Sunday, May 05, 2013

Artistic capital, revived [Praha aka Prague]

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In 1968 New York’s Museum of Modern Art staged a blockbuster exhibition, Dada, Surrealism and Their Heritage, put together by William Rubin, an authoritative curator. The show included 331 works, not one of them by a Czech artist. Yet Prague had been a flourishing centre of avant-garde art, especially surrealism, between the two world wars – second, arguably, only to Paris. As Derek Sayer observes, the absence of Czech art from such an important retrospective testifies to the black hole of western consciousness into which Czech culture vanished after the 1948 communist coup. What makes the omissions poignant is that 1968 was the year of the Prague spring, the peaceful challenge to communism that was cut short by a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion. Surrealist art, driven underground during the previous 20 years, briefly resurfaced, as did other expressions of artistic freedom. Soon, however, the Moscow-installed masters of Czechoslovakia snuffed it all out, forcing dissident intellectuals into manual jobs and giving the country, as Sayer comments, “the best-educated stokers, garbage collectors, and window-cleaners in the world” The Bohemians Are Coming