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 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.
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.