Title Image

Masters of Czech Avant-Garde Photography

Masters of Czech Avant-Garde Photography

Curators: Vladimír Birgus and Štěpánka Bieleszová

The exhibition is organized by the Olomouc Art Museum and the Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University in Opava

Many photographic works were created in interwar Czechoslovakia that were not merely imitations of foreign examples from France, Germany, the Soviet Union, or the USA, but contributed significantly to the development of art photography. Some of these have only recently come to be fully appreciated. František Drtikol (1883 – 1961) was the first Czech photographer to achieve world renown. His earliest works are influenced strongly by Art Nouveau and Symbolism. Even though he himself reproached avant-garde artists for an excessive emphasis on experimentation with form at the expense of ideas, many of the works from when he was at his peak, in 1923–29, were markedly influenced by Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, abstract art, and modern dance. Jaroslav Rössler (1902 – 1990) was the only professional photographer to be made a member of the Czech avant-garde group Devětsil, which was led by Karel Teige. He was inspired chiefly by Constructivism and abstract art, but his work also contains influences from Futurism and the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement. Beginning with his Opus I (1919), which is the first Czech avant-garde photograph, he used diagonal compositions in his photographs and photomontages and depicted objects from bold angles. Jaromír Funke (1896 – 1945) was among the most important pioneers of Czech avant-garde photography. Also of great importance, however, was his writing for periodicals, his theoretical essays, and his organizational and teaching work. After 1922, he began to use Constructivist composition in his photographs, for example, in After the Carnival. At the same time, he made simple still lifes, demonstrating the potential for making reality abstract and suppressing spatial perspective while completely preserving the features specific to the medium of photography. Although he is still under-appreciated internationally, Eugen Wiškovský (1888 – 1964) was a photographer of radical, highly original works. He made unusual still lifes with carefully thought-out compositions involving metal rods, turbines, concrete pipes, electric insulators, gramophone records, and other ordinary objects. Foreign recognition for these Czech pioneers of modern photography came gradually: whereas Drtikol’s and Funke’s works began to be shown in important galleries and museums in the 1970s, the first book about Rössler was not published until 2001, and Wiškovský is still awaiting proper international appreciation.

Vladimír Birgus

Vladimír Birgus (b. 1954) has long been important on the Czech and European photography scene, where he plays several roles, ranging from photographer to historian and teacher, Professor and head of the Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University in Opava. A number of high-profile projects are connected with his name, in particular the comprehensive exhibitions and books Czech Photographic Avant-garde, 1918–1948 and Czech Photography of the 20th Century, which have, in a fundamental way, helped promote the works of a many Czech photographers internationally. He has also helped to gain appreciation for the works of František Drtikol, Jaroslav Rössler, and Eugen Wiškovský. As a photographer, he has gained an international reputation, and has shown his works in dozens of exhibitions at home and abroad, and his photographs are in a number of important collections.

Štěpánka Bieleszová

Štěpánka Bieleszová (b. 1971) has been employed at the Olomouc Museum of Art as a curator of the photography collection. She participated in the publication of monographs about the Czech photographers Miloslav Stibor, Vladimír Birgus, Milena Valušková and Jindřich Štreit and curated exhibition and catalogue “Civilised Illusions. Photography collection of the Olomouc Art Museum”. With Vladimír Birgus prepared the exhibitions and books „ Landskrona Foto View: Czech Republic.A century of avant-garde and off- guard photography“ and "At First Sight", with the subtitle "A selection of Czech photography from the 20th and 21st centuries", highlights the most important manifestations of Czech photography in the past hundred years.