a metaphor for the manipulation of the individual, who becomes ready to sacrifice himself in the name of an ideology.
The human condition, seen by Daniel Pešta as desperate, Sisyphean endeavor, is reflected in the video art series From Nowhere to Nowhere (2017). It shows naked individuals trapped in a transparent cube, whose only option is to keep moving the cage forward, without chance to escape it. The video entitled A Drop (2017) shows a human eye subjected to endless tiny suffering of the daily life, represented by drops of water, dripping in regular intervals.
Pešta interprets freely some Christian symbols and puts them in new contexts. The figure of Jesus Christ is portrayed in an epoxy block as Jesus in Amniotic Liquid, not as an embryo but as the one predetermined to the inevitable fate of crucifixion. There is no definite interpretation for the assemblage of crucifix fragments (Puzzle II, 2000-2017) or the raised hand of Jesus statues, protruding from a resin cube (Memento 2, 2019) - they could represent a symbol of suffering as well as a victorious gesture. The body of Christ, taken from the cross, is presented as a mummy covered in beeswax, the Annunciation looks like an extraterrestrial androgynous being with child (Annunciation, 2014, 2018). The pulsating light projects crown of thorns onto a heap of salt, in the rhythm of a woman breathing, reminiscent of the seven dolors of Virgin Mary (White Zone, 2010).
Pešta’s work often points to the mannerisms of the narcissist leaders, the hypocrisy of the church, or the indifference of the spineless individuals which had caused tragedies such as the holocaust, but also reflect upon the problems of the contemporary society, e.g. the stigmatization of minorities. At the 2013 Venice Biennale, Pešta presented the alarming video project I Was Born in Your Bed, attempting to challenge the societal stereotypes which categorize Romani people based on the color of their skin and push them to the fringes of society. The video was accompanied by a series of portraits of Romani children, whose questioning looks force the viewer to think (I Am Gypsy, and You?). The duo of seemingly similar neon signs: I Was Born in Your Bed - I Was Born in Your Head posits the question whether an individual’s fate is determined by origin or by social conventions. Determination by place of birth, when the unequal conditions at the start of one’s life often influence their place in the world, is confronted with the general consciousness, subject to stereotyping and born out of societal manipulation. The theme of human predetermination and the ability or even chance to escape societal paradigms was latently present in all Pešta’s installations and videos shown in his prestigious solo exhibition covering two floors of the DOX Gallery (2018).
Analysis of human subconsciousness and predetermination makes central theme of the cycle Genetic Codes - assemblages of photographs from old albums, covered in resin, resembling tiny reliquaries and installed like a mosaic in monumental hanging blocks in a style evocative of DNA sequencing. The faces and figures of people who were once specific individuals become links in a chain, in which the fate of future individuals is determined by their origin or their social roles (Genetic Code - Brides, 2008-2009, - Carmens, 2012-2013). The counterpart of the installation Feminine Element, consisting of photographs of women in seductive poses, is the piece entitled Alpha Wolf, illustrating male behavior stereotypes through photographs of wolves.
Mask as a cast of a face is seen by Pešta not only as a symbol of pretense but also as record of specific expression, used by humans as a sophisticated tool for self-presentation. That is the effect of assemblages entitled Puzzle, in which masks convey a wide range of facial expressions. The project Gravitation zero (2011) used masks lit from within, torn from static figures of monks and floating in space. The work has no simple interpretation - the masks can represent enlightenment as well as absolute depersonalization. The chilling vision of anonymous, lifeless masks which form the three cubes of Angels Will Survive (2011), installed in the future memorial of Jewish transports at the train station Bubny, is a counterpart to the installation of the personal possessions of the victims from Auschwitz.
In his series of “group portraits,” Pešta focuses on the ruinous psychology of manipulated crowds or the loss of individuality (Jan and Anna, diptych, 2017). His work reflects an ease by which an autocrat finds imaginary enemies in a minority, whether defined by religion, skin color or alternative lifestyle, and conjure up fear or psychosis to manipulate. With expressive hyperbole, heads of voters are reduced to grimaces with crying mouths and stuck-out thumbs (Election, 2016-2017). The extreme emotion, which could mean anything from terror, helplessness, unbearable pain to rage, is portraid in the series of paintings entitled Scream (2015-2016).
Pešta is a complicated artist to interpret, as he transcends formal realism, communicating through a unique combination of inspirational sources resulting in an ingenious vision of an intrinsically timeless art.
- 1990 Mexico City Biennale 1, award in the category of Political Poster, Mexico
- 2001 Florence Biennale 3, award in the category of new media, Florence, Italy
- 2002 Most Beautiful Book of the Year, award in the bibliophile category, Tomáš Hrách, Kašpárkův konec, Argo, Prague
- 2009 Most Beautiful Book of the Year, nomination in the catalogue category, Prague
- 2014 Now&After International Video Art Festival, Gulag Museum, Honorable Mention
- 2017 London Art Biennale, 2nd prize for painting
- 2019 London Art Biennale, 2nd prize for expressionist art
- 1993 Concave Paintings, Karolinum, Prague
- 1995 Convex Paintings, Axiom Gallery, Cheltenham
- 1998 Daniel Pešta in Montserrat Gallery 1, New York City
- 2000 Daniel Pešta in Montserrat Gallery 2, New York City
- 2002 White Zone, Critics' Gallery, Prague
- 2005 Hot Doks 1 (with Václav Bláha), AusstellungsHalle, Frankfurt am Main
- 2005 Hot Doks 2 (with Václav Bláha), Galerie Palais am Festungsgraben Berlin
- 2007 Sweet Home, Akropolis, Prague
- 2010 Black Light, Galerie Maier-Hahn, Düsseldorf
- 2010 Levitation, Museum Montanelli, Prague
- 2011 Levitation, Felix-Nussbaum-Haus - Kulturgeschichtliches Museum, Osnabrück
- 2012 Gravitation Zero, Kunstmuseum Solingen, Solingen
- 2012 On Another Planet (In the name of love…) (with Suzanne Pastor), Artinbox gallery, Prague
- 2013 Kunst in der Katastrophe, Deutscher Bundestag, Berlin
- 2013 I was born in your bed, Sala del Camino, Venice
- 2014 I was born in your bed, Jízdárna Zámeckého návrší, Litomyšl
- 2015 Art Biennale, Palazzo Bembo (Personal Structures), Venice
- 2016 Nocturnal Head Records, White Gallery, Osík near Litomyšl
- 2018 DeTermination, DOX centre for Contemporary Art, Prague
- 2007 Prague Biennale 3, Karlin Hall, Prague
- 2009 Prague Biennale 4, Karlin Hall, Prague
- 2010 Francisco de Goya – Vision of Symptoms and Hope, Kunstmuseum Solingen, Solingen
- 2011 The Art of Birth, Artinbox gallery, Prague
- 2012 Maria, Maria, Felix-Nussbaum-Haus - Kulturgeschichtliches Museum, Osnabrück
- 2012 Turn On, Tune In, Factory Art Gallery, Berlin
- 2012 It’s Liquid Identities. Videoart Festival, Scoletta di San Giovanni Battista e del SS. Sacramento in Bragora, Venice
- 2012 Dreaming, Artinbox, Prague
- 2013 London Art Biennale, Chelsea Old Town Hall, London
- 2013 Kdo lže, ten krade (Who Lies, Also Steals), Artinbox gallery, Prague
- 2013 Liquid Borders, International art festival of photography, video art and installation, Sala Bona Sforza, Castello Svevo, Bari
- 2013 Where is My Home?, DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague
- 2014 "Geny a Generace", Galerie Artinbox, Praha
- 2014 "Now&After" International Video Art Festival, Moscow
- 2014 "Pixels of Identities", Galeria de Arte Laura Haber, Buenos Aires
- 2014 Regensburg, Gegenüberstellung (with Markus Lüpertz, Dorota Nieznalska, etc.)
- 2014 Now & After International Video Art Festival, Alexandrinsky Theater in St.Petersburg
- 2014 Venice, Morphos, Sustainable Empire, Puzzels, Palazzo Albrizzi
- 2015 London Art Biennale
- 2015 Liquid Cities, New York
- 2015 Hybrid Effects, Palazzo Radetzky, Milan
- 2015 Brave New World, DOX centre for Contemporary Art, Prague
- 2016 It's Liquid Experimental Art Architecture and Design Festival, BAU International Academy, Rome
- 2016 Eurasian Film Festival, Czech Center New York
- 2016 Self Identities, Laura Haber Gallery, Buenos Aires
- Vize 97: The Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation
- MuMo, Museum Montanelli, Prague
- Muzeum F. (sculptures for a baroque niche), Klatovy
- Felix-Nussbaum-Haus - Kulturgeschichtliches Museum, Osnabrück
- Kunstmuseum Solingen
- Michael Hayden Collection, Geelong, Australia
- University of British Columbia, Vancouver
- National Museum of Posters, Mexico City
- Daniel Pešta: Obřízka / Circumcision, 2001, Čiháková-Noshiro Vlasta et al., 28 pp., Žaket, Prague
- Bílá zóna / White Zone, 2002, Čiháková-Noshiro Vlasta, 12 pp., Galerie kritiků, Prague
- Daniel Pešta: Hot doks 2, 2005, Altenburg-Kohl Dadja, Machalický Jiří, Pešta Daniel, 52 pp., Galerie Montanelli, s.r.o., Prague
- Daniel Pešta / Sweet Home, 2006, Argo, Prague, ISBN 80-7203-797-8 Search this book on .
- Daniel Pešta / Levitation', 2010, DrAK Foundation, Kulturgeschichtliches Museum Osnabrück – Felix-Nussbaum-Haus and Kunstmuseum Solingen, Prague, ISBN 978-3-938823-81-1 Search this book on .
- Daniel Pešta: Inside, 56 pp., Museum Montanelli (MuMo), Prague (undated)
- Daniel Pešta: DeTermination, text Terezie Zemánková, 196 pp., (en.), DOX Prague 2018, ISBN 978-80-87446-47-8 Search this book on .
- Daniel Pešta: En Bloc, text Terezie Zemánková, 192 pp., (en.), DOX Prague 2018, ISBN 978-80-87446-49-2 Search this book on .
- London Art Biennale, Winners 2017
- London Art Biennale, Winners 2019
- Daniel Pešta: DeTermination, DOX, 26. 1. – 7. 5. 2018
- Burt Kimmelman, Provocative Art about Blood and Masks, Hyperallergic, April 15, 2018
- Daniel Pešta, in: Die Unsterblichkeit der Sterne, p.110, Kunstmuseum Solingen 2010, ISBN 3-936295-09-3 Search this book on .
- Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 16
- Zemánková T, En Bloc, 2018, p. 118
- Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 77
- Výkřik je mezní situace, na kterou jsme si zvykli, tvrdí výtvarník Daniel Pešta, interview with T. Zemánková, Czech Radio, March 12, 2018
- Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 101
- Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 41
- ArtinBox Gallery: Daniel Pešta
- Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 167
- Výstava Daniela Pešty - DeTermination v DOXu, ČTK, 30.1.2018
- Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 129
- Hana Slívová, Zlo ani dobro se nerodí jinde než v lidské hlavě, připomíná velká výstava Daniela Pešty, Aktuálně.cz, 26.1.2018
- Daniel Pešta, in: Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 26
- Artmix, Czech TV, 7.11.2017
- Daniel Pešta, in: Zemánková T, DeTermination, 2018, p. 102
- Timothy Warrington: Daniel Pešta - The Critique, International Confederation of Art Critics
- Now&After International Video Art Festival, the State Museum of GULAG: Daniel Pešta
- Official website
- Media related to [[commons:Lua error in Module:WikidataIB at line 466: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).|Lua error in Module:WikidataIB at line 466: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).]] at Wikimedia Commons
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