The first major exhibition of photographer Jaromír Funke's work outside of Europe in nearly 25 years will be on view at the National Gallery of Art
, Washington, from May 3 through August 9, 2009. Some 70 works in Jaromír Funke and the Amateur Avant-Garde will reveal his influential role in the Czech and Slovak amateur photography movement in the 1920s and 1930s and will include works by Josef Sudek (18961976), one of the best-known Czech photographers worldwide, and Eugen Wikovský (18881964).
"The exhibition places Jaromír Funke's career at the center of an important, if often overlooked, history of amateur photography that developed quickly in central Europe between the wars," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "The Gallery is the only venue for this thought-provoking exhibition with important works from our collection joined by generous loans from public and private collections."
Jaromír Funke (18961945)
Funke, a law student from a well-to-do family in Kolín, became passionate about photography in 1920 and joined his local amateur club two years later. In 1924, Funke founded the Czech Photographic Society with Josef Sudek, Adolf Schneeberger (18971977), and Ludvik Dvořák (18911969), promoting modern subjects and proclaiming their allegiance to ideas derived from American photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his circle. From 1924 to 1930, Funke developed an extensive still-life series that depicted materials of darkroom photography: the light bulb from an enlarger, bottles of developer chemicals, mat board, and the hose for washing prints.
In 1931 Funke became a professor of photography at the School of Applied Arts in Bratislava, and then in 1935 at the State Graphic Arts School in Prague. His advertising and design curriculum, modeled on the Bauhaus, emphasized unity of the fine arts, architecture, technology, and design. In 1937 and 1938, Funke made two significant trips to Subcarpathian Rutheniaa mountainous region now part of Ukrainethat would result in two pivotal series of landscape photography. In the final weeks of World War II the artist died unexpectedly due to illness.
Jaromír Funke and the Amateur Avant-Garde traces the careers of Funke and his compatriots and reveals how their photographs bridged the aesthetics of the amateur mainstream and the experimental styles of the avant-garde. From the early 1920s and the 1930swhen avant-garde photography became more widespread in Czech cultureto photographs made during World War II, these visionaries followed the path of the committed amateur. They exhibited or published their own prints and shared knowledge of photography but did not make a commercial or artistic living from it.
The first room of the exhibition will include works that established Funke as a world-class artist, such as photographs from the first nationwide amateur photography salon: Untitled (Bridge in Kolín) (1922) and Staircase in Old Prague (c. 1922). Rarely exhibited during his career and on view together for the first time in a significant number, darkroom works, including Spiral (1924) and Abstract Photo (19271929), make a profound statement about the mystery of photography.
Throughout the 1930s amateur modernist photography blossomed in Czechoslovakia with talented enthusiasts taking their handheld cameras everywhere. Eugen Wikovský, a close friend of Funke who wrote theoretical articles on photography, made tightly framed yet emotionally expansive compositions. Several recently discovered exhibition prints by Wikovský including Insulator (1932) and Portrait (1935), will be on view.
Classroom studies by several of Funke's pupils and similarly conceived compositions by Jindřich Koch (1896-1934), who taught photography at a sister school to the Bauhaus in Halle, Germany, will be paired in the exhibition. They include Study with a Cone (1932) by Milo Dohnány (19041944) and Untitled (Textile Study) (1930) by Koch.
Apart from his professional positions, Funke made original contributions to socially committed photography and to surrealism. This experimental, more personal work is represented in his series Reflections and Time Persists, and later work depicting urban housing and peasants, seen in Student Housing, Brno (1930).
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, owns an important suite of portfolios on Czech cathedrals from Funke's late career; examples from one of these, on the gothic St. Vitus cathedral in Prague, will be on view. They will be presented with rare photographs of St. Vitus taken in 1945 by Funke's contemporary Jiří Jeníček (1895-1963). The studies are part of a set of 72 possibly unique photographs, owned by the National Gallery as well, that were intended for a book on the great cathedral.
The last room of the exhibition will explore Funke's career from the late 1930s through the final weeks of World War II, when the artist suddenly died. Landscape photographs by Funke from Subcarpathian Ruthenia and an example of his related series, The Unsated Earth (19401944), a mournful reflection on the disappearance of humanity into a bloodsoaked soil during Word War II, will be showcased.