Sunday, January 8, 2012

An afternoon at the Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava

Now that we have the holidays and the residency permit ordeal behind us, we've finally had time to do some things that we've been wanting to do for a while, like check out Bratislava's Slovak National Gallery. The SNG is Bratislava's chief art museum, which in addition to a permanent collection consisting of Italian and Dutch paintings from the 1500-1800s, as well as a bunch of local gothic and baroque paintings and sculptures, seems to have a lot of temporary exhibits focusing more on modern art.

I'd been dying to see an exhibit there that's ending soon called, "Nove Slovensko - Difficult Birth of the Modern Lifestyle." The exhibit basically chronicles Slovakia from the immediate post-WWI years (when it became a new nation - no longer under Austro-Hungary's control), through the late 40s (when the Communists had taken the reins) via two floors of photographs, paintings, awesome Bauhaus/Constructivist poster art and graphic design, and even some sleek modernist furniture. This was an extremely fascinating, cool, and well-put-together exhibit, and I'm really glad we managed to catch it before it ends. And as a welcome bonus, the gallery was free today, as they offer free admission every first Sunday of the month.

There were some stunning paintings, like this one by Gejza Schiller:

And some incredible Constructivist/Bauhaus-ish posters, like this one:

There was also a beautiful, cubist/futurist style painting by an artist with a Hungarian last name that, for the life of me, I can't remember. The painting was called Paris Cafe, and was done in 1930. I've scoured Google and can't find any info on it. At any rate, it was great to see so many abstract paintings (many cubism-inspired) by artists I'd never heard of before.

The exhibit featured countless photographs of Bratislava during the decades covered in the exhibit, and it was fascinating to see how it looked back then. Some photos were very reminiscent of Rodchenko's angular, modernist approach, while others simply documented life during the decades represented. Through some of these photos, I learned that a few of the buildings in our neighborhood are older than I'd assumed. For example, I discovered that this building which I've photographed several times, called the Manderla building,

which is a block away from our apartment, was the first residential high-rise constructed in Bratislava, and it was built in 1935. I honestly thought it was from the late 40s, but I was off by over a decade. If the building still had the Manderla signage along the top, I'd probably have guessed its age more accurately.

There was also a wall that covered Slovakia's dark, hellish fascist phase, which lasted from the late 30s through early 1945. These photos showed scary rallies with the fascist paramilitary Hlinka Guard, basically Slovakia's blackshirts, who were responsible for forcibly deporting Jews, Roma, and dissidents. One photo showed Jews being "escorted" out of Slovak town Nitra by Hlinka thugs. Like much of Eastern Europe, Slovakia was an unrelentingly bad place to be during WWII if you were Jewish or Roma. (Interestingly, the Hlinka insignia, ubiquitous at that time on flags and armbands, has an eerie similarity to the one used by the fictitious fascist Norsefire regime in the film "V for Vendetta").

I also learned through several photos that, apparently, up until the 1930s, women from some rural areas of Slovakia were still wearing what can only be described as traditional, medieval peasant/folk garb. One such photo (circa mid-30s) showed a group of barefoot, young women dressed in full-on peasant attire, shoveling dirt to make way for train tracks. Other photos showed similarly dressed women selling produce or doing routine daily chores. The women in these photos really did not look like they were simply dressing up for some photo shoot intended to celebrate Slovakia's national heritage.

At any rate, it was such an impressive exhibit that if it weren't ending in less than a week, I'd probably go back.

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