Galerie Kuzebauch’s exhibition for Collect 19 challenges the perception that Czech glass is a male domain, normally associated with figures like René Roubíček, Václav Cigler and Bořek Šípek. International fairs from the 1950s to 1970s also cast a long shadow. The collaborative work of Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová often dominates in the British and North American context. In my PhD research I had only to mention the phrase ‘Czech glass’ and within moments received the response, ‘Ah yes, Libenský and Brychtová?’
Galerie Kuzebauch’s exhibition curator Petr Nový, from the Museum of Glass and Jewelery in Jablonec nad Nisou, has selected work by four contemporary female glass artists: Klára Horáčková, Eva Eisler, Lada Semeckáand Vladimíra Klumpar. The pieces chosen to represent them at Collect are dynamic, intriguing and a definite highlight of the event.
Horáčková’s Towers and White Shoots explore ideas of evolution and natural principles. White Shoots (2018) are opalescent-blue unfurling pillars composed of glass rods, cast in the kiln and bent by hand with a flame. The final effect is one of buds opening. The small bent tips of each rod also recall a history of flame-worked glass, for which North Bohemia is known. This landscape influences Prague-based Horáčková, who is also assistant professor in the Glass Studio at the city’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (UMPRUM).
Horáčková’s black tower works are both architectural and reminiscent of the Central Bohemian and Lusatian Mountains, a volcanic region formed in strange basalt peaks. Tower, Towers and Twins are again made of glass rods, this time straight and black with the residue of the mould intentionally left around the pipes. They’re at once towering rock formation and church organ – Horáčková tells me that the Czech word for the basalt mountain formation is varhany, organ pipes. A pleasing symmetry, amplified by the fact that Horáčková learnt to play the church organ when younger.
Semecká also pursues an interest in the qualities of volcanic rock, influenced by the Czech mountains near her home. Her works Belland Universe (2014) are cast from basalt, a material usually known for industrial production. It appears extremely strong but can be brittle, the surface coated in oily rainbows – a chemical process that appears random but, Semecká says, is ‘perhaps the proof of existence of a higher order in the universe’.
Alongside Universe, Bell waits expectantly, a heavy smooth bowl above which a ball and chord hang ready to be struck. Semecká has carried out experiments in sound through her work in the past. She studied glassmaking and engraving in Kamenický Šenov and worked as an engraver at Carlsbad´s Moser factory. As well as teaching at UMPRUM and the J. E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, she also taught at the Toyama Institute of Glass Art in Japan. Her ongoing relationship to Japan can be seen in her work, particularly the other two pieces selected for Collect, Flow V and Flow VII (2015). These are made from her own technique of devitrifying and crystalizing glass particles by fusing them. The result is a delicate and fluid surface of nebulous shapes, strong and delicate at once.
Eisler has created a series of female silhouettes to evoke the forms of goddesses. An abstraction of bodily ideals, they refer to ancient rituals and fertility symbols. They’re made from solid metallurgical glass, created in collaboration with glass sculptor Martin Janecký and Lasvit during the International Glass Symposium in 2018. The treated surfaces appear both smooth and at the edge of rough. Eisler works across sculpture, jewellery and furniture, exploring ideas connected to constructivist theory and spirituality. She heads the award-winning K.O.V. (concept-object-meaning) studio at Prague’s UMPRUM and has work in collections like the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.
The colours of Eisler’s works are striking; muddy orange and green, solid black and misty white. They recall the cloudy impurity of 1970s’ Czech glass. Vladimíra Klumpar pieces,exhibited next to Eisler’s, take this further in using the glass palette of her former teacher, Stanislav Libenský. Recipient of a prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and the Massachusetts Artist Foundation Fellowship, Klumpar’s use of colour is influenced by time spent in Mexico. In the four cast and kiln-fired works shown, her interest in depth and space prevails. Colour for Klumpar is affected by the thickness and behaviour of glass. On more closely examining these sculptural pieces, you become aware of the cracks and distress in the glass. They result in a rise and fall of feelings, a want to understand more. This is Klumpar’s ability to respond both to her material and evocations of colour.
Together, the collection shows the possibilities of contemporary Czech glass. There is also a resonance between the works that almost takes on an audible quality. Czech glass artists have always challenged the boundaries of their material and understood something fundamental in its abilities. This depth, accompanied by a technological astuteness, is certainly evoked by the Galerie Kuzebauch collection and I for one look forward to what these artists do next.
Images and details courtesy of Galerie Kuzebauch http://www.galeriekuzebauch.com