Vojtěch Kubašta Exhibit – Part 1

Kubašta exhibit poster

Kubašta exhibit poster

Let me start right off by saying that if you’re anywhere within a day’s journey of New York City, and can carve the time out between now and Saturday to get downtown, then plan a trip to go see the “Pop-Ups from Prague: A Centennial Celebration of the Graphic Artistry of Vojtěch Kubašta (1914-1992)” exhibit at The Grolier Club (47 E 60th St). It is not to be missed.

Now. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kubašta, here’s a woefully brief overview of the artist….

Vojtěch Kubašta (1914-1992)

Born in Vienna, Kubašta moved to Czechoslovakia as a young child, and lived and worked there for the rest of his life. From his home and studio in Prague, he watched history being written first-hand, including during the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, and throughout World War II. He was part of a publishing world dramatically affected by the rise of Communism in Czechoslovakia, and the associated stringent regulations that came with it.

Kubašta is known for many things: his beautiful work, of course, but also for the breadth of that work, both in terms of style (he was an artistic chameleon), and in the amount of work he produced. It’s unknown exactly how many pieces Kubašta created—new ones are still being discovered—but there are hundreds upon hundreds. And, he certainly did not limit himself to any single type of product. Kubašta produced greeting cards, posters, advertisements, toys and puzzles, lithographs, and traditional books. But, it is his dimensional work—pop-ups—that are most often associated with the Kubašta name. And, rightly so; they are glorious.

Kubašta exhibit display case

Kubašta exhibit display case

The Pop-Up Lady

Ellen Rubin, known to many in the Moveable Book world as “The Pop-Up Lady,” has been collecting pop-up books for over twenty years. Her collection consists of thousands of dimensional and moveable books, cards, and other ephemera. And, within that enormous collection of pop-ups—which spans centuries—is a wealth of work by one of Ellen’s favorite artists: Vojtěch Kubašta. Ellen has collected everything “Kubašta” she can get her hands on. She’s part collector, part researcher, part archivist—and all champion of Kubašta’s work.

I had the great pleasure, along with a small group of movers and shakers in the pop-up world, to get a tour of the exhibit from Ellen, herself.

Ellen Rubin, giving a tour of her Kubašta collection

Ellen Rubin, giving a tour of her Kubašta collection

There is so much more to be shared about Kubašta, but his work says more than I ever could, so let’s just dive in.

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Kubašta’s work includes a number of commercial pieces, including these ads for Tesla and Praga.

Lighting advertising

Lighting advertising

Large-Scale work

These examples of Kubašta’s work in a larger scale—the Liberation lithograph and “The Happy Hiker” and Ministry of Domestic Commerce posters—are a striking example of Kubašta’s ability to illustrate across multiple styles.

Kubašta "Liberation" lithograph and "The Happy Hiker" and Ministry of Domestic Commerce posters

Kubašta “Liberation” lithograph and “The Happy Hiker” and Ministry of Domestic Commerce posters

Greeting Cards

Kubašta created cards for decades, including very early New Year’s cards he and his university pals collaborated on. Pictured here are two examples of his cards: a pop-up Easter card (designed so that real eggs could be used to hold it open) and his daughter, Dagmar’s, birth announcement.

Kubašta greeting cards

Kubašta greeting cards

Architecture and Place

One of the themes that runs through Kubašta’s incredible scope of work is his understanding of place, structure, and how things function. His attention to architectural, natural, and mechanical detail is astounding. This was part of Kubašta’s methodology. He had a rich archive of material, which he kept at his studio, to refer to as needed. Ellen writes of this library in her online biography of Kubašta:

“…(H)e preferred to have research material at his fingertips. In nearby large files and shelves he stored magazines, newspaper articles, huge stacks of clippings, books on myths, legends and ancient cultures, and whatever else he thought would one day come in handy. When he worked on a story set in Arabia, for example, he had only to open his files to capture the authentic environment or costumes of the period.”

Kubašta's "Mecca"

Kubašta’s “Mecca”

Pop-up souvenir card for the Prague National Theater and Prague table display, by Vojtěch Kubašta

Pop-up souvenir card for the Prague National Theater and Prague table display, by Vojtěch Kubašta

Transportation

Kubašta’s lifetime spanned a golden age of transportation—the romance of great ships lingered, trains were still in heavy use, the automobile continued its evolution, airplanes took off (literally) as an excitingly viable form of transport, and traveling to outer space shifted from the stuff of dreams to reality.

Kubašta's "How Columbus Discovered America" and "Noah's Ark"

Kubašta’s “How Columbus Discovered America” and “Noah’s Ark”

Kubašta's "The Polar Station"

Kubašta’s “The Polar Station”

Kubašta's "Flying Through the Universe"

Kubašta’s “Flying Through the Universe”

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This ends the first installment of my coverage of this exhibit. Tomorrow, I’ll focus on Kubašta’s beautiful work for a very special audience—children.

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