Organized by the Czech Center New York in collaboration with the New York Ceramic and Glass Fair and the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, "It’s Always Teatime in Wonderland," will be on view at the Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, from January 21 through January 25, 2015. It features Czech and Slovak designers who use everyday objects as a starting point of their explorations to re-create and reimaging the world of fairytales and fantasy. The exhibition combines established designers, such as Jakub Berdych, Radka Kovačiková, Věra Panková and Maxim Velčovský, with an emerging younger generation of artists who make their U.S. debut: Kristýna Bratránková, Lucie Kovačiková, Jolana Sornerová, Helena Tapajnová, and Hana Vinklárková. The exhibition is inspired by the story of Alice in Wonderland and Alice’s encounter with the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and Dormouse, all of whom are perpetually having tea, asking unanswerable riddles, reciting nonsensical poetry and endlessly switching places.
“The surrealistic moment of suspended time in Wonderland inspired the selection of the objects for this show,” says curator Kristyna Milde of the Czech Center. “I was searching for objects that retold stories from folk traditions, literature, fairytales and childhood memories.
Meg Wendy, who with Liz Lees coproduces the New York Ceramics and Glass Fair, says: “We are delighted to showcase the artistry and craftsmanship of the contemporary Czech ceramists in this exhibition and are pleased to introduce them to a new audience.”
Milde adds: “Because of their mundane references, the objects may at first seem familiar, but on closer inspection are revealed to be strangely unsettling, mixing the familiar with the surreal, shifting our expectation of pottery.“
The tableware by Hana Vinklárková has the haunting quality of an aquarelle painting. She uses readymade pottery as if it were a book to tell stories from her imagination and memories. In her Sediments series the paintings of various creatures resemble coffee stains in used cups and bowls. Vinklárková plays with the visual similarity to call to mind the tradition of tasseograpy in foretelling the future or revealing insight about the past. Her Tower piece consists of painting stretching over seven pieces of white dinner plates to portray exercising figures in a playful puzzle-like set. The Forest Still Life series evokes an eerie atmosphere of forgotten forest cemetery, which she paints with blue paint, traditionally used in the Czech Onion pottery.
Helena Tapajnová (b.1991) often deconstructs prefabricated ceramic decorations to create new pieces with different functions. She sometimes brutally amputates parts and combines them with completely opposing objects to play with and reveal the absurdity of its esthetic. In the Lamps series she uses sculptures of dogs as electric lamps but substitutes the heads with electrical bulbs to create functional lights. The Story of Deer is a set for sweets, cake cover and a sugar bowl made of blown glass and sandblasted porcelain and combining realistic figures of a deer and its siblings with minimal body-like shapes. It recalls a folk story of a brother and a sister in which the brother, after drinking from a spring, transforms into a deer. Tapajnová’s Deer’s Dialogue is a drip-shaped flower vase with two deer heads. It can swing from side to side, conjuring playground childhood memories. There are several slots that can be used for flowers and create the illusion of a meadow with two deer grazing.
The Play by Lucie Kovačiková is installation of various cuddly teddy bears and other stuffed animals. Though they look like stuffed, they are actually made of ceramic. Their eyes, the same as used in the toy industry, create a lively but also melancholic expression. The shift in material from the soft plush to the hard porcelain creates the feeling of a childhood photograph frozen in time. The figures are gathered by a fire, sitting on a decorative Oriental carpet, and they seem to be telling each other a story, evoking the atmosphere of the Arab fairy tale One Thousand and One Nights.
The head of a white Rabbit by Kristýna Bratránková is unsettling in its scale. The cute animal face gains a sense of monstrosity by its enlargement. The fact that the rest of the body is missing and we can see only the decapitated head add to the spookiness of the piece.
Maxim Velčovský (b.1976), one of the leading Czech designers, is currently the Head of the Ceramics and Porcelain Department at Academy of Applied Arts in Prague. Most of his work involves reimagining everyday objects as new forms by using a touch of humor. The hand-painted porcelain candleholder called Little Joseph looks like the head of a small baby boy. It can be interpreted as a kind of Halloween version of a doll for boys. The candle drippings gradually create a new layer of “hair.” And if you prefer to keep him bald, simply use dripless candles.
Jakub Berdych (*1971), together with Maxim Velčovský, founded the renowned Czech design shop Qubus in Prague in 2002. The Kafkanistán, a giant candleholder, is a vertical tower-like structure consisting of stacked porcelain pottery, white opaque glazing and partially gilded details. On top is the head of a small boy, Little Joseph, who holds a candle. The name of the piece, together with its surrealistic and absurd composition, refers to Franz Kafka, whose work is filled with the themes of physical and psychological alienation, parent–child conflict, labyrinths of bureaucracy and mystical transformations.
With a stylish modern twist on a classic theme, the Forest Folly Collection created by Věra Panková for ARTĚL pays homage to the centuries-old tradition of hunting in the Bohemian countryside. ARTĚL is a luxury crystal glass company that was founded in 1998 and is known for its striking collection of barware and decorative items handmade by Czech artisans. The Forest Folly Collection comprises six colored glasses and a carafe, each with different hunting-themed motif: Stag, Hare, Fox, Duck, Wild Boar, and Labrador with Pheasant. Each rustically elegant mouth-blown glass figure features a hand-engraved image of an animal surrounded by a delicately intertwined thicket of oak branches and centered above a crossed pair of hunting rifles with a single oak leaf on the bottom. It is inspired by an Art Nouveau engraving that ARTĚL founder and director Karen Feldman discovered in her country house in southern Bohemia.
FireFlies by Jolana Šornerová (*1985) are interactive ceiling lights that open their 3D printed plastic wings once they detect movement in the space. They also change brightness depending on the visitor’s height. The installation resembles the magical atmosphere in the summer when the FireFlies are swarming in the woods, lighting the dark nights around the St. Johns Eve.
In the Preset series Radka Kovačíková (*1982) uses goldsmith techniques to engrave mirrors enclosed in an iPad frame. The drawings inside the frames, which are also visible from behind, document the author’s quick sketches and impressions during virtual conversations. The series Presence poses the question of what is real and what is virtual. Technological devices are nowadays used to transfer feelings and thoughts on / under / through the adjoining screen, strengthening contacts and meetings.
It’s Always Tea Time in Wonderland, a loan exhibit of contemporary Czech design is organized by the Czech Center New York in collaboration with the New York Ceramic and Glass Fair and the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, with special thanks to CZECHDESIGN, on view from Tuesday, January 21 - 25, 2015, VIP preview: January 20, at Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, New York, NY 10021.For more information visit www.newyorkceramicsandglassfair.com/loan-exhibit or www.czechcenter.com