1930s Avant-garde rediscovered


Shadowplays, Fotoline, Cut - Out Colours: Coloured Paper Collages, Black and White: Prints, Line and Colour: Drawings and Paintings..... All of that and much more is represented in the 'Avant-Garde Across Media' exhibition which is under way at the Prague Municipal House.

The show looks at an association of artists called 'Linie' - 'The Line' who were active in 1930s. They formed an important yet nowadays almost forgotten part of the Czech inter-war avant-garde. Similar to other European avant-garde groups the 'Linie' had its own programme and distinctive features. They published their own journal and got involved in all sorts of art disciplines, from fine art to literature.

Even though the 'Linie' group is very little known, not only in Europe but in the Czech Republic itself, the exhibition curator Jaroslav Andel feels that it deserves to be rediscovered.

"It's extremely interesting because in that time in the 1930's it would be really difficult to find a similar group, not only in the Czech Republic, but I believe also in the other European countries. The 1930's was a period of the growth of the totalitarian states, like in Germany, Soviet Union, the civil war in Spain etc. So unlike the 1920's, which was an optimistic decade, the 30's were full of social and economic contradictions. That meant that also artists became much more politically engaged, but also polarized."

The artistic vision of modern life in its broad sense from the 20's was corrupted by conflicting ideologies. But the 'Linie' remained independent.

"There would be a good comparison with e.g. the surrealist group in Czechoslovakia or elsewhere because surrealists were rather well known for their dogmatic stands which meant that these groups wee often very strict in terms of who could be a member - it was almost like a political party. That's very different from the 'Linie' which had a kind of open membership, they invited artists with a different point of view and they also practised a variety of styles and approaches."

The leading figure of this group, Josef Bartuska, was one of the most versatile artists of the inter-war avant-garde. He was a poet photographer, painter, graphic artist, draughtsman, collage artist, columnist, musician, theatre director and even filmmaker. But other members of the group also crossed between different disciplines. The group's major contributions were in the spheres of avant-garde photography, collage and book design.

Jaroslav Andel accompanied me through the exhibition and commented on some of the pieces.

"The exhibition opens with collages by Josef Bartuska, which are cut outs from coloured paper. There are collages which are very different from the dada or surrealist collages. These are much closer to later collages by Henry Matisse who in the late 1940's and early 50's made a series of wonderful work of this genre. Josef Bartuska actually uses the same technique in the early 30's and produced a great number of these collages which are wonderful in their inventiveness and playfullnes."

Well, let's have a look at some of the photographs now.

"Photography played an important role in the 'Linie' group. As a matter of fact, the first exhibition of the 'Linie' was called New Photography. Many members of 'Linie' became involved and interested in photography including Josef Bartuska. He had his own vision of photography. He coined the term 'shadowplace' - that is photographs of cast shadows - and explored this topic for many years. These photographs are also closely related to his poems. There are many interesting parallels between his poems - the verbal images and photographs."

Like other avant-garde groups, the "Linie" promoted progress and modernity. What made them different from some other movements of the time was their ultimate stress on beauty. Josef Bartuska's words, 'I shall use all things beautiful,' best expresses this attitude.

The exhibition is open daily till 7th November, and you'll find it in Prague's Municipal House.


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