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The Allure of Czech Modernist Posters

by Hrag Vartanian on March 27, 2013

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Atelier UR, “Letecky Meeting Aeroklub RCS a Klubu Pridruzenych. Neubert, Prague” (1929)

Last Sunday, the Dutch Poster Museum in Hoorn, The Netherlands, opened its doors for a special exhibition of  Czech Modernist posters from the collection of the Lowry Family of New York City. The beautifully designed posters, which predominantly date from 1898 to 1938, include works by important members of the Czech art and design worlds (Arnost Hofbauer, Ladislav Sutnar, Frantisek Zelenka, Josef Hesoun, Jan Zrzavy, Josef Vachal, Josef Lada, Vaclav Spala and Emil Orlik to name a few) and demonstrate the flowering of poster advertisement in a country that was undergoing major social, economic, and artistic upheavals. After 1918, and until 1993, the Czech Republic was part of Czechoslovakia, which including the now independent nation of Slovakia.

The Lowry family, which has Czech origins, built their collection over the past 25 years, and they have amassed more than 1,000 works — making it the largest collection in the world outside the Czech Republic. Notable in the collection are the posters by Ladislav Sutnar, who is best known for his cutting edge infographics and as being the first designer to place telephone area codes in parentheses. Sutnar is a consummate Modernist, and his designs echo the striking graphics that were emerging during the era from the Soviet Union.

The Czech Modernist poster, like Czech Modernism in general, synthesized the volatile ocean of influences all around, including German Expressionism, the Soviet avant-garde, Hollywood, Art Deco, and Surrealism, to create a thoroughly modern visual language that reflected the aspirations of the Czech people themselves.

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Frantisek Zelenka, “Golem” (1931)

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Vilem Rotter, “Slovenska Strela, Melantrich” (1936)

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Ladislav Sutnar (with Tschinkel?), “III. Delnicka Olympiada” (1934)

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Ladislav Sutnar, “Vystava Moderniho Obchodu / Brno, Melantrich Prague” (1929)

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Josef Vyskocil, “XIII. Mezinarodni Vystava Automobilu v Praze” (1921)

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Karel Simunek, “Karneval-Umelcu” (1908)

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Arnost Hofbauer, “Obrazkova Revue, V. Kotrba, Prague” (1899)

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Hanns Jakesch, “Brunner Verkaufsausstellung, Rudolf M. Rohrer, Brno” (1924)

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A.V. Hrska, “Clovek v Kleci, V. Neubert, Prague” (1925)

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Kamil Muttich, “Urbanek-Hudebni Nakladatelstvi” (1904)

Czech Posters: 1890–1938 continues at the Dutch Poster Museum (Grote Oost 2-4, 1621 BW Hoorn, Netherlands) until mid-June.

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