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.
Is it still contemporary to write monographic studies on individual artists? And how would one do so in an engaging manner? These two questions frame the outset of an extensive artist study, whose outcome is Bohumil Kubišta a Evropa (Bohumil Kubišta and Europe). At almost seven hundred pages and weighing approximately four kilograms, the book is a heavyweight in every sense of the word – including the manner in which it seeks to challenge, refresh and extend research on the painter Bohumil Kubišta (1884–1918).
The year 2019 saw the centenary of the creation of Red Vienna, in other words, the period of majority municipal government of the Austrian capital by the Social Democratic Party. The term ‘Red Vienna,’ which was in fact coined by a Christian Socialist opponent, has long functioned as a placeholder for Vienna’s progressive city administration as well as, more generally, the left of centre cultural and intellectual life that flourished in the 15 years between 1919 and 1934, when the newly installed dictatorship of Engelbert Dollfuss (1892–1934) brought it to a halt.
However, beyond this general summary, how might we characterise Red Vienna and what does it mean for us in the present? Undoubtedly, its most visible monuments are the communal housing blocks that were constructed around the city: the so-called Ringstrasse of the proletariat. These have been the subject of intense interest and study, especially the Gargantuan Karl-Marx-Hof (1927–33) designed by Karl Ehn (1884–1957), and, as one of the main locations of the brief civil war fought in February 1923, a highly important lieu de mémoire. Another example, the Winarsky Hof, has been mentioned on this blog in an article discussing the monument to Ferdinand Lassalle erected there. Yet ‘Red Vienna’ was a much more complex phenomenon, and it is this complexity that the anthology edited by Rob Macfarland, Georg Spitaler and Ingo Zechner, Das Rote Wien / The Red Vienna Sourcebook, attempts to convey.
Bohumil Kubišta (1884–1918) and Emil Filla (1882–1953) were two prominent Czech painters of the early 20th century, whose work is the subject of the latest publication by Marie Rakušanová. The Czech-language volume Kubišta – Filla: Plzeňská disputace focuses on the relationship between the two main protagonists and their connections with other people that were friends or colleagues of the artists. This seemingly narrow focus, however, provides an opportunity for the author to examine in detail how radically the Czech art world changed during a relatively short period of time. The relationships that formed fast and dissolved even faster, the quickly established artistic groups with a diversity of aims and membership that never lasted long, prove how rapid the transformation was in the art and society of the time.