<3 art | Karel Teige
Karel Teige (1900-1951) was the brightest star in the brilliant constellation of Czech avant-garde artist-writers of the 1920s and 30’s. A constructivist and a surrealist, a poet, collagist, photographer, typographer and architectural theorist; he was also known as a voracious reader and was exceedingly well traveled.
He was part of the avant-guard allegiance, or Devetsil (meaning “nine forces”), founded in 1920 in the Prague Cafe Union. Its members were artists born around the turn of the century, who shared a communist outlook and a commitment to artistic experimentation. Over the next ten years, they would meet day and night for discussions in the artificial light and public spaces of coffee houses, beer cellars and nightclubs. The group’s leader, Karel Teige , was a one-time painter who had renounced art in favor of exploring “mechanical reproducibility”, was an eloquent public champion of the new Modernist ideas.
Teige focused his attention on two related areas which he considered to be the most appropriate agents of propaganda for an international socialist order: architecture and book design. Son of Prague’s city archivist and prolific writer, he was described by Moholy-Nagy as, “the most well-informed man in Europe”. A born leader, he saw his personal vocation as being to open Czechoslovakia’s windows to the world, both east and west, following the stifling rule of the Austrian Empire. He was soon to become the ideologist and spokesman of the Czech avant-garde.
Teige did not complete his art history degree, because one of the tenets of his vision of art was that major innovations would come from amateurs. “The professional artist is a deviation, even an anomaly. In 1924 no professional athletes were allowed to compete in the Paris Olympics. So why can’t we reject the professional cliques of painting, writing, sculpting and chiselling businessman? The work of art should not be the subject of commercial speculation nor of academic discussion. In essence it is a gift or a game, without obligations and without consequences.”. Poetism, with its emphasis on freedom from commitment and its craving for public life, was to be the pivot of Teige’s philosophy.
Teige was never a “designer”, in the present meaning of the word. He abstained from a professional career or a safe position. For him, this was a way to double the outlets for his propaganda for a better world – as both the author who presents intellectual propaganda and the designer who delivers visual propaganda. In the context of his extensive verbal output, it is hard to suppress the idea that for Teige, graphic design was merely a clumsy metaphor for the circulation of ideas.
After Teige’s death, the communists eliminated almost all trace of him. Even today, in spite of some exhibitions in Prague, his designs in the rural National Museum of the Book (Zdar). Though listed in the catalogue, they have been removed for an indefinite period, “undergoing restoration”, in the words of that well-worn communist phrase. But studies on Teige have recently been published and others are in preparation. His work can be seen in several countries. This unshaven nightclubber, 40 years after his death, still inspires admiration as a designer, a writer and a daring believer. *
The image we used of the artist for this post is a real gem. It belongs to a contemporary artist named Katarina Burin. She seemly has super imposed herself in the image, as she is the female pictured smiling, as a means to be near her fellow Czech artist, Karel Teige, who is waving and looking off in the distance. We sent her an email to see if she could tell us more about this piece. When she responds, we will follow up with another post.
*text from thanx. @www.eyemagazine.com
please, we highly suggest you read the complete article. It was one of the most wonderfully written - through pieces we found on the artist. Eye no. 12 vol. 3, 1994