Music from Dark Blue World
By Alena Skodova
Since April this year a large project called the "Glory of the Baroque in Bohemia" has been under way in the Czech Republic. The Prague National Gallery is presenting four major exhibitions in Prague, but there are also many accompanying events from various cultural spheres. One of these is a new exhibition of photographs by Vladimir Uher.
The exhibition is called "Gems of Czech Baroque Architecture in the Photographs of Vladimir Uher" and it examines Baroque buildings from all over the Czech Republic through the lens of a classic artist of Czech photography. The main theme is architecture understood as a living and dynamic three-dimensional work. Dr. Vit Vlnas from the National Gallery in Prague feels that the exhibition is a significant project:
Vladimir Uher is a major figure in Czech photography, and for many years now he has been the head of the photography department at the State Institute for the Reconstruction of Historical Towns and Buildings. Several books containing Mr. Uher's photographs document his interest in architecture, focussed mainly on the Baroque period. I asked the 76-year-old artist what it is about Baroque architecture that attracts him so much?
Mr. Uher told me it was quite simple: it's the Baroque shapes that had always excited him more than anything else. But has he ever tried photographing buildings of other architectural styles?
"Yes, of course, I have taken many photos of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance buildings, but there's only one style I love ardently, and that's the Baroque. I have no system for selecting what I will take pictures of, I simply go, look around and when something excites me, I cannot walk away without photographing it. I always rely on my feelings - all in all I think it's an emotional reaction, visually-emotional, not intellectual."
But as Mr. Uher told me, in his younger years architecture was not the focus of his attention.
"I used to photograph so-called "forma viva", or living forms, and what I was really curious to learn was how shapes come into existence. Thus I've experienced a lot of God's work, because each shape must have a certain sense, function and task. But, unfortunately, I have never understood what kind of order there exists in the nature, but as concerns architecture, it suddenly occurred to me that it was perfectly clear. The composition principles are pretty obvious to me there."
Mr. Uher disclosed that for 10 years he worked as a press photographer. Because he loves reading books, he consequently loved stories. His photos from that time show how critical he was of the totalitarian regime. But he stressed once again that what excites him most is shape. And moreover, shapes in black-and-white, he has never taken colour photographs.
Mr. Uher uses his own home-made cameras - also on display at the exhibition in the Municipal House:
"Well, they were all made as merely temporary models, but in the end they became, so to say, long-term temporary models. Once, a colleague of mine from the Institute for the Preservation of Historical Monuments told me we had to hurry to one place and that he needed this and that, so on the eve of our departure I quickly constructed a camera which could take the pictures he needed - fantastically wide angle shots, by the way. When this attempt proved good, I left the camera as it was and was able to take nice pictures with it. If I hadn't lost my sight, I would still be using them now."
Naturally, Mr. Uher bought special films for his cameras. The widest angles shots were taken on a 13cm by 18cm film - this type of picture can show the floor of a church and the peak of its dome at the same time, while the smallest dimension of his films is 9cm by 6cm. He never uses 35 millimetre films.
One of the accompanying events was a unique performance by the Prague Comedy Theatre of Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragic History of Dr. Faust ". It was performed in the underground stone hall of the Vysehrad fortress here in Prague, where to the audience it felt like they were really sitting in Hell. And there are many more captivating events related to the Baroque period in Bohemia, so don't hesitate to visit them!
And finally, those of you who live in New York City or will be there between mid August and the end of February 2002, you will have a chance to see the first public exhibition of glass design, encompassing the period of vanguard art of the 1920s in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and Poland. It will open in mid-August in New York's Design Museum, featuring exhibits from a collection of a German collector Torsten Brohan. The collection now belongs to the Museum of Crafts and Decorative Art in Madrid and the exhibition is being prepared in cooperation with the Czech Centre in New York. The majority of exhibits come from former Czechoslovakia. Czech glass design has retained its exceptional quality despite the fact that after WWII most German glass makers, who lived in the border regions of Czechoslovakia, had to leave the country and move to Germany. The Brohan collection was created over the past twenty years and it's said to be a real gem among those that depict the art of glass-making. For anyone interested, there will be a lecture on the influence of cubism and expressionism on Czech architecture on October 25th, given by Martin Eidelberg, the exhibition's curator and former art lecturer at Rutgers University.