Nativity, a 1981 acrylic on canvas of gigantic proportions, is one of the largest paintings jointly created by Group Normal, who made their mark on international postmodernism by rejecting artistic individualism and instead creating joint works and participating in public happening events in twos or threes. The group was founded by three classmates from the Düsseldorf Academy, at the time a renowned centre for the arts, home to e.g. Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter. The Nuremberg landscape painter Peter Angermann joined the Czech painters Jan Knap and Milan Kunc, both of whom fled their homeland in 1968. During its short period of intensive existence (1979–1981), the group won considerable acclaim in Germany, Italy and the USA, where its members alternately lived and worked, and provided an important source of inspiration for postmodern painting theory, especially by relinquishing individual authorship and thanks to a distinct sense of irony and sarcasm manifested both in the group’s paintings and in the principles of their creation. This secularization of the almost sacred approach to a work of art is further highlighted by the inclusion of sacral motifs in many of the group’s paintings.
Although the group achieved international recognition in the early 1980s (with their work featured at the legendary Times Square Show in 1980), their fame failed to reach Communist Czechoslovakia as both Knap and Kunc were considered to be undesirable emigrants. Unfortunately, the situation remained unchanged even after the Velvet Revolution, as the National Gallery and its then director Milan Knížák believed that the work of emigrants has no place in Czech, let alone international art. Only in 2005 did Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontová of Flash Art, curators of the second edition of the Prague Biennale, which – following a rift with Knížák – took place almost illegally in an abandoned industrial hall in the Karlín district, finally succeed in presenting the first retrospective of Group Normal to the Czech audience.
This painting was created at one of the group’s public happenings in Germany in 1981; due to its extraordinary size, it was subsequently stored in one of Peter Angermann’s studios until 2013 when it was purchased by the Pro arte Investment Fund. Since it suffered extensive damage during the nearly quarter century of storage, it was painstakingly restored and mounted by Pro arte experts prior to its very first exhibition. The painting was first presented to the public on Advent Sunday 2014 at the company’s first annual Christmas Salon. It remained in the main hall of the Wratislaw Palace in Prague until Christmas 2018. The Christmas motif itself, set in a typical Central European village is apocryphal, yet traditional. The painting was created by only two of the three members of Group Normal. The figures of Mary and Baby Jesus as well as the donkey, cows and other animals were painted by Jan Knap while the landscape background is the work of Peter Angermann.
Peter Angermann, Streetview, Gallery of Fine Arts in Cheb, 6. 2. – 20. 4. 2014.
Pro arte, Prague, the main hall of Vratislavský Palace, 25. 11. 2014 – 15. 1. 2016.
Jan Knap, Gallery Klatovy Klenová 18. 6. – 8. 9. 2017
Purchased from Peter Angermann in 2013.