The exhibition celebrates the collaboration between Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova that has spanned the second half of the twentieth century, a time of political and social change in the Czech Republic.
Forty years of Soviet style planning under the leadership of the Communist Party (KSC) had a debilitating effect on many areas of cultural life, it offered financial support for impressive international presentations of artists’ and designers’ works, and funded commissions for architecture and public spaces. Libensky and Brychtova exploited this climate and made use of available resources to develop a new concept of sculpting inner space or ‘negative relief’ by manipulating the transparent nature of glass, and applied this innovation to freestanding sculptures and architectural installations.
Libensky’s background was in painting and Brychtova’s in sculpture. The new method of casting glass in negative relief was made possible through Brychtova’s innovations and her discontent with traditional processes. She wanted to make sculpture, but glass was an available medium and glassmaking was in her family. Whilst studying at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts she worked alongside her father experimenting with glass casting techniques. By the early 1950s she was confident enough in these processes to set up the Centre for Melting Glass for Architecture at the glassworks in her hometown Zelezny Brod.
Libensky and Brychtova first demonstrated their use of negative relief at the EXPO 58 World Fair in Brussels. The Czech Pavilion impressed visitors by its innovation in both architecture and design. Zoomorphic Stones, a series of coloured glass blocks embedded with animal forms inspired by prehistoric cave drawings, earned Libensky and Brychtova the Grand Prix award – the highest accolade for an individual contribution.
These works exhibit the abstraction and fractured, multiple viewpoints of Cubism. Libensky’s architectonic yet gestural paintings were their starting point. Brychtova worked to translate the overlapping two-dimensional shapes of his paintings through her understanding of the properties of glass and how it is affected by light. In these works, Libensky and Brychtova control how we see by the clever manipulation of light through and onto the glass relief.
The freestanding Blue Composition (1964) demonstrates this synthesis of painting and cast glass. The gestural elements of Libensky’s original design are evident in the painterly textures of the ultramarine glass.
Working between architectural commissions, major international presentations and ‘studio’ sculptures was to be a feature of their practice. In 1983, Brychtova left the Centre for Melting Glass for Architecture that she had founded. Libensky and Brychtova equipped their own studio with two kilns and from this date concentrated almost exclusively on producing studio sculpture for exhibition.The minimal purity of there crystal monoliths evokes alchemy of light, transforming colours through reflection and refraction.
The works they made together in the last decade of their career speak of the fragile nature of human existence, yet even in adversity, it is conscious thoughts and ideas that have the power to transform and transcend.
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