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The Czech Avant-Garde Book

January 28, 2014–April 7, 2014
Ryerson and Burnham Libraries (closed Saturdays and Sundays)

In the period between the two world wars, artistic movements in Czechoslovakia produced outstanding examples of avant-garde book cover design, layout, and typography. Czech artists, designers, and architects adopted and developed trends from the avant-garde in other parts of Europe and created what they saw as a new approach to book cover design and typography. Rejecting the bibliophile tradition of book design, these artists sought instead to use avant-garde aesthetics to create simply produced books that could be made available to all.  This was not merely an attempt to put modern art on a book cover but rather to rethink the entire aesthetics and so produce a modern book and book cover. 

This exhibition covers the work of Czech artists and designers Ladislav Sutnar, Toyen, Jindřich Štyrský, Karel Teige and several others.  Many of the designers of these books were members of the Devětsil artist group, which was founded in Prague in 1920. Early on, Devětsil artists began producing “Pictorial Poems” which used the techniques of collage and photomontage to visually recreate the lyricism of poetry and can be seen on the covers of some of their books. These artists also drew from other artistic movements such as Constructivism, Surrealism, and Socialist Realism to create what are often graphically striking designs. The Czech publishing house Odeon, as well as the co-operative publisher Družstevní práce published many of these books. This exhibition is drawn from the Ryerson Library’s special collections, especially the Leibowits and Mary Reynolds collections.

Zdeněk Rossmann's cover design for Civilisovaná Žena (The Civilized Woman), 1929.