Speaking of Realism: A show of Czechoslovakian Realism 1948-1989 looks to debut in New York. An interview with director Francesco Augusto Razetto

by Genny DI BERT

Realism in Socialist Czechoslovakia was shown at the Gallery Mánes, the museumm of modern art in Prague in December 2009. The exhibition comprised over 70 works revisting the period of Czech realism through a selection of paintings, sculpture, graphics and photography, many previously unpublished or unseen. The curator of architecture of the Prague Foundation Eluetheria, Francesco Augusto Razetto, along with the show’s other curators, including his brother Ottaviano Maria Razetto, are working on bringing the exhibition to Italy and New York.

Esposizione a Manes (Eleutheria) 005

The architect Ottaviano Maria Razetto, who organized the show in Prague, in view of a Czech-American initiative said, “I believe that it would be very interesting to make a comparison between socialist realism and that of America. Realism is not just a phenomenon that involves only totalitarian regimes but also represents all people during profound socio-political changes.” He continues, “ In America, the end of the 19th century saw the advent of realism. It’s not a planned or imposed event, as it occurs in socialist society, but is a natural response that artists had in modern American society. [American] artists have a kind of natural tendency to express themselves thru realism, as when witnessing major historical moments in war or during social revolutions.”

President Razetto, what are the parallels between Czech and American realism?

The suppressed world that American society had lived and believed until that point was over, and a new thoughts emerged: restlessness, existential loneliness, the separateness of the modern man. And in this great social shift, this time induced by an economic revolution and not one of war, inspired many artists of the time to describe the country and it crisis. A second American realism was born, that of Charles Demuth, Charles Scheeler and, above all, Edward Hopper. Hopper’s paintings depict a lost, neurotic society in which the American man remains alone, lost unto himself, unable to communicate. In this sense, a similar emptiness is perceived in Socialist Realism. As in the works of Hopper, these works capture the failure of a society capable only of creating lonely individuals, set against an anonymous urban landscape. In this way the paintings of the second period of socialist realism (from 1960 on), and is no longer the pivoting element on which to build the new socialist society, but is instead engulfed and obliterated by the very same production techniques that should have fostered his freedom. The socialist simply becomes a gear in the machine, which in art is represented by factory assembly lines. It is easy to interpret this as symbolizing the whole of society in which man no longer feels a participant. He is a mannequin, as in the recent works of Duane Hanson, filled with a disparate emptiness and frustration.

Do you think that the American public could appreciate a show of Czech realism?

The American public is traditionally very open to the new and cutting edge in the field of art. In the case of Czech realism, we are talking about an artistic phenomenon that for years remained unknown to the Western world. It is crying for an uncovering not just for this, but even more because of its freshness in absolute terms. I think the rediscovery of Socialist Realism could represent a vital link, which could inspire the rewriting of a historical critique of realism in general. I believe America, open and immunite to political conditioning, is the country that could lead this fascinating journey.

You are working on a New York exhibition…

The adopted city of Hopper is generally considered the city that has always been the cradle and the center of culture in America.

Wouldn’t the MoMA be ideal?

Of course, clearly not just because of the MoMA’s importance but also because, I believe, of the extraordinary nature of the project. I think that only an established art institution has the means and knowledge necessary to address a show of this caliber. Beyond that, the MoMA focuses on that which is contemporary, that which is being explored and discovered. Walking through the galleries of this incredible museum, one reads the story of modern art, perceives its various themes, and experiences the artists’ lives. In short, the MoMA is indeed “truly perfect.”

About the Author


A graduate of Art History, art critic Genny Di Bert is Professor of Modern Art for RUFA Academy in Rome. She has been lecturer on “The Phenomenology of Contemorary Art” and “Art History” for the Accademia Brera of Milan, Accademia Belle Arti of Palermo, NABA of Milan and Catholic University of Milan. She is curator of the Eleutheria Art Foundation in Prague. In Italy, she is Tribunal expert on Modern Art and a member of the National Association of Journalists. She has authored several non-fiction books and has published several articles about art, costume and society. She is also columnist in Progetto Repubblica Ceca and Il Domani d’Italia. She collaborates with museums, galleries, publishing houses and international institutions. Among the exhibitions she has curated: The New Europe in Biennal of Venice 1995, Unimplosive Art in Biennal of Venice 1997 and many initiatives within the European Mediterranean Cultural Exchanges. Most recently, she has collaborated with Vittorio Sgarbi for the Biennale of Venice 2011 and for all Special Art Events for Italian Pavillon, in occasion of the Century Italy’s Unity.