Czech puppets make an entrance in Ohio, with no strings attached
Visitors to the Czech capital may not know their names and roles, but puppets and marionettes are an indelible presence on the streets of old Prague. Some have even claimed that puppetry is one of the few original national traditions that the Czech Republic can present to the world.
“The idea was created by our visiting curator Joseph Brandesky. Joe is a theatre professor at the Ohio State University here in Columbus. And he has a very long and strong connection with Czech and Russian theater and he has done a number of exhibitions and is currently working with Petr Matásek. He also knew Nina Malíková, who is the curator from Prague. So they came together and decided that this was a wonderful show that could happen and hadn’t been done before. At least not to this extent, in terms of the size, the depth and the number of puppets. Nina is pretty sure that this is the largest exhibit of Czech that has ever been put together, at least outside of the Czech Republic.”
In addition to the actual puppets that are part of the exhibit, what else can help visitors understand the cultural and historical background of Czech puppetry?
Do you have a favorite puppet from the ones that are on display at the exhibition?
“That’s a really hard question to answer. I think what’s so wonderful about the exhibition is that there are so many different styles of puppets presented – from the very traditional baroque puppets all the way to very contemporary minimalist, surreal puppets, like those done by Švankmajer, Matásek, or Petr Nikl. I guess the one that makes me smile every time I walk by it is Petr Matásek’s devil from Faust, it is really eye-catching.
“And I think that’s another nice part of this exhibit – puppetry has the ability to speak to people beyond the language barrier. I think the creativity and the inspiration, and just the wonderful presence of the puppets make it very approachable for our visitors. We already had a number of artists come, who were just enthralled, and were inspired by the puppets.”
“We certainly do. I think [the two exhibitions] are a wonderful combination. The puppets reflect the artistic styles that are in the air at that particular moment. So, we have puppets that reflect the Bauhaus, and those that reflect cubism, expressionism or surrealism. In the Rothko exhibit we are look at the decade between 1960 and 1970, so there are also parallels there with the more abstract puppets from that period. There is no direct link [stated in the exhibits themselves] but we certainly view the puppets as art. They are beautifully carved; they are all wonderful examples of puppetry as an art.
“I think our visitors really like the diversity. The puppets are in the east galleries of our museum, and Rothko is opposite; the locations are kind of symmetrical. So, if you look one way down the hall you see Rothko, and if you look the other, you see the puppets. And most visitors are excited to see both.”
That’s great company for the puppets…Will you be hosting any puppet performances during the run of the exhibit.
“And then on April 7th, our guest curator Joe Brandesky and Petr Matásek are coming. They and their students have been working for the last semester on a new production called Apotheosis and there is a wonderful puppet mannequin that they’ve created, so they will do some scenes from that here at the museum.
“We have also been working with the Columbus puppet guild. They will also come and do some puppet performances. And we also have a hands-on puppet theatre that wasn’t finished for the opening on Friday, but should be up this week. It isn’t part of the exhibition; it’s located in the lobby. It’s string puppets that the visitors will be able to manipulate themselves.”
How did the opening go on Friday?
“We have 140 docents that give tours, help visitors or answer their questions. So they’ve all been given an extensive background to the exhibit, delineating the fact that the Czech people have been under the influences of so many foreign empires throughout their history and how important puppetry became and still is to them.”