The exhibition Mysterious distances, Symbolism in Bohemian lands, is devoted to a specific category of fine art in the Czech lands, influenced by Symbolism in the 1880 – 1914 period. The dates of the exhibits are framed by the opening of the National Theatre and the outbreak of the First World War, the name of the exhibition is derived from the title of a volume of poems by Otakar Březina from the 1890s. The exhibition is the first project of this kind; so far Symbolism has been presented as a specific chapter in more extensive exhibitions. In each thematic chapter are thus introduced, in addition to the well-known and widely recognized artists (Alfons Mucha, Max Švabinský, František Bílek, Josef Váchal, Bohumil Kubišta, Jan Zrzavý, etc.) artists who are less often exhibited and are almost unknown abroad (Maxmilián Pirner, Beneš Knüpfer, August Brömse, Jaroslav Panuška, Josef Mandl, Tavík František Šimon, Alois Boháč, etc.). The exhibits are on loan from renowned galleries (National Gallery, Gallery of the City of Prague, the Museum of National Literature) as well as from minor museums, regional institutions and private collections. Several exhibits are loans from abroad (Regensburg,Oslo,Paris). Thus, beside well-known items, there are displayed works previously never shown. Although the exhibition is thematically based upon the exhibitions held within this project inCracowandOlomouc, its structure is a little different, being influenced by the specific conditions of the St Agnes Convent. Unlike those displays the core of the present exhibition consists of a collection of works from the National Gallery inPrague. They are often major works and are now shown in a new context. Also the collection of books exhibited here is much larger.
It was in Symbolism that distinct critical views of national tendencies dominating the Czech culture in the 19th century appeared for the first time and most clearly. The artists saw themselves as part of a spiritual community, regardless of national or social conditions. This theme was intensively dealt with by the key figure of Czech Symbolism and Decadence, the poet, critic and visual artist Karel Hlaváček, in a text characteristically named “Nationalism and Internationalism” (1896). Hlaváček and his associates found it fascinating to become familiar with the work of “related souls” fromParis,London,Berlin,Vienna,Brussels,Cracow andRome; their works were in no way strange to them, on the contrary they were felt to be in close relationship.
Increasingly appearing in theoretical discussions was the term of synthetism, which soon became one of the principal themes in art criticism and theory in that period. Synthetism was an attempt at achieving a distinctive association between art and life, the perception of beauty, harmony as well as pain and horror, on a higher level and in a and more intensive way which would manifest itself felt in human activities.
Naturally, reality was in direct opposition to that, the pragmatism of the period of light understood the problem in quite an opposite way: the technological development itself would affect art and culture. Many artists and thinkers refused to accept this attitude and voluntarily chose lonely dreaming in the semi-darkness of cafés or studios.
Symbolism in Bohemia was the first stream of art to proclaim itself as part of the wider European art. Thus in the next decades Czech art joined European culture. Due to the artistic and personal contacts established by the generation of 1890s with many artists abroad they could now easily enter the international context. Remembered should be at least the later close contacts with German Expressionism, in particular that of Munich, and the close artistic and personal links with Parisian Cubists, and after the First World War the association with the international movement of Surrealism.
Author of exhibition: Otto M. Urban
Curated by: Anna Pravdová
Covent of St Agnes of Bohemia - Mysterious distances, Symbolism in Bohemian lands, 1880-1914 - 22.04.2015 - 27.09.2015
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