Běla Kolářová’s works came about together with those of her husband, Jiří Kolář. It was in his presence that she began moving in experimental circles at the turn of the 1950s / 1960s focused on language and its visual form. The artist took part in several important collective shows for projects (Crossroads / Křižovatka, 1964; New Sensitivity / Nová citlivost, 1968; Surrealism and Photography / Surrealismus a fotografie, 1966-67 etc.). She also had her own independent exhibit at Prague‘s Gallery on Charles Square (1966), where the gallery curator, Ludmila Vachtová, indubitably gave space for experiments. Together with Jiří Kolář and the Ságls, she took part in the provocative exhibit, Somewhere something / Někde něco, in the Špálova Gallery in 1969. This event paved the way for conceptual expression (speech).
Despite the fact that Kolářová’s work belongs among the direct expressions of current sensitivity and combines aspects of neo-Dadaism and constructivism, they have managed to elude the interest of the broader public. Between 1985-1999 she lived with her husband in Paris. It was only in the early 1990s that she began to present her work on a regular basis via separate exhibits, most commonly held in galleries outside Prague.
This first phase of Běla Kolářová’s work is focused on photographic experimentation created directly in a black box without the help of cameras. The miniature negatives, from which she copied her first photos in 1961, are in and of themselves unique material studies that immediately imprint reality into soft paraffin. Afterwards rotary photographs followed „x-ray circuits / rentgenogramy kruhu“ (1962) and the photographic „light sketches / kresby světlem“, which developed from manipulation of objects (1962-1963). In 1963 and 1964 she created a series of photographic portrait „derealisations“ of key modern poets and authors (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Jarry, Ionesco, Weiner, Beckett, Morgenstern, Whitman, Proust, Sandburg, Cendrars et. al.) and a series of hair photographs similarly inspired by literature (antique poetry, Elisabeth Browning). Photographs of banal objects and their fragments, arranged into geometric design grids (1963-1964) proceeded her transition to three-dimensional assemblage.
No less significant are her creations in the field of material assemblage. Rational construction of surfaces from minor objects also helped her pave the way to becoming a pioneer in Czech constructivism and minimalism. She often integrates however into her constructs very personal meanings. A significant motto for much of her works is the theme positive vs. negative, the tension between opposites as two individual entities that together create a whole. Part of her creations is a natural sense of playfulness and games, deforming original meaning and humour.
Her independent exhibit from 1966, where she presented the whole of her basic arsenal of materials (paper brads, office staples, paper clips, razors, clamps/tabs and knitting needles, bobby pins, matches, mouse pads, and coral beads), represents the first pinnacle of her assemblage works. Her second high was the autobiographical work CV of one paper brad / Životopis jedné patentky (1981), in which she measures (balances) her own life in a dialogue with a constantly-changing historical context.
After the second half of the 1970s we encounter in Kolářová’s works a number of oversized drawings made of make-up and touches/brushes from the body. The intimacy of the message is here again balanced out by the geometric layout of the basic set up of surfaces.
We understand Běla Kolárová’s works as a noteworthy synthesis of intimacy and willpower with order. It is an early example of unpretentious, but very precisely thought out tension between male and female principles. It is also a dialogue of intense bodily feelings and the artist’s literary and broader cultural background.
Antonín Dufek, Das Medium Fotografie im Zeitalter Künstlerischer Avantgarden, In: Europa, Europa, katalog výstavy, Bonn 1994
Josef Hlaváček, Příběh Běly Kolářové. In: Běla Kolářová, katalog výstavy v Egon Schiele Art Centrum, Český Krumlov 2003
Jiří Valoch, Běla Kolářová, In: katalog výstavy v Národní galerii v Praze, Lenka Zapletalová (ed.), Praha 2006.
Marie Klimešová, Ondřej Zatloukal a Jakub Potůček: Experiment, řád, důvěrnost – ženské rastry Běly Kolářové, katalog retrospektivní výstavy v Muzeu umění Olomouc, 2006. (zde též nejúplnější bibliografie)
Běla Kolářová, Jedna z cest, 60.léta 20.století, In: katalog výstavy v SG Litoměřice, 1997