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Contemporary Czech Sculpture

All About Glass

Contemporary Czech glass has had a remarkable influence on the development of studio art glass worldwide, especially in the use of cast glass for small- and large-%%scale%% sculpture.

From the 1970s to the present, Czechoslovak artists have become internationally recognized for their work in glass. In the 1960s, when young American studio glass artist-teachers such as Harvey Littleton, Dale Chihuly, and Marvin Lipofsky were discovering the sculptural potential of glass, artists such as Libenský, Brychtová, and Roubícek had already been working for years with large-%%scale%% glass. However, because of the political status of Czechoslovakia as an Iron Curtain country, Czech glass was relatively unknown.

The Montreal world's fair in 1967 was particularly significant for studio glass artists, who saw Czech glass for the first time. Impressed with the way glass was used as a medium for painting and sculpture at the Expo, American artists began to correspond with and visit Czechoslovak artists in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Red Pyramid Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová

Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan, was also successful for Czechoslovakia, but its communist government had grown increasingly restrictive and conservative since the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Prague. Throughout the 1970s, artists taught and worked under highly repressive conditions. With a few exceptions, painting on glass was abandoned, and glass artists focused on design and small-%%scale%% sculpture. The freedom of expression that they had experienced during the relatively open period of the late 1950s and 1960s had ended.

When government restrictions began to soften once again in the early 1980s, certain artists were allowed to travel and to teach abroad. This was the time when Czech glass began to have a real and lasting influence on international studio glass. Czechoslovak artists were allowed to exhibit their work more frequently in Europe and the United States, and even those artists who did not often travel outside Czechoslovakia began to acquire a following abroad.

The most influential Czechoslovak artists to teach in the United States were Libenský and Brychtová. They were invited by Dale Chihuly to come to Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State for the first time in 1982. The Libenskýs brought a much-needed intellectual, theoretical, and philosophical focus to making art with glass, and they inspired their students to think beyond technique. In the 1980s, Harcuba, who played a significant role in reviving the art of engraving, came to the United States to teach, and in the 1990s, Roubícek and others traveled outside Czechoslovakia to share their knowledge with studio glass artists worldwide.

Throughout the 1980s, and especially after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc in 1989, the presence of Czechoslovak artists teaching in glass schools and studios across the United States and Europe increased dramatically. It was not until after 1989, however, that Czechoslovak artists were able to pursue truly individual and free expression in their work, and to take control of the way in which their works were presented and sold. Today, Czech artists employ a variety of techniques. Although they are best known for their work in large- and small-%%scale%% casting, they have also been influential in the development of painting, cutting, and assembling, and in large-%%scale%% installations in glass.

Published on October 5, 2011

About the Author

Tina Oldknow
Tina Oldknow was the Museum's curator of modern glass from 2000-2014, and the senior curator of modern and contemporary glass from 2014 until her retirement in September 2015. During this time, she was responsible for all curatorial aspects of the...
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