On 26 April 1934, the Prague-based satirical magazine Simplicus published a caricature on its cover addressing the growing international influence of the National Socialist Party on foreign cultural affairs. The caricature, drawn by the avant-garde artist Adolf Hoffmeister (1902–1973), shows an exhibition setting, in which portraits of National Socialist figureheads Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels, and Franz von Papen are on display. Below them, members of the Mánes artist association selection committee stand around a photograph by Hermann Goering. The caption below the image adds a comment by the German ambassador in Prague, Walter Koch, whose backside is turned towards the viewers: ‘Gentlemen, this one is perhaps still a bit too sharp.’ The main joke of the image is, of course, that the works discussed in the selection process are not caricatures but portrait photographs, presented as caricatures in an act of ridicule.
Prague’s breath-taking riverside location on the Vltava with the Hradčany, Charles Bridge and the Old Town never ceases to excite travellers and tourists alike. Prague has also always been considered a city with a life of its own, with winding streets, dark Gothic architecture and haunting ghosts making it a magical place in literature and art. Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) drew on these and other qualities of the picturesquely situated city in his sixteen Prague landscapes, painted between 1934 and 1938 when he was a refugee in the city and before he emigrated to England. In the 1930s, the city became the hub of emigrants in Europe when the National Socialists seized power in Germany and the political climate in Austria also became increasingly conservative with the rise of Austro-Fascism in 1934. Research often speaks of artists or arts in exile, but how much the artists were really affected by their travel stops is often difficult to assess. Often it was the hardship of political persecution and closing escape corridors that drove the artists from place to place in Europe, without one city in particular sticking in their memory or shaping their artistic practices. Chain migration is the term often used for this. Migration research, which has been enlivened by recent events in art history, is concerned with such cities of arrival, which had a particular influence on the emigrants, but which were often close beforehand through personal relationships.
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.
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).
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.