NEWS: 27 10 2022 Constructed trials and years of imprisonment. Even so, sometimes the efforts of Czech artists to create sacred art during the communist regime. And it is to these artists and their works that the Museum of Arts new exhibition, Sacred Art in an Unholy Age, will be dedicated from 27 October.

NEWS: 27 10 2022

The exhibition presents an art historical view of a wide range of realisations of sacral architecture, pictorial and sculptural works, and diverse realisations in applied art in specific interiors. These works were created during the fifty-year period of communist totalitarianism, in a climate and time of targeted atheization of society and often cruel restrictions. Nevertheless, it has sometimes been possible to realise high-quality and modern works of art in churches, often as part of necessary restoration work. What stands out all the more is the emphasis on the truth and ethos of the approach of the creators, who, moreover, in many cases brought among the classical forms the manifestations of the contemporary and modern perception of the artist of the second half of the 20th century. Behind the individual works, we can find the stories of courage, commitment, and dedication of the personalities of the commissioners, the priests of the individual parishes, and on the other hand, the realizers, the artists.

In the early 1950s, the Jaroslav Čermák’s architectural practice Huť, which brought together art theoreticians Růžena Vacková and Josef Zvěřina and artists Miloslav Troup, Václav Boštík, Jiří Mrázek and others, managed to carry out several important projects. The painter Vojmír Vokolek, with his unmissable mural paintings which he painted in several churches in Moravia and Bohemia, was an example of an original solitaire.

A crucial event in the field of sacred art, whose significance goes behind the borders of the homeland, was the renovation of the interior of the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Jedovnice (1963–1965), organized by parish priest František Vavříček. Mikuláš Medek and Jan Koblasa were the main contributors here. The creation of this extraordinary interior became a precedent for further realisations. In Senetářov, also in the parish of Jedovnice, a new Church of St. Joseph was built according to the design of Ludvík Kolek.

Among the realized new sacral buildings, the exhibition also mentions the Chapel of the Divine Heart of the Lord in Olomouc by Jaroslav Čermák, the Church of St. Nicholas in Tichá by Lubomír Šlapeta, the Church of St. Wenceslas in Most by Michal Sborwitz and the Evangelical Church at Jacob’s Ladder in Prague-Kobylisy designed by Swiss architect Ernst Gisel. The documents also mention unrealised designs by architects Jan Sokol, Jaroslav Čermák and Tomáš Černoušek.

II. The Vatican Council (1963–1965) and its constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium from 1963 brought many radical interventions in church interiors with its instructions for changes in liturgical space. There was a new demand to reduce the number of altars in the church and to turn the altar to face the people, which was intended to enhance the truly communal celebration of the Mass. The architects Jan Sokol, Tomáš Černoušek, Lubomír Šlapeta and the artists Ludvík Kolek and Karel Stádník were practically involved in the application of the conciliar documents. Their work was followed up by other artists of the younger generation, such as stained-glass artists Karel Rechlík, Jan Jemelka, Jan Exnar, sculptors Otmar Oliva, Luděk Tichý and others.

Artworks from the sacral spaces of not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Evangelical Czech Brethren Church, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, the Greek Catholic Church and the Church of the Brethren are also presented. In the specific environment of the Evangelical Church, artists Miroslav Rada, Ivan Jilemnický and Pavel Herynek have made their artistic mark.

A separate chapter is devoted to the works of Czech artists who chose emigration after 1948 and in different social conditions were able to work on monumental commissions, such as the painter Josef Šíma, who designed the stained-glass windows for the Cathedral of St. James in Reims, France. In Germany, the sculptor Jan Koblasa created important works, and in Austria Zbyněk Sekal and Josef Symon. Also included is Otto Herbert Hajek, who, although German, always claimed Czech lands his home and carried out a wide range of works in the field of sacred art.

The aim of the project is to contribute to the understanding of one of the neglected chapters of Czech history and to document the role of visual arts in the worship space of Christian churches acting in the Czech lands between 1948 and 1989.