This month’s artwork has a double aspect. Primarily, it is a piece of design consisting of white porcelain plates, dishes and cups. Yet it is also a black and white photograph that depicts the set, highlights its qualities, and advances its presentation. It is an example of co-operation between the designer Ladislav Sutnar (1897–1976) and the photographer Josef Sudek (1896–1976). The two collaborated on many images depicting and advertising Sutnar’s porcelain sets, glassware or cutlery. While this article pays attention to the role of photography in communicating design, its main focus is the porcelain set. What is of particular interest is the place it occupied between commerce and art in the attempt to elevate the aesthetic standards of a regular Czechoslovak home.
Category: Artwork of the Month
Artwork of the Month, January 2023: Monument to Milan Rastislav Štefánik by Dušan Jurkovič (1928)
The casual hiker, walking through the hills of western Slovakia, will be astonished if they walk to the top of Bradlo Hill, 543 metres above sea level, to encounter a large, terraced, stone structure, consisting of a square platform, measuring 93 by 62 metres, supporting a second platform, 45 by 32 metres, on top of which is a pyramidal form, topped by sarcophagus, with 12 metre-tall obelisks on each corner. Its monumental scale and the rusticated nature of the stonework might lead the uninformed visitor to imagine they had stumbled across some ancient temple, except for the lettering around the sarcophagus, which reads: ‘The liberated Czechoslovak nation to a great son / Czechoslovak minister and general Dr. Milan R. Štefánik, 21 July 1880 – 4 May 1919 / He perished in an aircrash on 4 May 1919 near Bratislava / With him [were] the royal Italian sergeant U[mberto] Merlino and private. G[abriel] Aggiunti’ (Veľkému synovi oslobodený národ československý / Čs. minister a generál Dr. Milan R. Štefánik + 21. júla 1880 4. mája 1919 / S ním kráľ. taliansky serg. U. Merlino a Sol. G. Aggiunti / Zahynul pádom lietadla dňa 4. mája 1919 pri Bratislave).
Artwork of the Month, December 2022: Bundt-Cake Madonna by Margit Kovács (1938)
The Hungarian town of Szentendre is known for its small museums dedicated to individual artists, but the Margit Kovács Museum stood out in popularity after it first opened in 1973. Looking at the ceramicist’s Bundt-Cake Madonna, it is not hard to understand why. As the title indicates, the conical shape of the Madonna’s body is designed to recall a cake; the white glazing on the surface, then, makes us think of the cake’s icing. The baby Jesus wears the same, cake-shaped garment, but a tiny one, and his mother holds him lovingly, gently bending her neck to touch her face to the baby’s crown. It is a sweet composition, and it is also a very well-formed one, which unites simple, pure form with intricate surface decoration, so that the ceramic sculpture as a whole appears robust and solid, rather than finicky. It represents a cake that is not only sweet, but also filling; a dessert of considerable substance.
Artwork of the Month, November 2022: Design for an Advertising Poster for Piešťany by Ladislav Csáder (1932–36)
When studying the history of the avant-garde movement during the interwar period, the Slovak avant-garde remains relatively unexplored and in need of further investigation. Omitted from international works and under-represented in its own country, this key moment in Slovak modernity has recently become a priority area of research at the Slovak Design Museum in Bratislava.  A key resource in this context has been the archives of Iva Mojžišová (1939–2014), an art historian who devoted much time and energy to studying, collecting and preserving materials relating the School of Design in Bratislava (ŠUR, Škola umeleckých remesiel).  The school, around which the Slovak avant-garde was structured, no longer exists, and it is thanks to Mojžišová that documentation related to many of the designers who worked there are now to be found in the Slovak Design Museum. Other archives have also recently been opened to researchers, such as that of Ladislav (László) Csáder (1909–1975), a graphic designer whose rich oeuvre has yet to be fully discovered. Images like the one we will study more closely here testify to the merit of granting him a place in the international avant-garde movement.
Artwork of the Month, October 2022: Cover of Moderne Welt by Carry Hauser (1934)
In August 1934, the Austrian illustrated magazine Moderne Welt featured a bright cover of a couple in folk dress, which appeared to stand in full contradiction with the modernity emphasised in its title. Yet the cover perfectly illustrates a shift in modern Austrian culture towards what we might call ‘alpine modernity’. Representing a trend embracing the country’s alpine geography and folk traditions, it had begun to develop in the 1920s but gained special importance during the reactionary Dollfuss-Schuschnigg regime of the 1930s. With its peculiar mix of technological progress and rural life, Austria’s ‘alpine modernity’ reinvented the country as a tourist-friendly, German, Catholic country, whose most remarkable features were ‘cosiness’ (‘Gemütlichkeit‘), natural beauty, and the celebration of folk traditions and religious life. International tourist advertising aside, this image also circulated widely in the national press, and encouraged city dwellers, especially, to venture out and explore their home country. Thus, even though the folkloric naivety of the image appears to represent the very opposite of the modern world proclaimed in the magazine title, the two poles were not as far removed from one another as the cover may initially suggest. Moreover, the cover was designed by Carry Hauser (1895–1985), a painter, stage designer, printmaker, and writer, who was closely involved in efforts to rejuvenate Austrian culture after the First World War. Contextualising the Moderne Welt cover in relation to Hauser’s work as well as the magazine, this Artwork of the Month essay shows that Austrian modern culture maintained strong ties to rural culture throughout the interwar years and promoted it at home just as much as abroad.