Crystal is the new bronze: The work of the Vlčí Hora school comes to Monaco Yacht Show 2019
Sculpture in the 21st Century takes many forms whilst being steeped in a rich tradition of art history. Ever since Marcel Duchamp exhibited ‘readymade’ art, conceptualism, inherent creativity and aesthetics have pushed the boundaries of the avant-garde to inform new ways of seeing three-dimensional art.
Today in a small town of Vlčí Hora North of Prague, a school of creativity has emerged from the ashes of the early 20th century taking root during the Cold War and flourishing since the early 90s. Bohemia has been known for years for its crystal, yet the pre-conceptions concern jewellery, glass and ornamental design. This genre of crystal sculpture, however, distances itself from these origins and the medium is being re-evaluated as the new bronze, a striking art form signifying a new era of creative expression and modernity. These artists have explored how the medium, from sand into molten glass and finally hardened crystal monoliths, can be manipulated by individual artists to create a new vision of abstraction in the round.
In the same way that artists including Ai Wei Wei, Grayson Perry and Dale Chihuly have changed the reception of ceramic media through their practice, the perception of crystal as a ‘plastic art’ has evolved from craft to chef-d’oeuvre. Now, established artists such as Vlastimil Beranek, Jan Frydrych and Michaela Smrcek are highly collectable – think fifty presidents and heads of state for starters – and they are commanding six-figure sums for commissions. Like any established practitioners, they have sound careers, strong gallery representation (with controlled exposure ) visible stylistic development and distinctive artistic quality. Many have a presence in National Museums such as the V&A, The Royal Dutch and the Royal Ghent museums.
Working with raw material demands a high level of skill and years of technical know-how. Creating a monumental work which can weigh up to 100kg, is what sets this modern-day school apart from anything that has gone before. It takes years of refinement, trial and error to turn conceptual drawings into reality. This is perhaps where crystal as the new bronze differs from cast media where the artist relies heavily on foundry technicians and workmen. Working in crystal, the artist exercises to firm and full control over the entire execution process.
Beyond skilled craftsmanship, the Vlčí Hora School is responsible for a new genre of fine art with abstraction at its core. As with most sculpture, the ability to capture light at different angles and times of day or night is a major characteristic of the medium. So too is the treatment of the surface and surface tension. The translucent nature of crystal, the possibilities created by adding additional materials and colours along with the ability of the artist to render body and surface to near perfection enables a myriad of solutions and light effects. No wonder then that so many reside on superyachts where, not only are they deemed durable, but the effects of light are enhanced out on the water.
The Aqua One series by Vlastimil Beranek breathes organic form reminiscent of a Henry Moore, charged with similar energy yet utilising the transparent medium to allow the depth of colour, refraction of light and new treatments of the surface. Beranek typically accompanies pieces with poetry, for he is also a writer and this informs his work. Jan Frydrych, by contrast, is an architect and approaches the medium from a mathematical perspective creating draughtsman like forms so that geometry punctuates the spaces they occupy. Frydrych pushes his no technical ability to the limit, encasing floating objects suspended in the crystal for a futuristic effect. This is not a medium or practice confined to men. A third artist Michaela Smrček exhibits an altogether different architectural approach with tall monumental shards with rusticated edges in transfixing colours resembling primitive stalactites. She also experiments with large crescent moons using blue and green hues to capture and refract light with stunning effect when residing on the deck of a superyacht.
The Northern Bohemia School has grown to include over a dozen artists and their pupils. It is gaining worldwide recognition as an appreciation of the medium grows, the stylistic development of the artists surpasses new boundaries and exhibitions such as a recent one, dramatically held underwater in Palma, take place around the world. Works by the Vlčí Hora artists circle are now mainstream pieces in the portfolios of significant global art collectors and it remains to be seen how the next generation of sculptors in the crystal will take the baton and evolve their own style from the durable legacy of their mentors.
Artsio Gallery will be exhibiting at the Monaco Yacht show pavilion in September.
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