Czech Center New York
COURAGE OF AN ARTIST
Selected works by Vojtech Preissig
Open through May 8, 2015
Curated by Charlotta Kotik, Curator Emerita, Contemporary Art, The Brooklyn Museum
Opening Reception: Tuesday, March 3, 7PM
Followed by a documentary film screening of Accidental Army
Czech Center New York
at the Bohemian National Hall
321 E 73rd Street (between 1st & 2nd Ave), New York, NY 10021
“The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” — Václav Havel
The role that destiny assigned to artist Vojtech Preissig was a significant one, and he accepted the responsibility toward his nation without hesitation and with singular bravery.
Born in the Czech part of Austria–Hungary in 1873, Preissig attended Prague’s School of Art, Architecture and Decorative Arts in the 1890s and moved to Paris in 1897. Interested in printmaking, he also worked with Alphons Mucha and quickly attained renown as a skilled graphic artist. In 1903 Preissig moved back to Prague and established a press where he published graphic works by leading Czech artists of the day. His reputation as a master of etching, aquatints and engravings grew, and in 1909 he published the acclaimed book Color Etchings and Color Engravings. The next year, in 1910, he moved to New York City before going on to work at the Wentworth Institute in Boston.
During World War I, Preissig committed his talent and resources to the cause of liberating Czechs and Slovaks from the domination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He created posters and other printed matter calling on citizens of the United States and Europe to support his people’s fight for independence. In this way he played an active role in the political movement that ultimately resulted in the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. After the entry of the United States into World War I, Preissig also created materials urging Americans to support the war effort.
In the 1920s, Preissig returned to his new homeland, which he so fervently helped create, and worked as a graphic and book artist as well as a painter. With the onset of Nazism in Germany, Preissig’s work became politicized again and he launched the clandestine magazine Into Action. He joined the resistance in the late 1930s and was arrested by German authorities in 1940, together with his daughter, Irena. She was executed in Berlin in 1942, while Preissig himself died in Dachau concentration camp in June 1944.
While highly regarded for his work in various media, exploring ideas of modernism and abstraction, Preissig also never hesitated to step into the role of artist-activist. His commitment to the ideals of freedom and self-determination for all people was unwavering in the face of brutal dictatorship. His art is a living testament to the principles of humanism for which he did not hesitate to sacrifice his own life.
ACCIDENTAL ARMY – Amidst the chaos of World War One and the Russian Revolution, 70,000 Czech and Slovak P.O.Ws switched sides. They became The Czechoslovak Legion―an Allied army fighting for a country of their own―Czechoslovakia. They captured half the Trans-Siberian Railway, half the Czar’s gold, and the heart of a new nation. The documentary was created by the Czech Legion Project – www.czechlegion.com. 47 minutes.