From the center of Europe, Czech photography, 1912-1974, presents a visual narrative spanning more than sixty years - the photography of present day Czech Republic, one of the Mitteleuropea countries where avant-garde photography in the 20's and 30's flourished with particular intensity alongside surrealist and informalist photography. From 26 October 2016 until 25 February 2017, the Fundación Juan March Museum in Palma presents over 100 photographs, which are either individual pieces or works belonging to groups or series, alongside some 40 books and magazines published in the old Czechoslovakia which show the typical use of photography in publications of the era.
The works come entirely from the Dietmar Sigert Collection in Munich. The collection, due to its specialist nature, and the singular quality of the works in its photographic archive, enables this little known story to be told, combining the overall vision with the attention to subjectivity in each photograph. The result is a fascinating, varied fresco which mixes internationally recognised names such as Drtikol, Teige or Sudek with brilliant unknowns such as Nožička or Hák; movements such as surrealism and constructivism; a certain amount of subjective photography and the informalism which flooded the post-war era and which, in the old Czechoslovakia, meant the expressionist alternative to the official artistic "style" of socialist realism.
Throughout its complex history, the Czech Republic, being a central European country standing half way between Eastern and Western Europe, has been a place whose artists established a progressively European framework, despite their enforced allegiance to the Eastern Block during the long cold war. In fact, very early on, Karel Teige and his magazine, Devĕtsil, had a hand in making connections with all the European avant-garde groups, such as the futurists, the surrealists and the constructivists, amongst others. In the same way as in northern and southern Europe, after the war and during the post-war years, the historic avant-garde in the old Czechoslovakia also gave way to informalism. Their images of chips, cracks and destruction gave rise to the beauty of Medková, Krátký or Přeček's photographs, who are extensively represented in this exhibition.
As a matter of fact, many of the works by the photographers represented here ended up as covers for magazines and other publications, which were a creative sphere that was less fiercely scrutinised by communist censorship. Many of the book and magazine covers in the exhibition, created by the very same artists who made up the avant-garde (and not by professional designers trying to copy them), demonstrate the high calibre of Czech graphic design during the era. Collaboration between the various arts -poetry, photography, architecture, painting and dance- gave rise to exceptional bibliographical pieces. These make it possible to appreciate the Czech artistic avant-garde's influence on the publishing world as, by transforming book shop windows into real exhibition spaces, they became a way of spreading and expressing artists' freedom, which was practically unique within an official context which was restrictive and antagonistic.
From the center of Europe. Czech photography, 1912-1974, will go on to be shown at the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art in Cuenca and has a catalogue in Spanish, published by the Fundación Juan March and distributed by RM, with essays, biographies and a range of material by the Czech specialist and historian Zdenek Primus.