In the small town of Nymburk, some 55 kilometres to the East of Prague, sits one of the more unusual examples of interwar architecture in Czechoslovakia: the town crematorium. Built between 1922 and 1924, it is a plain rectangular main building – the ceremonial hall – with cylindrical front and back. Thanks to its plain unornamented forms, its low rectangular base, and a flat overhanging rectangular roof, it strikes the viewer like an exercise in the exploration of elementary geometry. This impression is reinforced by the portico around the sides and front, consisting of squat, plain columns. Everything about the building appears mis-proportioned. The portico columns seem too wide for their height, and the height (and that of the ground storey) appears to be out of proportion to the rest of the building. The upper part of the ceremonial hall thus looms over the storey below. In addition, the distance of the columns from the rest of the building gives it a squat appearance, as if it had in some sense been compressed by some enormous weight. We might dismiss this unprepossessing structure as a misconceived design, except that it is highly revealing not only about developments in architecture in Czechoslovakia, but also about social and cultural developments in Czechoslovak society.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Future Prospects for Art History in Central Europe: Questions, Methods, Topics
A workshop organised at Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Art History
on 17-18 June 2020
What are the most prominent and important issues motivating art historians in east-central Europe at present? Are they methodological? Political? Thematic? Curatorial / museological? Conceptual? Or are they to do with debates relating to a particular period or geographical question?
This workshop is intended to provide a forum for considering answers to that question and for an assessment of the current state of art history in east-central Europe. Its aim, too, is to identify one or more potential projects that might give art historical practice in east-central Europe a higher profile and underpin an application for a European Research Council synergy grant (https://erc.europa.eu/funding/synergy-grants).
Since 1989, art historians from countries such as Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary and Romania have benefitted from unprecedented intellectual freedom, yet their voice has often still to be heard on the wider global stage. Where they gain international attention, it is mostly as authorities on specifically ‘national’ questions, or the wider problematics of ‘east-central Europe.’
Does this mean they will always be consigned to relative historiographic isolation? Or is it possible to find a voice that has wider resonance? If so, what form might that take? What are the most pressing contemporary concerns of art historians from east-central European countries, but which are not necessarily about the art of east-central Europe? What do art historians in east-central Europe have in common with their peers elsewhere? In what ways can they develop greater collaboration that goes beyond transnational research into the art of east-central Europe?
Speakers are asked to focus on a single question, topic or methodological issue they regard as being of particular significance for the present and future development of the discipline.
It may relate to art of any time: from prehistory to contemporary art. Topics might include, for example: research technologies; period concepts; new interpretative methodologies and aesthetic concepts; publication strategies; curatorial practices; the national-political and linguistic framing of research; the geographical organization of the map of art history; new modes of art historical representation; new political imperatives.
They may also address practices from east-central Europe but, equally, speakers are encouraged to consider how they relate to art and architecture across the globe. For example, do art historians approach art and architecture elsewhere in a way that is distinctive? Do their own intellectual traditions and socio-political circumstances shape the way they interpret art? Has the history of the art and architecture of east-central Europe prompted debates and questions that have pertinence for art history more generally?
Speakers are asked to present a paper of ca. 25 minutes on a single issue or topic for detailed group discussion, and to indicate its significance and wider possible ramification. It may relate to their own recent research but, equally, it may consist of a critical observation of the practice of art history by their peers.
They will be asked to submit their paper in advance; each paper will be assigned a discussant who will lead the conversation and response to the paper.
Proposals of 300 words should be submitted to:
Prof. Matthew Rampley, Department of Art History, Masaryk University Brno.
The deadline for submission of proposals is: 6 March 2020.
Masaryk University will cover the costs of accommodation and subsistence while in Brno.
To many, the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 following the traumatic war experience promised a reorganisation of the unjust class system and social and class change became the dream of many leftist artists. Creating a new visual language that would not be elitist and appeal especially to the disadvantaged working classes was an idea promoted by many individuals and collectives from the foundation of the new state. The artistic association Devětsil was born on these principles in 1920. Its key representatives were the young men of Prague and, from 1923, of Brno, who engaged in various artistic forms: painting, sculpture, architecture, design, film, photography, literature, theatre. The choice of the name Devětsil is a mystery. The Czech word refers to a plant, a butterbar, while the literary translation of nine forces could suggest a connection with the nine Greek muses.
Our December Artwork of the Month features a haunted castle: the castle of Hričov (Hricsó, Ricsó; today in Slovakia) as represented by the artist Ferdiš Duša (1888–1958). Born in Frýdlant nad Ostravicí in Moravia-Silesia, Duša undertook a number of study trips to Slovakia in the 1920s and 1930s, producing, amongst many other things, a series of wood engravings narrating a journey along the river Váh. In doing so, he drew on a pictorial and literary tradition that reached back to the early nineteenth century and encapsulated the multi-ethnic character of the region. His prints transferred the spectres of this past into the interwar period, a time defined by new national borders and the idea of modern, exclusive national identities.
The second CRAACE conference, ‘Multiplying Modernity: Vernacular Modernisms, Nostalgia and the Avant-Garde’, took place in the East Slovak Gallery, Košice, from 6 to 7 December 2019 and examined the roles of folk art, the vernacular and regionalism in interwar East/Central European modernism. The conference programme can be accessed here.