The history of architecture is littered with designers who, for various reasons, have disappeared from the record or have remained on the margins. One of the unfortunate architects to have suffered this fate was Bedřich Feuerstein (1892–1936), who is known primarily for the crematorium he designed in Nymburk. The exhibition of his work now at the Technical Museum in Prague is a welcome and long overdue event. The curator, Helena Čapková, has already published a book on Feuerstein’s work, and this exhibition is a crystallisation as well as a development of her earlier research on him.
She was the perfect type of modern girl around 1930, a kind of vague thing between an adult girl and an underage boy, between physical culture and mental exhaustion, between gymnastics and black dance, between classical sculpture and the products of the modern art industry.
Taken from the book Ženy na rampě (Women on the ramp, 1934), this quote by the writer Maryna Fričová encapsulates the paradoxes of the ideal modern woman as she graced the covers of women’s magazines, featured in movies and presented the latest fashion in interwar Czechoslovakia. Projected on a wall at the entrance to the exhibition Civilizovaná žena: Ideál i paradox prvorepublikové vizuální kultury (Civilised Woman: Ideal and Paradox in the Visual Culture of the First Republic), curated by Martina Pachmanová and Kateřina Svatoňová at the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Fričová’s statement serves as an ideal starting point to an exhibition, which focuses on the Czech type of the modern woman – the ‘civilised woman’ – and her representation in interwar visual culture.
Prague Castle has become a distinctive symbol of the way that the built environment can be appropriated by political power. In such a prominent setting, linked with a long tradition of feudal sovereigns and presidents, any architectural exhibition is therefore a notable affair. The current exhibition of Czech Architecture from Art Nouveau to Today (the Czech title is slightly different: Česká moderní architektura od secese dnešku) installed in the old Riding School of Prague Castle attempts to tell one general story, but in so doing it seems to reveal more than the curators, in fact, intended.
One of interwar Czechoslovakia’s best-known younger artists, Toyen (1902–1980, born Marie Čermínová) had a long and productive career – first as a member of the interwar avant-garde Devětsil group, then as a founding member of the Prague surrealist group, and finally as a core member of André Breton’s Paris surrealist group. Through almost five decades and many stylistic shifts, Toyen forged a remarkable and unusual career, not least because of her important role as a woman central to, rather than peripheral to, three important creative groups. Works such as the moody and lyrical abstractions of her Artificialist period, and surrealist paintings such as Dream (1937) and Eclipse (1968), have assured Toyen’s significance in the contexts of both the Czech and the international avant-garde. In recent years, Toyen has also become a figure of interest for the international trans community, due to the artist’s gender-ambiguous self-styling.
What would an exhibition look like that exclusively acknowledged women’s contributions to modern design? A possible answer to this question can currently be found at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna, where Women Artists of the Wiener Werkstätte puts the work of the Viennese Workshops (Wiener Werkstätte, WW) design company’s female artists and designers in focus. It is the first large show at the MAK since its reopening after the lockdown, having had to be postponed for over six months. The accompanying publication Women Artists of the Wiener Werkstätte, was already published in 2020, offering an introduction to topics such as toy design, ceramics and training in thematic essays, as well as biographies of all the WW’s female artists whose details could be traced.