Marta Filipová (University of Wolverhampton), ‘Reconciling modernism: the vernacular revival, nationalism and modernism in the Czech speaking lands’

In Central Europe of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century, discussions about the role of vernacular art and design in modernist artistic practice and theory were lively and many practitioners and theorists attempted to use the vernacular as a source of renewal of modern art. Simultaneously, in the Czech speaking lands of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, peasant art of the villages and the countryside became a popular exotic reference to a reality outside the urban milieu of the artist, which provided a form of primitivism and escapism at the same time. My paper focused on the shift in the comprehension of vernacular art during the turn of the century from a nationalistic phenomenon to its association with the international language of art. This shift, however, as I claimed, was not straightforward and was influenced by the political context in which artists worked. In this period when modernism was establishing itself in Central Europe and artists turned to more cosmopolitan ideas, nationalism in Czech politics and culture preserved ideas and ideals from the nineteenth century national revival. Those who tried to create a universal language based on local vernacular forms often had to reconcile internationalism with the burden of nationalism. On a few examples of Czech artists and architects, vernacular art was presented here as a complex phenomenon which disrupts the reading of modernism in Central Europe as a straightforward embrace of cosmopolitan ideas in the visual arts and art theory and challenges the historical opposition between vernacular art and high art. I especially asked: How was the vernacular, with its nationalistic connotations, incorporated into the search for an internationally recognized visual language? What role and relevance did vernacular art have for artists and architects who broke out with nationalism and openly embraced modernism and cosmopolitanism? How were the international visual forms translated into the local context, and, particularly, into the work of artists associated with the vernacular revival?

In 2012 Marta Filipová organised a conference as part of her research project Modern Identities – European Revivals that may be of interest to anyone researching cultural ‘revivals’.

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