Artwork of the Month, July 2020: The Black Boy by Helena Johnová (1912–c. 1939)

The Black Boy was the most commercially successful work of the Czech ceramicist Helena Johnová (1884–1962) with nearly 900 sold items of various colour versions. The black figure with exaggerated facial features, however, may well raise eyebrows today, but also a number of questions. These are worth exploring in connection with interwar art and design in Central Europe, as well as with current political issues. The most obvious ones relate to ethnic and gender stereotypes, which still resonate today thanks to the #BlackLivesMatter and #metoo movements. Many people, even academic scholars, argue that the current Czech and, by extension, Central European society has never had problems with racism or sexism, and that therefore issues highlighted by these movements are irrelevant in this geographical and political context. If we look at Johnová’s work more closely, we can, however, point to deep-rooted beliefs that shape today’s understanding of race and racial equality; we can question the assumption that because there were no colonies, there were no stereotypical views of race.

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We Are Awarding PhD Studentships

The CRAACE (Continuity/Rupture: Art and Architecture in Central Europe 1918-1939) team is inviting applications from those interested in undertaking PhD research at the Department of Art History, Masaryk University, Brno.

Proposals are particularly encouraged from students with an interest in modernism from the first half of the 20th century, focusing on central and east-central Europe. This may be about topics in the history of art, design and architecture, art criticism and theory, as well as the historiography of art. Students will be able to write their research dissertation in English or Czech.

Successful candidates will receive a studentship of CZK 24,000 per month. They will also be eligible for additional support in meeting research costs.

The submission period for applications is: 1 August – 31 November 2020, for enrolment in Spring 2021.

Applicants will need to apply to Masaryk University through the usual application procedure, including a formal research proposal. The details can be  found here: https://www.phil.muni.cz/en/studies/doctoral-degree-study-programme/how-to-apply

Successful applicants will be expected to register for the programme by 1 March 2021. Funding will be available until the end of 2023.

For an initial informal discussion, please contact: Prof. Matthew Rampley, rampley@muni.cz.

More information on the CRAACE project can be found here: https://craace.com

For more information on the Department of Art History see here: https://arthistory.phil.muni.cz/

Artwork of the Month, June 2020: A Walk Through the Metropolis by Erika Giovanna Klien (1923)

The artwork of the month for June 2020 is A Walk Through the Metropolis by Erika Giovanna Klien (1900–1957). It is perhaps the most ambitious and imposing example of the short-lived Viennese art movement known as ‘Kinetism’ that flourished in the early 1920s. Executed in gouache on paper, it consists of seven one meter-square panels laid alongside each other resulting in a work that is seven meters in length. The city it depicts is a site of thrilling, dynamic encounters, between the spectator and the physical environment, between buildings, and between the spectator and unspecified others on the street. The metropolis is a place of life and energy, and the work communicates, too, a sense of urban noise. Yet who was Klien, and what was Kinetism?

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Neighbours: An Austrian-Czech History Book: Book review

Relationship status: it’s complicated. Summarised in the vernacular of the virtual age, Austrian-Czech relations have long been characterised as uneasy, bolstered by a range of stereotypes established across the past centuries – the Czech as the beer-swelling yokel ‘Václav’, the Austrian as the kaisertreu snobbish brute, or a country bumpkin with right-wing sentiments. Rather than to divulge in these exaggerated characterisations any further – which are often malicious, sometimes humorous, and occasionally contain a grain of truth – Neighbours: An Austrian-Czech History Book draws attention to the joint history of the two countries in a decidedly more positive light.

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‘The Czech Vienna School’ and ‘Questions of Periodisation’: New articles by Marta Filipová and Julia Secklehner

The latest issue of the Journal of Art Historiography (No 22, June 2020) contains articles by two CRAACE researchers, Marta Filipová and Julia Secklehner.

In her article ‘The Czech Vienna School and the Art of the “Small People”‘, Marta Filipová examines the discipline of art history in interwar Czechoslovakia and its Austro-Hungarian legacies, paying particular attention to questions of modernity, class, and folk art and design. The article focuses on the attitudes of the Vienna School’s followers to folk art and primarily examines the writings of the Czech art historians Zdeněk Wirth (1878-1961) and Antonín Matějček (1888-1950). Their attention to art created by ‘the small people’ of villages and the countryside had clear parallels in the theories of Alois Riegl. Both Czech art historians, however, developed Riegl’s views further. Aware of the impact of modernity and industrialisation on art production, they related folk art to a specific class and the social, economic and ethnic changes in the Czech lands in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The text therefore scrutinises their reasons for the continued concern with folk art in the light of the legacy of the Vienna School.

In the same issue, Julia Secklehner published a report on the conference ‘Questions of Periodisation in the Art Historiographies of Central and Eastern Europe‘, held at the New Europe College – Institute for Advanced Study in Bucharest between 30 November and 1 December 2019.