One of a series of advertising designs for the Czechoslovak aircraft manufacturer’s venture into automobiles, Frantisěk Zelenka’s poster wittily makes the case for owning an Aero car, thus avoiding the need to buy tram and train tickets. The stark asymmetrical geometry of crossed red lines and facsimile tickets on a plain background recalls the idiom of Russian Suprematist design, especially of Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitsky, and also, more immediately, the work of Kurt Schwitters. Czechoslovak design of this period was, however, also shaped by local factors.
Following the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic after the First World War, the avant-garde Devtsil group was formed in 1920 to promote a functionalist Modernism across all spheres of cultural work, while maintaining international contacts with Dada, Constructivism and De Stijl. Although this group broke up in 1931, its influence continued to be felt and is apparent in the work of the architect and designer Zelenka. Primarily a stage designer – best known for his work at the avant-garde Prague Free Theatre and, after the German Occupation, for his productions in the Terezin concentration camp (where he died) – Zelenka also contributed to the renaissance of Czechoslovak cinema and other industries during the 1930s.
In his advertising for the Aero car, Zelenka evokes the Devětsil ‘picture-poem’, distinctive form ‘composed of collaged lexical and visual elements, including photographs culled from popular magazines, ephemera such as stamps, postmarks, postcards, train and subway tickets, and fragments of maps’. The poster reflects the spirit of enterprise that gripped Czechoslovak engineering as well as the arts in the 1930s, at once intensely nationalistic and ultra-modern. As an early Devětsil manifesto stated: ‘A picture must be active / It must do something in the world.’
Frantisěk Zelenka (1904–1943)
Printed by Melantrich, Prague
Colour offset lithograph
92 x 122cm
The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague (GP 2224)
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