The exhibition mapping the phenomenon of Czech women's tennis through the eyes of photographer Radka Leitmeritz brought the spirit of sport into the peaceful gardens at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague.
The series of large-format photographs on easels under a branching Linden tree is accompanied by old wooden rackets with loose weaves, casually stacked in a plastic IKEA box next to a battered metal wardrobe. A contrasting mix of shabby nostalgia and the confident ambience of white tennis jerseys runs throughout the exhibition. A path of dusty clay borders a carefully mown lawn with barely visible chalk lines.
The red dust clings to the shoes of the museum’s visitors as well as to the clothes and bodies of the tennis players. With their backs turned to us, the dirt of the tennis court stuck to the usually pristine white jerseys seems out of place and playful at the same time. The averted faces of the athletes are impossible to read and therefore we can only assume that the sweat, dust and scraped knees are the dark side of spectacular tennis matches.
Between 2019 – 2022 photographer Radka Leitmeritz created a series of portraits of nine of the most famous Czech tennis players: Martina Navrátilová, Hana Mandlíková, Helena Suková, Barbora Strýcová, Petra Kvitová, Karolina Plíšková, Barbora Krejčíková, Karolína Muchová and Markéta Vondroušová. The portraits are a mix of various styles - Helena Suková’s relaxed posture in a light tracksuit with her racket casually leant against a fence could be used as an image to accompany her interview in a lifestyle magazine, Markéta Vondroušová with her arms full of rackets like some bizarre flower arrangement looks like she just stepped off the cover of Vogue. Meanwhile, Petra Kvitová and Karolína Plíšková are captured completely informally. Karolína casually shields her face against the sun with her racket as light falls on half of her face, and Petra rests on a wooden bench with peeling turquoise paint. The image of Barbora Krejčíková in short pyjamas with two teddy bears looks a bit infantile among the shots of physical strength and rigid discipline. The publication ONE:LOVE was created as part of the COURT SUPREMES project in collaboration with curator Danica Kovářová and was launched at the exhibition by Barbora Strýcová.
The exhibition is a playful medley of photographs of celebrities and candid shots of old tennis clubs, abandoned courts and discarded sports equipment. These have an almost graphic quality, enhanced by geometric patterns of dividing lines and stretched nets. Their atmosphere would resonate with the Last Resort series by British photographer Martin Paar. The glass balcony of Tatran Střešovice reminds us of Le Corbusier's prefabricated buildings, while the bluish net of the Cibulka tennis club resembles the sea. The exhibition was accompanied by a publication created in collaboration with curator Danica Kovářová, its launch hosted by Barbora Strýcová.
The installation in the corner of the garden pavilion is a voyeuristic look behind the scenes of the sport. A forgotten towel hangs from the changing locker door, an old racket lies on a tiled bench. Even the trophies displayed, or maybe just left, on top of the locker give off a sense of abandonment. Martina Navratilova's scuffed, trampled sneakers are discreetly stored on a shelf. The huge golden trophy behind them resembles a monstrance. After all, contemporary sport is just another form of idol worship. A white reception desk with a flat-screen TV and a furry tennis ball embossing brings a sense of the tennis world’s luxurious glamour. Perhaps it hides the echo of racket strikes as the audience watches each point with bated breath. Or maybe it just serves the function of a witty site-specific design that casually complements the regular grid of the prism glass tile wall behind it.
Next time you stroll through the Old Town in the summer heat, make sure to visit the garden of the Museum of Decorative Arts. You will get the sense of the atmosphere of dusty courts, sweat, tanned arms and snow-white socks.
The exhibition is open until 30 July 2023.
Czech photographer originally from Litoměřice, living in Los Angeles, where she focuses on portrait photography of film stars. She is the author of many advertising campaigns for luxury fashion and cosmetic brands and has been published in major international magazines and journals - T-Magazine, Vogue, Wallpaper, W, Vanity Fair, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Harper's Bazaar, L'Officiel, Wall Street Journal, Elle, Numero, In Style and New York Magazine. Together with her partner and colleague Rene Hallen, she won the prestigious American Press Award for her portrait of Nicole Kidman for Variety magazine.