Featured Objects from Glass Behind the Iron Curtain

Featured exhibition objects from Glass Behind the Iron Curtain: Czech Design, 1948-1978

  • Artwork
    René Roubícek is another Czech artist who disguised his obvious interest in abstract art in glass design. This 1960 sculpture is humorous, but its intent is serious. Like Jirí Harcuba, Roubícek used glass as expressively as possible. While Harcuba focused on engraved decoration, Roubícek experimented with the actual form of the glass, creating shapes that look spontaneous but are actually very difficult to make.
  • Artwork
    The single bloom vases were first displayed at the 11th Milan Triennial in 1957. They were made by fashioning small, narrow bud vases and then gathering glass over them. Subsequently, the vases were cut. Their small openings, which permitted at most a single flower, were criticized for not being functional. In fact, many of these vases were not functional because they could not hold anything. The single bloom vases demonstrate an interest in abstract art on the part of the designers. They are not really flower vases, but small abstract sculptures.
  • Artwork

    In 1950, Jaroslava Brychtová joined the design studio of the glassworks at Železný Brod, directing the architectural glass department. Working with her father, the sculptor Jaroslav Brychta, she began to experiment with casting, molding, and melting glass during the 1940s. In 1954, Stanislav Libenský joined Brychtová in Železný Brod, and together they developed and refined their unique mold-melting technique.

    With this technique, the two artists worked at translating abstract concepts into glass, such as their notion of the fourth dimension, which they create with light. Their artistic approach is influenced by early 20th-century Czech Cubism and metaphysical philosophy. Of all Czech artists working in glass, Libenský and Brychtová have been the most influential worldwide. The revolutionary nature of their work was first appreciated by American and European studio glass artists at Expo 67 in Montreal, where they exhibited several important large-scale sculptures. In the 1970s, when American artists were just beginning to realize the sculptural potential of glass, Czech artists like Libenský and Brychtová were already way ahead of them, but their work was not seen. It was not until the 1980s that their status as pioneers in the field of glass sculpture became internationally recognized.

  • Artwork
    Vladimír Kopecký trained at the Specialized School of Glassmaking in Kamenický Šenov in 1946 and then moved to Nový Bor, completing his studies there in 1949. He joined Josef Kaplický’s studio at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and graduated in 1956. Kopecký transferred his knowledge of and skill in painting and graphic arts to his work in glass. Under Kaplický’s tutelage, which encouraged freedom of artistic expression, Kopecký executed a series of enameled vases, like the one you see here. These vases were described by Kaplický as representing "new thinking in glass." Kopecký received a gold medal for his work at Expo ’58 in Brussels. Early in his professional career, Kopecký began to consult regularly with architects, designing panels and wall mosaics. He continued to apply his preferred techniques of etching and painting to sheet glass in architecture. His large, brightly colored, stained glass window, on display at Expo ’67 in Montreal, demonstrated his original and independent viewpoint.
  • Library
    This is the preparatory design for the vase with abstract decoration (83.3.233). Here, we see how the artist explores and transforms abstract ideas in two dimensions (this drawing) and then three dimensions (the glass). The triangular shape of the vase in this drawing is created by the mat. When the mat is lifted, an abstract painting is revealed underneath. This drawing is an excellent example of the ways in which Czech artists explored abstract art under the guise of glass design.
  • Artwork
    The decoration of this vase illustrates one of Jiri Harcuba’s characteristic approaches to engraving. In contrast to traditional Czech engraving, where complicated subjects are often elaborately and deeply cut, Harcuba’s design is reduced to its simplest elements, and just lightly scratched intro the surface of the glass. Harcuba believes that engraving should be as spontaneous as possible in order to preserve and communicate the energy of the design. One of his methods is to draw on the surface of the glass, rather than to sculpt it. A renowned engraver and teacher, Jirí Harcuba learned engraving at a local training school in Harrachov before attending the Specialized School of Glassmaking in Nový Bor from 1945 to 1948. He then worked in the studio of the Karel Štipl at Academy of Applied Arts in Prague, until 1954. Karel Štipl, and especially Josef Kaplický, were important and respected teachers at the Academy of Applied Arts. In 1961, Harcuba began his career as a teacher at the Academy of Applied Arts, and he was invited to teach at the Royal Academy of Art, in London, from 1965 to 1966. In the early 1970s, he was fired from his teaching job at the Academy and he was held as a political prisoner for designing a medal that openly criticized the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Russian troops. Despite his troubles with the Communist Czech government, he received many awards. In 1965, 1968, 1971, and 1976, he placed first in competitive exhibitions in Czechoslovakia, and he was invited to participate in Expo ’67 in Montreal. The American Numismatic Society honored Harcuba in 1988 for lifetime achievement in the art of medals. The Corning Museum of Glass presented him with the Rakow Award for Excellence in the Art of Glass in 1995. In the last 20 years, his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in Europe and the United States. Harcuba is the last outstanding portrait engraver in Europe and he holds workshops at glass studios around the world to pass on the difficult techniques of glass engraving to a new generation of artists.
  • Artwork
    This plate is an example of the transference of abstract painting onto glass. The glassworks at Skrdlovice, east of Prague, was known for its innovative methods of glassblowing. A production designer as well as a freelance artist, Vladimír Jelínek attended the Specialized School of Glassmaking in Kamenický Šenov from 1949 until 1952. He then trained under Josef Kaplický at the Academy of Applied Arts, graduating in 1958. Many glass factories, such as those at Škrdlovice, Nový Bor, Karolinka, and Karlovy Vary, employed his design capabilities. Noted for his willingness to experiment, Jelínek won many state awards and exhibited at major international glass shows. His work was on display at Expo ’58 in Brussels and at the XIIth Triennale in 1960 in Milan. At Expo ’67, in Montreal, he exhibited a large sculpture that was inspired by machines and modern technology.
  • Library
    This drawing is closely related to the abstract sculpture (99.3.48). Roubícek’s spontaneity, playfulness, and freedom of expression is preserved in this abstract design.