Aviation in Czech Visual Culture 1783–1957

16/07/2021 to 16/01/2022
výstavní síň Masné krámy
Eva Bendová
Eva Bendová

“Man is forever trying to fly. He keeps breaking his arms and legs, but that does not prevent him from clinging to his idea of flight.” So wrote the Swiss painter Paul Klee, for whom flight was an integral part of his life and art. Modern art presents flight in its many forms, hand in hand with technological progress but also contrasted with it. The symbolism and lyricism of flight, the aesthetics of machinery, a sense of adventure, our changed perception of reality due to bird’s eye views and vistas in the clouds are all phenomena that flying has ushered into society and our lives.

The exhibition shows how aviation was reflected in Czech visual culture between 1783 and 1957, from the first balloon flight to the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik. These years bracket the historyof modern aviation and its poetic, technical and symbolic metamorphoses.

The exhibition is based on a Czech Academy of Sciences research project led by Eva Bendová and Ondřej Váš, and the publication that resulted from it. To complement the book, the exhibition will be a powerful visual presentation of aviation-related phenomena in the broadest sweep of highbrow and popular art. The exhibition will highlight specifically Czech and Czechoslovak perspectives, but in an international context, for it cannot dispense with works from France and Italy, countries that were the cradle of aviation and therefore influenced Central Europe too. However, Central Europe has specific characteristics of its own. Visitors will accordingly be surrounded by images of the early years of aviation in the Czech Lands: depictions of balloon flights, illustrations for adventure stories, and utopian or dreamlike visions that were still popular in films (Bořivoj Zeman) and paintings (Kamil Lhoták) in the 1950s. The progress brought by motorised flight influenced avant-garde art and architecture around the world. The advances in aviation in the first half of the 20th century brought with them a rich and at times romantic lyricism, but the aeroplane could also be seen as a weapon of mass destruction. For avant-garde art aviation brought new ways of looking at the world from a bird’s eye view, while also offering glimpses of the infinite depths of space.

The exhibition’s story of flying, falling and conquering the skies ends in 1957 with the launch of the Sputnik satellite and the dawn of space exploration.