Classical European Graphics 1970-2004

        ”Eastern Europe became during 20th Century the depositary of the great European tradition of engravings and graphics, while in the West it was being lost.”

Benoît Junod

        The exhibition ”East & West – Classical European Graphics 1970 – 2004” was planned for May 2004 with the purpose to coincide with the Slovak Republic’s accession to the European Union together with other states of the former Eastern block. The fact that after the World War II Europe was more or less artificially politically divided by the influence of the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union into the capitalist West and the communist East does not mean that these two blocks were hermetically separated by the so-called iron curtain. Art which has become the means of free communication between these two politically different worlds can be a proof to this. Despite the directive ordered Socialist Realism it is obvious after some time that the program manifestation of this art style has never been realized. It can be proved also by a term ”SORELA” which was used in Czechoslovakia during the 1950’s and which was ironically derived from the name of an enthusiastic cultural politician Lakomý. It represented, at least in architecture, monumental Neoclassicism, comparable to art of dictator’s regimes of Russia, Germany and Italy in the first half of 20th Century.

         It can seem purposeful to update current political happening by presenting cultural values. Recently, several projects have been set up on the basis of the idea of united Europe. Especially, the exhibition cycle initiated by the European Commission ”Charles the Great and the making of Europe” (1999 – 2001) whose main idea was to introduce the personality of Charles the Great as a founder of the first form of the European Union coincided with celebrations of the Great Jubilee in 2000. Another exhibition ”Central Europe around year 1000” (2000 – 2002) was opened thanks to the Council of Europe at the time when new millennium was celebrated to demonstrate the process of creation of new Central-European states around the year 1000 and which are now joining the European Union. In both cases the exhibitions were initiated by important European institutions so their political orientations were more than obvious.

        The exhibition ”Classical European graphics 1970 – 2004” realized by a private non-commercial gallery Artoteka is not made to a political order but its aim is to point out the fact that it was the Eastern Europe of the 1970’s that despite the communist regime and political isolation became ”the depositary of the great European tradition of engravings and graphics, while in the West it was being lost.” This quotation by a famous Swiss collector and supporter of art Benoît Junod is also a motto of the exhibition and reflects several specific aspects, which need to be examined carefully. According to the West, a gradual shift from classical tradition of engravings is caused mainly by introduction of new technologies based on computer graphics, i.e. CAD Systems (Computer Added Drawing) at the beginning of the 1970’s. While for the older generation the computer graphics represented only a kind of experiment with a new means, the younger generation, which was brought up literally behind a computer in the 1980’s, takes it for granted. That is why the classical hand-made graphics before the 21st Century might be considered as something rare or an echo of the past.

        However, in the East, more noticeable spread of Personal Computers started only in the 1990’s which can be explained by different political orientation that consequently caused not only cultural but also technological gap between the East and the West. Regarding modern graphics, not only computer graphics belong into progressive art forms such as serigraphy, monotype and offset. They were already used in the 1960’s thanks to new trends from the West during the period of liberalization of society and an opening to the world started in the Eastern block after the time of the 20th Meeting of Communist party of Soviet Union (14. – 25. 2.1956). There were Stalin’s crimes revealed to overcome the cult of his personality. In spite of the fact that such process in used-to-be Czechoslovakia was interrupted by the Soviet invasion in 1968, these historic break points cannot be wholly applied on the development of graphic art because in the 1970’s computer graphics was introduced in Czechoslovakia. Its main representative was e.g. Jozef Jankovič. What is then the cause of the above-mentioned preservation of the tradition of classical graphics, which is sometimes explained by the collaboration of this art expression with the contemporary regime? It might be found in the 1960’s when a new generation of artists entered on the art scene. They were e.g. Jiří Anderle, Albín Brunovský, Vladimír Gažovič or Oldřich Kulhánek who were main followers of the idea of classical graphics and managed to succeed on western markets. Neither the period of Normalization managed to spoil these contacts which can be documented by a graphic album “Ricercari in Ommagio”. A private collector, supporter of art and a high-rank representative of NATO Jacques Ludovicy initiated its creation in 1972. It was him who chose four well-known Czechoslovak graphic artists mentioned above J. Anderle, A. Brunovský, V. Gažovič and O. Kulhánek. The cover of this album made by O. Kulhánek is reproduced on promotion materials to the exhibition. One year before the album was produced, he was awarded for the best draft of a 10-krown note and later he was arrested for a disparaging of high political leaders of socialist countries and consequently forbidden to exhibit his pieces. In such a way western collectors contributed to awards given to our persecuted artists. From the point of art collectors’ support, especially for graphics, so called exlibris or small prints play an important role. However, exlibris was originally a graphics, which used to be glued into a book as a personal mark of a book’s owner. That is why exlibris is classified as a commercial art. In this case too, collectors somehow caused that its primary meaning and function changed because it became a commercial article. Since the beginning of the 1970’s, eastern artists became very popular among their western colleagues, as they did not specialise solely on exlibris. For example, for O. Kulhánek or A. Brunovský exlibris was just a part of their production due to the fact that they dealt with free graphics, painting and illustration as well. Therefore, these artists incorporated forms of free graphics into originally calligraphic form of exlibris and thus made exlibris more special. It has become luxurious art piece that due to its incomparably cheaper price in the West gained great popularity among collectors form the Western Europe. That is why, there are so many discussions whether a small prints can be considered as exlibris if it is not inserted into a book as proposed by Claude Muon or whether graphics is automatically exlibris regardless of its further usage according to Benoît Junod. Who points out that an aspect of a customer or a collector of exlibris is the most important. Therefore, the phenomenon of collecting not only a small prints but also free graphics is one of the factors why classical graphics in Czech(o)Slovakia has survived till today. And till these collectors and supporters exist we do not have to worry that one day traditional classical graphics might disappear in our country too. It still is quite an attractive article for them due to the fact that it is hand-made and thus holds, in the time of industrialisation, mechanisation and computerisation, the same exclusive position as Rolls-Royce in car industry.

        Another aspect, which has contributed to the preservation of classical graphics in the Eastern Europe, is a phenomenon of renowned artist personalities. For example, in the Czech Republic, it was undoubtedly J. Anderle. His artistic expression, despite his short stay at VŠUP (University of Art Industry) in Prague in 1969 –1973, influenced at least one generation of artists. In Slovakia, such an influential personality was certainly A. Brunovský. As a director of the Department of the graphics and illustration at the University of Fine Art in Bratislava (1967 – 1990) he introduced classical graphics to several generations of artists. The conception of the Exhibition ”Classical European Graphics 1970 – 2004” naturally concentrates on the ”Czech and Slovak Graphic School”. One of the criteria when selecting authors was the above-mentioned phenomenon of the renowned artist personalities that can be demonstrated on the phenomenon of collecting small-scale graphics, i.e. exlibris which counts for most pieces displayed at the exhibition. However, its main line consists of well-known artists from both The West and the East, who have contributed into the History of Classical Graphics, e.g. Ernst Fuchs, Berte Moltke, Peter Bräuninger, Reiner Schwarz or Stojan Stojanov, Eduard Gorochovskij, Bogdan Krsič etc.

        Lastly, there are presented also some artists who have not specialized in free graphics, e.g. an important Italian painter Aldo Borgonzoni to whose mother A. Brunovský dedicated an independent graphic letter, or Ernst Hanke, well-known as an artist printer whose lithographic workshop in a German town of Ringgenberg is often visited by the most well-known graphic artists from all over the Europe.

        English by Marcela Vančo

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