An article by CRAACE research fellow Marta Filipová, ‘“Highly Civilized, yet Very Simple”: Images of the Czechoslovak State and Nation at Interwar World’s Fairs,‘ has just been published in the journal Nationalities Papers.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Exhibitions, new nations and the human factor, 1873–1939
CRAACE symposium, 4–5 April 2022
Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Paris
Keynote speaker: Professor Mary Pepchinski, Technical University Dresden
It is widely recognised that new political entities that came to existence as nation states from the end of the nineteenth century sought to legitimise their identities externally through participation at world’s fairs and internally through consolidation of their national collections in museums and galleries of art and design. While the official motivations and presentations have been examined quite thoroughly, the agency of many individuals involved in different stages of exhibition design has been overlooked.
This symposium aims to explore the relations – including discrepancies – between the official narratives of exhibitions, as devised by the organisers, and the narratives by individuals whose participation helped to construct the meaning and content of the exhibits. By this, the discussion moves away from the focus on the state apparatus and official ideologies towards the people who designed the national presentations, worked in them and visited them. Our main focus is on how exhibitions were used to consolidate new political identities. The period covered by the symposium begins with the Vienna World Fair of 1873 and concludes with the outbreak of the Second World War. It saw important changes in political and geographical circumstances globally, with the creation and recreation of, for instance, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary.
The Spa Fountain made its first appearance in the section on Tourism of the Czechoslovak pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris in 1937. The Fountain was one of three works displayed in this space by the Czech artist Zdeněk Pešánek (1896–1965), the other two being a set of free standing sculptures celebrating Electricity and a neon advertisement for the Bohemian spa town of Jáchymov, entitled Radium. The Fountain, as well as the other works by Pešánek, were light-kinetic sculptures; they used light, sound and movement in combination with different, and often novel materials. As an artistic movement, kinetism was established in central Europe in the 1920s. Yet, for artists like Erika Giovanna Klien (1900–1957) or František Kupka (1871–1957) the primary medium of kinetism was painting, which allowed them to explore movement and rhythm through colour, shapes and compositions. It was the Russian constructivists Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) and Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956) and the multimedia artists Alexander Calder (1898–1976) and László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) who then translated these effects into sculpture, bringing either controlled or unpredictable movement to an otherwise static medium.
“See! A vertical from steel of 1000 meters! This was made by Czech hands! Look out from above the clouds! This is the Czech land, our homeland!”
In 1937, the Czechoslovak government, the Chamber of Commerce and a number of businesses decided to host an international exhibition in Prague, scheduled to take place in 1942. The plan was published and immediately attracted the attention of a host of individuals and institutions. Part of the bid was a proposal to build a lookout tower which would be located on a hill in northern Prague and be 1000 meters high. The estimated price was a staggering 65,000,000 crowns; to put this amount into context, an average monthly salary at the time was 764 crowns. However excessive the idea may seem, the design was very well thought through and an elaborate rationale was provided.
Our artwork of the month – the first instalment in this new series – is not from the interwar period: it was created in 2008-2009. It has been chosen as an introductory piece because it represents an important aspect of our research in a thought-provoking way. Our project considers Central Europe after 1918 as a shared cultural space, but in doing so it has to deal with the political reality: the newly minted nation states of the region and the new borders drawn between them. These borders – either their enforcement, or, as in the case of Hungary, their fervent contestation – were central to political discourse in all of these countries. The concept of the nation state relies on the idea that the ethnic, cultural and administrative borders of a nation should correspond with each other; this is, however, rarely the case in reality. The new states of Central Europe were not homogeneous either ethnically or culturally. In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, different ethnic groups had not only lived side by side, but also intermingled. After 1918 the population of the region underwent a radical mental shift from imperial multi-nationalism towards ethnic nationalism. Yet, multi-ethnicity was still present, and cultural transfer happened between ethnicities and across borders. What does this curious map tell us about all this? Let’s take a look.