Strings Attached: The Living Tradition of Czech Puppetry
Following the recent successful showcase of Czech arts at the APAP performing arts fair in New York, Czech art is again in the American spotlight. The gala opening of the largest exhibition of Czech puppets took place in the United States on Friday, 8 March 2013. Titled ‘Strings Attached: The Living Tradition of Czech Puppetry’ and prepared by the Arts and Theatre Institute (ATI) in cooperation with the Columbus Museum of Art, the exhibition outlines the history of Czech puppetry theatre from the end of the 19th century to the present day.
Czech puppetry theatre, so indelibly tied in the past and the present to the shaping of Czech national culture, is a recognised phenomenon in the world. The interest in Czech puppetry prompted the director of Columbus Museum of Arts, Nannette V. Maciejunes, and long-time champion of Czech stage design and culture Prof. Joe Brandesky to organise at the museum the largest exhibition of Czech puppetry ever to be held on American soil. The Columbus Museum of Arts invited the Arts and Theatre Institute to cooperate on the exhibition and after three years of consultations and preparations ‘Strings Attached’ opened successfully on Friday, 8 March. The museum’s director estimates that more than 50,000 visitors will see the exhibition over half a year, which is a truly great calling card for Czech culture.
An important change occurred in the course of preparations when the main project partner, the National Museum in Prague, withdrew. The Czech state’s arbitration process with the firm Diag Human made it difficult to loan works of art abroad. The ATI therefore decided to turn to private collectors. Extensive financial support for the exhibition was provided by Ohio State University, without which this grand project could not have been completed. ‘The preparation of Strings Attached, sometimes the strings were stretched to the point of snapping, but in the end thanks to this project we managed to build strong ties with partners in Ohio. Mostly it was the owners of private puppet collections, managers of puppet collections at Czech puppetry theatres, and of course the creators of puppets themselves who saved the exhibition. I think we aren’t fully aware of the wealth of cultural heritage that is contained in these collections, which are kept in minimalistic working environments‘, says Martina Černá, manager of the exhibition.
During the opening, which comprised a guided tour and talk, Nina Malíková, an expert in puppetry theatre at ATI, presented the philosophy behind the exhibition, and Prof. Joe Brandesky described the production of aPOEtheosis, co-created by the major Czech stage designer Prof. Petr Matásek, which borrows freely from the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe and is part of the exhibition’s accompanying programme.
‘The American public was captivated not just by the scale of the exhibition (with more than 140 objects) or the variety of exhibits, which include various types of puppets, set designs, and performance space models, and even a model of the world-famous black-light theatre. Admiration was also directed at the high aesthetic quality of the Czech puppets. The elaborately detailed features and the tender beauty of Czech puppets have their roots in Czech church wood-carving. Visitors’ curiosity was also captured by traditional Czech puppetry figures from the early 19th century, such as blackamoor puppets (from the collection of Mr and Mrs Jirásek) and puppet heads by Alois Šroif (a devil, a burgher, a Jew), which have altogether different connotations in the American environment,’ adds Nina Malíková.
The exhibition also drew attention from the world media; an interview with Nina Malíková and Joe Brandesky was published in the prestigious American Wall Street Journal.
The Czech puppetry exhibition will run at the Columbus Museum of Art until 8 August 2013.