SLOVAKIA is now an industrialised country where electricity and water as well as a dense network of roads and railways are all part of modern life – quite different from how the country looked about one hundred years ago. When and how did this metamorphosis take place? The Slovak National Gallery’s flagship 2011 exhibition titled ‘New Slovakia – (difficult) birth of a modern lifestyle (1918-1949)’ provides a comprehensive look at how this modernity came to pass.
The New Slovakia exhibition, which was also one of the main parts of November’s Month of Photography, was conceptualised as a kind of antithesis to an exhibition called Slovak Myth which the gallery hosted in 2005. In contrast to that exhibition, which focused on mythical and archaic Slovakia, the 2011 project shows how Slovakia began to achieve the 20th-century standards of modern civilisation, said Aurel Hrabušický, the creator of the concept, when opening the exhibition in June. The two milestones that frame the exhibition’s time period are the establishment of Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918, after the fall of the Habsburg monarchy, and one year beyond the coup d'état in 1948 in which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took control of the government.
The exhibition’s key theme is neither fine art nor Modernism as an art movement but presentation of the image of a modernising Slovakia presented via visual arts, architecture and design.
“This is not a new narration of Modern art; rather we are focusing on a certain way of living and lifestyle and how it was created over the modern period of time,” Hrabušický said. The exhibition’s name is drawn from the word used by the public and the press of that time: the meaning of ‘new’ then was actually ‘modern’, as many aspects of society were changing so quickly. Hrabušický emphasised that the exhibition “shows the germination of the lifestyle pattern we are living to this day”.
Nearly 570 objects displayed
The exhibition showcases an almost astonishing number of period objects, nearly 570 photos, paintings, and sculptures as well as art deco works and designs by over 100 authors, with photographs being the most numerous. Individual exhibits are presented in a smoothly flowing sequence divided into thematic chapters that follow each other logically and sometimes chronologically. These start with the new nation, termed ‘new in the old world’, followed by chapters on mobility, urban and countryside development, travelling, care for one’s body, World War II and post-war reconstruction, and ending with a review of the penetration of films into society.
“Expressions of modern life in a country with almost no industry, with a prevailingly rural population, were manifested gradually, slowly and often in a contradictory context,” Hrabušický wrote in the catalogue preface. This aspect can be seen in images or paintings of the countryside with telegraph poles standing alongside people working in fields, wooden rafts in front of the steel construction of a hydroelectric power station, and a traditional village environment mirrored in a car’s headlight.
In addition to developing the exhibition’s concept, Hrabušický was curator of the photographs. Katarína Bajcúrová selected the fine art and Dagmar Poláčková acquired the historical furniture, glass and porcelain sets. Petra Hanáková prepared the selection of period film footage dating back mostly to the wartime first Slovak Republic, a puppet state of Nazi Germany. Due to the arrival of this new technology in the pre-war period it was not possible to avoid including the filmed propaganda that characterised that era.
The exhibition displays, often in premieres, photo collections by Jaromír Funke, Miloš Dohnány, Karel Plicka, Ján Galanda, Irena Blühová, and Viliam Malík along with fine art from the best creative periods of Ľudovít Fulla, Mikuláš Galanda, Gejza Schiller, Július Jakoby, and František Foltýn as well as art deco and design works by Zdeněk Rossmann, Ľudovít Fulla, Mikuláš Galanda, Júlia Horová-Kováčiková, František Troster, and many others.
The New Slovakia exhibition is also a kind of pilot project for the SNG in terms of how future exhibitions should be prepared: the exhibition’s catalogue is in Slovak and English and the gallery’s gift shop has items for sale related to some of the exhibits, said Alexandra Kusá, the gallery’s director, when introducing the exhibition, noting that this is not yet a well-rooted custom in Slovakia. Another piece of good news for foreign visitors is that the gallery has prepared an English-language audio tour along with three sound recordings for selected artworks.
What: New Slovakia
Where: SNG, Esterházy palace,
Námestie Ľ. Štúra 4
When: Until January 15
More info: www.sng.sk
12. Dec 2011 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková