Toyen: The Paradise of the Blacks, 1925

Artwork of the Month, March 2022: The Paradise of the Blacks by Toyen (1925)

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a negrophile is ‘someone (especially a white person) who is very sympathetic to or supportive of Black people, their culture, or their rights and interests.’[1] The levels of sympathy and support may, indeed, differ and be open to interpretation. Negrophilia, then, is the attraction to Black culture and Black people, often linked to the fascination of the interwar avant-garde with Africans and African Americans in European metropolises.[2] Between the wars, Black culture became a subject of inspiration, captivation but mostly exploitation by many writers, poets, painters, musicians, or dancers from Paris to Prague.

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Interior view of th exhibition Civilised Woman

Whose modernity is it? A Brno exhibition that highlights the paradox of the interwar ‘civilised’ woman

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.[1]

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.

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Toyen: The Dreaming Rebel: Exhibition review

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.

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Artwork of the Month, July 2021: Logo of the Salzburg Festival by Poldi Wojtek (1928)

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.[1] 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.

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