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JIØÍ ŠVESTKA (1955)
Art historian and gallerist. Previously the Director of the Kunstverein in Düsseldorf and the Curator of the Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg, since 1995 he has run the private Jiri Svestka Gallery in Prague, concentrating on contemporary and modern art. In 1991 he organised an extensive exhibition in Düsseldorf, 1909−1925 Cubism in Prague.

PLAYING WITH CRYSTALS

AN INTERVIEW WITH JIØÍ ŠVESTKA, CONSULTANT FOR THIS CHAPTER

WHAT APPEALS TO YOU ABOUT THAT PERIOD?
Czech Cubism appeals to me because it was a time when Czech artists were coming to terms with the latest developments in art, with great courage and at great risk. There was a systematic departure from the traditional models from Munich and Vienna. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t entirely consistent. It brought new energy into the country, something Czech art could draw on right up to the end of the twentieth century.

WHAT DID THAT PERIOD CONTRIBUTE TO CZECH DESIGN?
Cubist design became part of the new art. It was not meant merely as an accessory; its designers intended it to formulate the period lifestyle. In practice, of course, things were a little different, and Cubist design didn’t become a mass-produced product. In that respect it was very similar to its unavowed role model, the Wiener Werkstätte.

WHAT EVENTS DO YOU THINK HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON CZECH DESIGN?
The advent of Cubism in this country was associated with nationalist tendencies in the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian Empire. Exhibitions of French, German and Czech art that presented the latest trends had a great influence here. Paradoxically, it was commissions in Vienna during the First World War that allowed Cubist design to survive financially.

WHAT WERE YOUR CRITERIA FOR SELECTING INDIVIDUAL EXHIBITS?
In design, what is crucial for me is the authenticity of an object. In Czech Cubism however, almost all objects are unusually appealing and authentic, so any selection is a matter of originality, personal taste and the popularity of those objects.

IS THERE ANYTHING FROM THOSE YEARS THAT YOU WOULD CALL TYPICALLY CZECH?
All ‘Czech Cubism’ is typically Czech, with an attempt at symbolism, and perhaps a certain inelegance.

IF YOU WERE ON A DESERT ISLAND AND COULD TAKE THREE OBJECTS FROM THAT PERIOD WITH YOU, WHICH ONES WOULD THEY BE?
Maybe the right object would be Goèár’s chandelier, quite impractical, a reminder of the extravagance of the civilisation I had fled.