Design in the Czech Lands 1900–2000, Institutions of Modern Design is a monumental publication. Produced by a collective of scholars in 2016, the book has since come to be considered the so-called ‘bible of Czech design’, and this review confirms that well-deserved epithet. The 1900–2000 time frame covers the history of design in the Czech lands and later Czechoslovakia from the early modern movement to the hetergeneous tendencies in design after 1989, a year that was a turning point not only for Czechoslovakia, but also for Europe’s Eastern Bloc as a whole and that marked the beginning of the new democratic Czechoslovak Republic after the November 17th Velvet Revolution. Edited by Iva Knobloch and Radim Vondráček, Design in the Czech Lands 1900–2000, Institutions of Modern Design represents a resource of original scholarship that is aimed at a general readership. Arranged as a historical chronological survey and also thematically within each era, the book traces design in the Czech lands within a broad perspective, encompassing interior design, functional objects, industrial and graphic design, fashion and textile design, jewellery, industrial photography and new materials of the twentieth century. What began as a specific but still sizeable project was transformed through extensive research into a significant reference book. The collective of authors, too large to be named here, are mostly either employed by or longstanding collaborators in research activities associated with the Museum of Applied Arts in Prague (UPM). Graphically, the book employs a bold visual style. Artist and illustrator Adolf Lachman produced the cover illustration and award-winning graphic designer Štěpán Malovec’s liberal use of acid green throughout the text provides an arresting visual anchor. The twenty chapters, replete with more than 900 informative and excellent quality illustrations of an array of items drawn from more than 100 Czech and foreign collections, allow the reader to explore the designs in detail. This rich pictorial material is arranged for ‘double reading’: both as a logical accompaniment to the texts and as an autonomous commentary. The dividing pages in-between chapters are devoted to specially commissioned photographs by well-established Czech photographers Salim Issa and Štěpánka Stein and often feature iconic objects. The initial research project on Institutions of Modern Design in the Czech Lands, which is the subtitle of the book, as well as some of the specific tasks related to the book itself were awarded funding from the Ministry of Culture and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. The authors’ understanding of the term ‘institutions’ is, as explained in the editors’ foreword, rather broad and even metaphorical. Thus, the book not only deals with established, official institutions such as design collectives and schools, but also explores transformations and shifts that the ‘institution’ of design and designing has experienced over the many decades from the beginning of the last century to the recent past (p. 9). The subject of Czech design is not a new discovery. The enthusiastic reader can find several good monographs and studies in Czech, as well as in other languages, readily available on the market.1 The issue to date, however, has been the fragmented nature of the scholarship—these works did not fill the need for a comprehensive Czech design history survey publication. Design in the Czech Lands 1900–2000, Institutions of Modern Design fills that void. An extensive reference section accompanies the main textual body of the book, including a directory of more than 300 design institutions that operated in the country over the course of the twentieth century. This directory, which was to be an original and separate product of the research, is an invaluable reference tool for readers, collectors and design professionals. A specialist team authored short descriptions of each institution. The directory includes, for example, the Artěl Association, a vehicle of Cubist design production of the Prague Artistic Workshops, and the Union of Czechoslovak Creative Work from the interwar period. During the country’s four decades under a Communist regime, the development of design was concentrated into research institutes and centres, such as the Institute of Housing and Fashion Design (ÚBOK) and the theory-oriented Institute of Industrial Design (IPD). This publication also makes room for and acknowledges alternative initiatives that emerged on the margins of the official institutions and Communist-governed industries, as well as devoting attention to the impact of the social transformations that occurred after 1989. The primary initiative of the research, which had been to map the vast and energetic activity of Czech designers in the form of an alphabetically organized list, was not lost for the sake of the book project. Quite the contrary, it remains at the core of the book as the separate reference tool, as well as the pivotal point of reference for the essays ‘Design of the 1950s: Basis and Different Forms of the Brussels Style’ by Mariana Kubištová (pp. 341–373) or ‘New Power of Industrial Design of the 1960s: Institutions and Concepts’ by Jiří Hulák and Jana Johanna Pauly (pp. 403–433). Furthermore, this supplementary part also includes an index, selected bibliography, list of illustrations and English summary. Perhaps in an overly luxurious form, the book represents a much-needed resource for students, teachers and general readership. The book itself is a weighty object that commands the attention of the senses and invites one to read and enjoy the artistic quality of the book’s design and of the design works illustrated. Being an archetypical coffee table book, the audience may welcome an abridged version, perhaps the directory of institutions alone, or even audio or electronic version of the printed volume. This would not substitute for the experience of turning the pages, but it may facilitate the learning process and further expand the impact of this valuable scholarly contribution. An English version does not exist at present, but the editors are considering to produce one for international audiences in the not too distant future. Note 1 L. Hubatová-Vacková, M. Pachmanová and P. Pečinková, eds, Věci a slova. Umělecký průmysl, užité umění a design v české teorii a kritice 1870–1970 (Prague: Vysoká škola uměleckoprůmyslová, 2014); T. Bruthansová and J. Králíček, Czech 100 Design Icons (Prague: CzechMania, 2005). © The Author(s) . Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Design History Society. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Design History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 19, 2018
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