Suppression, Subversion, and the Surreal: The Art of Czechoslovakian Resistance, Part One

Selections of Czech Prints from the Dr. Eugene Rogolsky Collection

By USC Fisher Museum of Art

Selections from the Dr. Eugene Rogolsky Collection

Untitled (Anne Baruch) (n.d.) by Jiří Anderle (Czech, b. 1936)USC Fisher Museum of Art

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Anne Baruch.

Midnight Walker (1949) by Václav Chochola (Czech, 1923 – 2005)USC Fisher Museum of Art

From the State’s formation after World War I to its eventual dissolution in 1993, Czechoslovakia was subject to waves of external control and occupation. This exhibition explores the impact of oppressive governance on artistic expression in Czechoslovakia during the Iron Curtain era. The artists featured include printmakers, Jiří Anderle and Oldřich Kulhánek, and photographers, Jan Saudek, Pavel Baňka, and Václav Chochola.

Despite Soviet censorship and isolationist policies, each artist was determined to make art. Stripped of all privacy and creative freedom, these Czech artists shunned the USSR’s preferred style, Socialist Realism—a form of modern realism, often painting, characterized by optimistic portrayals of Soviet life, which was imposed in Russia following Stalin’s rise to power—in favor of the idiosyncratic and imaginary realm of the psyche, the only remaining inviolable space. While not aligned with the art historical Surrealist movement, they produced imagery that extended beyond the observable, imbuing their work with symbolic meaning as a means of subtle subversion.

With the foundation of their country crumbling, Czech artists had to find new ways to express themselves and return to a feeling of wholeness. The exploration of the body in this exhibition offers a window into the psyche of these artists, at a time when their avenues of personal expression were censored. Representations of the human figure are united by the common themes of searching for identity and restoring independence as responses to the historical conditions they worked under. With works spanning from before the 1968 Prague Spring to after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, this exhibition shows the evolution of Czech artists as their relationship with the West began to shift.

-Abigail Bresler, Emelia Ho, Madelyne Gordon

The Little Window (1987) by Oldřich Kulhánek (Czech, 1940 – 2013)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Oldřich Kulhánek

Born in Prague in 1940, Oldřich Kulhánek spent most of his artistic career as a graphic artist under a nation subject to Soviet occupation. The resulting oppressive and isolationist environment that developed inspired underlying tones of resistance and defiant expression in Kulhánek’s works. The oppressive nature of the Soviet regime powerfully shaped Kulhánek’s art, inducing reactionary subject matter and meaning.The political constraints of expression prompted a defiance that was revealed through a focus on the human body and sexuality.The limited access to the world beyond the Iron Curtain also encouraged dark commentary and references to the old masters.  Under such a stringent regime, an outlet of physical and social expression became the embrace of sex and sexuality. Hence, many of Kulhánek’s works consist of overtly sexual imagery or focus on the human body. The emergence of pent up repression allowed for this subject matter to act as a reminder of life during a seemingly apocalyptic period and a temporary escape of one’s environment. Art historical references prominently influenced Kulhánek’s subject matter. Despite the nation’s isolation, Kulhánek often evoked renowned artists both to assert Czechoslovak artistic culture, and to infuse politically charged yet esoteric meaning in his works. [Text for Oldřich Kulhánek by Emily Le]

Hommage à Albrecht Dürer II (Circa. 1979) by Oldřich Kulhánek (Czech, 1940 – 2013)USC Fisher Museum of Art

In Hommage à Albrecht Dürer II, Kulhánek evokes Albrecht Dürer’s well-known print, The Fall of Man, through a partial inclusion of Dürer’s Adam and Eve figures in the background.

In contrast to Adam and Eve, who are both headless, Kulhánek renders the central male figure’s facial features – like his bulging eyes, which stare hauntingly past the viewer – in striking detail.

Geometric lines and sketches are present on all three figures in the piece. The presence of these lines show Kulhánek’s technical skills in the creation of the bodies and emphasize the work’s exploration of the figuration of the human form. In addition to this bodily focus, the evocation of Dürer, specifically The Fall of Man, both calls upon Dürer’s influential contribution to Northern European art – especially printmaking – and speaks to an apocalyptic mindset that Kulhánek and others may have possessed during this time of political oppression.

Hommage à Matthias Grünnewald (1990) by Oldřich Kulhánek (Czech, 1940-2013)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Kulhánek evokes Grünewald’s renowned Isenheim Altarpiece in his print Hommage à Matthias Grünewald. The lithograph specifically references Matthias Grünewald’s (German, c. 1475/1480 – 1528) iconic rendering of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom and the Crucifixion, which are among the scenes featured on the outside panels of the polyptych altarpiece.

The main figure of Kulhanek’s print, Saint Sebastian, signified by his iconographic arrow wounds, closely resembles that of Grünewald’s.

Grünewald’s influence also appears with the inclusion of a hand nailed to the cross, signifying Christ’s stigmata (marks that correspond to those left on Jesus’ body by the Crucifixion).

Kulhánek created this piece shortly after the Czechoslovakian Communist regime fell in 1989. Thus, the referential imagery of suffering and sacrifice in this piece may symbolize the suffering underwent by the Czechoslovakian people to finally reach salvation in the form of freedom of expression.

Intertwined (1992 (September 19, 1992)) by Oldřich Kulhánek (Czech, 1940 – 2013)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Ecce Homo #1 (1994) by Oldřich Kulhánek (Czech, 1940 – 2013)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Ecce Homo #1 is part of a series of prints created during the 1990s. All possessing the same title, the pieces in the series contrast images of the old and the young. The title, Ecce Homo, translates from Latin to “Behold the Man” and refers to the words of Pontius Pilate when he presents Jesus Christ to a crowd of Jews prior to his crucifixion.

In choosing Ecce Homo as the title of this series, Kulhánek asks the viewer to behold the life cycle of man while articulating that, “at the beginning is the starting point for the search for life, at the end it is the dull abyss of the final infinity.”

Through the contrasting images of the piece, the viewer is reminded that the innocence in the beginning of life will eventually culminate to the burden of knowledge in the end.

The Little Window (1987) by Oldřich Kulhánek (Czech, 1940 – 2013)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Fragment No. IV (Belle Epoch?) (1980) by Jiří Anderle (Czech, b. 1936)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Jiří Anderle

If one is to examine the work of Jiří Anderle, it is impossible to ignore his stylistic combination of both academic and surrealist themes, characterizing the political oppression he experienced in his native country of Czechoslovakia. Anderle was born in 1936 in Pavlikov, Czechoslovakia. During his life, he experienced constant political uncertainty during the Cold War under the Iron Curtain. Despite the lack of freedom and security, Anderle’s work became widely appreciated for its usage of academic techniques blended with the introduction of new philosophical subject matter. Anderle’s work holds deep historical and surrealist roots,which allowed him to avoid censorship and display challenging themes that countered the political climate during oppression. He uses historical influence from the works of old masters, but juxtaposes and deconstructs their original narratives. Although his works consider historical forms, the suggestions of surrealism allows scientific and investigative studies of the human body that Anderle uses to question, “how can one mature into luminous life after the long period of oppression which has been the lot of our generation?” Today, Anderle lives and works in Prague, Czech Republic. [Text for Jiří Anderle by Sabrina Piña-McMahon]

Untitled (Anne Baruch) (n.d.) by Jiří Anderle (Czech, b. 1936)USC Fisher Museum of Art

This print displays the powerful employment of literal fragmentation within Anderle’s work, including imagery of a portrait of Anne Baruch, a piece of fruit, a skull, and an open heart.

The presence of Anne’s portrait may be attributed to the fact that Anne and Jacques Baruch held and displayed a rather substantial amount of Anderle’s work at their Chicago gallery. The Baruchs are responsible for many of the works within the collection of Dr. Eugene Rogolsky, who donated this piece to the USC Fisher Museum. Although the gallery no longer exists, Anne Baruch’s legacy may be preserved in the works of the artists she supported as she wished that their art would, “continue to bring the curiosity and interaction that I have felt as I moved around the works hanging on my walls during different periods of my life.”

Fragment No. IV (Belle Epoch?) (1980) by Jiří Anderle (Czech, b. 1936)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Untitled (Grim Faces – young girl, old woman) (1960) by Jiří Anderle (Czech, b. 1936)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Monsieur Riviere Among Us, after Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (Circa 1975) by Jiří Anderle (Czech, b. 1936)USC Fisher Museum of Art

Jiří Anderle is best known for his fantastical etchings and graphic work that often depict human form as well as re-examine it within different contexts. This portrait may be likened to the Portrait of Monsieur Riviére by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. One may observe how closely Anderle’s collection of ghostly figures resemble machines or automatons in their anatomy. It is reminiscent of the Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci’s, Vitruvian man (c. 1490), exhibited through his formal analysis of the body.

The image byIngres in the center clearly displays Anderle’s formal academic skill, as he achieves a hyper-realistic portrait, but his ghostly figures introduce conversation of unanswered questions left to be discerned by the viewer.

Anderle asks the viewer to consider the body, identity, industrial influence, and the relationship of one’s self within society. He leaves the true narrative as a mystery, giving the reader an opportunity to dissect the imagery on their own.

Acis and Galatea (after Claude Lorrain) (1975) by Jiří Anderle (Czech, b. 1936)USC Fisher Museum of Art

This mezzotint was modeled after the 1657 painting Coastal landscape with Acis and Galatea, by French Baroque painter Claude Lorrain. Anderle found much inspiration in the paintings of the Renaissance masters.

Both Lorrain and Anderle paint a landscape depicting the Greek myth of the lovers. Although, Anderle does not merely copy the composition of the original painting; he introduces a new narrative with his inclusion of a grotesque figure watching over the scene.

Due to the political climate at the time, it appears this voyeuristic moment between the lovers and the figure could represent the sentiment Czechoslovakians would have felt for sexual privacy, as they were the only moments of private freedom they truly had at the time.

Credits: Story

The USC Fisher Museum of Art wishes to thank the following individuals for making this project possible:

Jiří Anderle
Pavel Baňka
Kelly Barrie, Panic Studio LA
Blanka Chocholová and Marek Chochola, Archiv B&M Chochola
Barbara Kalwajtys, The Baruch Foundation
Henry Klein, M.F.A., Emeritus Professor of Art at Los Angeles Valley College
Katerina Kulhanková and Klára Melichová
Professor Aleš Procházka, Institute of Chemical Technology, Prague
Eugene Rogolsky, MD
Jan Saudek and Sára Saudková
Tim B. Wride, Norton Museum of Art, William & Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography

Exhibition curated by
Abigail Bresler
Corey Gordon
Emelia Ho
Emily Le
Sabrina Piña-McMahon

University of Southern California
Fisher Museum Staff:
Selma Holo, Director
Kay Allen, Associate Director
Stephanie Kowalick, Registrar / Collections Manager
Juan Rojas, Chief Preparator
Raphael Gatchalian, Administrative Coordinator and Business Specialist
Maria Galicia, Education and Programs Coordinator
Madelyne Gordon, Assistant Curator
Valentina Maio, Communications Coordinator

Photography by Kelly Barrie (Panic Studio LA) unless noted otherwise.

The images featured have been reproduced with permission from the following copyright holders:
Jiří Anderle © Jiří Anderle; Oldřich Kulhánek
© Estate of Oldřich Kulhánek; Jan Saudek
© Jan Saudek, Courtesy of Sára Saudková;
© Pavel Baňka; Václav Chochola / © Archiv
B&M Chochola.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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