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,...
Glass Behind the Iron Curtain: Czech Design, 1948-1978
Glass Behind the Iron Curtain: Czech Design, 1948-1978 at The Corning Museum of Glass was open from May through November of 2002 and presented the work of artists who risked persecution to fulfill what they believed to be their lifelong mission: creating art without restraints. The artists featured in this exhibition were discouraged, harassed, and expected to conform. But, their ideas—and, more importantly, their artistic expression—remained free. This powerful exhibition showcased glass objects and drawings created behind the Iron Curtain, the symbolic division between Europe’s democracies and Communist states.
When the Communist Party gained control of Czechoslovakia in 1948, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists were closely monitored, and ran the risk of persecution for creating non-approved abstract art. Glass design, however, was overlooked. Artists working in glass were allowed to continue their activities relatively unhindered because glass was not considered a potentially subversive medium, and some painters and sculptors migrated to the world of glass. This period in Czech glass is characterized by innovative designs that document an important "underground" stage in Czech abstract art that would otherwise be unknown. The exhibition not only added to our knowledge of Czech glass and art, but provides an opportunity for research into another aspect of the many-faceted roles of abstract art in the 20th century.
"Modern Czech glass is just now beginning to receive the recognition it deserves," said exhibition curator Tina Oldknow. "%%Sealed%% off from the West for decades, with only intermittent periods of exposure, the work of Czech artists and designers from the third quarter of the 20th century can now be fully appreciated."
The special focus of this exhibition was an important suite of drawings from the 1950s through the 1970s, acquired by the Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, some of which served as the original sketches for the glass in the exhibition. Featured artists include Václav Cigler, Jiří Harcuba, Vladimír Kopecký, Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, René Roubícek, and František Vízner, as well as Antonín Drobník, Bohumil Eliáš, Josef Hospodka, Pavel Hlava, Vladimír Jelinek, Jan Kotík, Vìra Lišková, Adolf Matura, Ladislav Oliva, Václav Plátek, Miluše Roubíèková, and Ludvika Smrèková.
"The works featured in this exhibition document the remarkable artistic vision, energy, and courage of Czechoslovak artists," said Oldknow. "The artists worked under highly repressive conditions. To exhibit their work, they needed to cooperate with a political regime that demanded that art follow the dictates of Socialist Realism, a strictly narrative, representational style used to depict politically-approved subject matter. To be true to themselves, they needed the ability to create what they wanted, free from the constraints of political ideologies. And, in glass, they found a way to do this."