Czech, Please
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Bart Quillen, co-owner of Brooklyn, NY’s new Prague Kolektiv gallery showcasing Czech artistry, discusses the historical roots of the culture’s lighting design paradigms:

"What has characterized Czech lighting over the 80 years or so since the advent of electrification is its economy of ornament, material and form. It is not fussy or overly ornate.

    Nowhere is the simplicity and the elegance of Czech design more evident than in the Czech lighting manufactured in the 1930s. The materials used are predominantly chrome, nickel and glass. Ornamentation does exist, but it is subdued and most often employed with the intent of not drawing attention to itself, but to the materials and function of the object.

    Hanging lamps best exemplify this decorative discipline that underlies the Czech design aesthetic. In them, one sees the rhythmic repetition of simple geometric forms, the linearity and the proportionality that are the hallmarks of Czech design from the pre-war period. One can also recognize connections to broader design trends, such as the Deco movement, which Czech designers of the pre-war years in many ways anticipated. 


A little history helps to explain how Czech society—a culture we do not typically associate with the leading edge of design—actually participated in important ways in the progress of 20th Century applied arts. From 1918 to 1938, designers, producers and middle class consumers in a newly independent and democratic Czechoslovakia embraced architecture and applied design. The vocabulary of modernism furnished a new means of expression.

    It was a period of great optimism for Czechoslovakia, and Czech society in general looked toward the future with excitement and found in everyday objects, lighting included, an opportunity to participate in the progress of their society. Where lighting is concerned, no material lent itself more to building this vernacular than Czech glass which, owing to its great tradition and reputation both in the Czech lands and abroad, became the focal point for innovation in Czech lighting through the 1960s.

    Despite the major social and economic disruption that followed the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Czechs continued to rely on their highly advanced glass and achieved remarkable results. The luminosity of colors used in the glass light shades, the balance and proportion of their shapes, and their varied textures all contribute to the elegance of Czech mid-century lighting.

    While it is clear that Czech lighting from the mid-century derives its inspiration from Scandinavia and the organic aesthetic that prevailed during that period, the underlying simplicity and playful but understated ornamentation characteristic of 20th Century Czech design remains the norm.

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