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.
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.
‘In Zurich, the head of a hospital dismissed a female attendant because she had her hair cut short. Would it be possible for the female head of a hospital to fire a male attendant for this reason?’ asked Adolf Loos (1870–1933) in his response to the question ‘Kurz oder lang – männlich oder weiblich?’ (Short or long – masculine or feminine?) posed by the Viennese newspaper Neue Freie Presse in 1928. Subtitled ‘Comments from prominent artists on the women’s fashion crisis,’ the questionnaire appealed to seven respondents – six men and one woman – for their views on the recent trend of women having short haircuts. Loos’s response was the odd one out, because he saw no reason to even ask such question. While it would be a stretch to portray him as a defender of gender equality, Loos’s argument for the short haircut could be seen as part and parcel of his belief in modernity and the practicality of design. All the other respondents were much more critical of the short hair, citing as problems the masculinisation of women, slavery to fashion, or the need to look after a short haircut much more. The actress Lili Marberg (1876–1962) also noted that while she could see the benefits of short hair for sports, it did not go well with evening dresses, which she liked wearing.
The ‘crisis of women’s fashion’ was a phenomenon widely discussed not only in Austria but around Central Europe at this time. At the same time, short hair in the form of the bubikopf (a bob) became a symbol of women’s emancipation, modernity and their liberation from the tradition of the home-bound woman. It, nevertheless, quickly gained new connotations and apart from signifying freedom, the short hair quickly became associated with a lack of femininity, with promiscuity, and even Jewishness. In Czechoslovakia the symbolic cutting of long hair became the main subject in a poster promoting an exhibition on women’s modernity called The Civilised Woman. The exhibition, which took place in the city of Brno at the end of 1929 and beginning of 1930, tried to put forward a vision of the modern way of dressing for women.
One of Austria’s most established cultural highlights each summer is the Salzburg Festival of music and drama. Taking place annually since 1920, the festival was the brainchild of the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929) and the director Max Reinhardt (1873–1943), who sought to give a new lease of life to Austrian culture after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. In his ground-breaking analysis of the festival’s early days, the historian Michael P. Steinberg has shown that Hoffmannsthal conceived of the event as an affirmation of a new Austrian identity, which aimed to merge a cosmopolitan outlook with a deep Catholicism and sense of greater German identity. This sense of ‘national cosmopolitanism’ as a new Austrian culture was also anchored in the turn away from the old imperial capital Vienna – located Austrian identity instead in Salzburg, a former independent prince-archbishopric and Baroque city in the Austrian alps. The festival thus manifested a different kind of modernity in Austrian interwar culture – one that embraced conservatism and nationalism as a significant part of its post-imperial identity.
Two prominent art institutions in Prague are currently hosting two exhibitions of Alfons Mucha that try to place his work in a contemporary context. Although having the same curator, Karel Srp, they take seemingly different approaches. They, nevertheless, share the question as to whether Mucha is relevant today and if so, why and how and in what format his work might best exhibited.
Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) was a renowned graphic artist, applied arts designer, photographer and painter who spent his life partly in Paris, the USA and Bohemia. He is mostly famed for a variety of posters that promoted and advertised a wide range of lush, fin-de-siècle products: drinks, cigarettes, perfumes as well as the theatrical performances Paris based actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923). His oeuvre, however, also included painting, again in a wide range of genres from portraits to murals; as well as photography and design of household items, such as vases, candle sticks and furniture.