Karol Plicka. Picture and Song

from 11. 7. 2018 to 3. 2. 2019


Karol Plicka's body of work is exceptional not only in its extent, but also due to its genre stratification. The master himself characterized his work as art of "all trades". He was a film maker, director, cinematographer, scriptwriter, photographer, creator of photography books, collector of musical and literary folklore, ethno-musicologist, organizer of the first folk festivals, teacher, choir conductor, and violin virtuoso (a little known fact), and his enduring inspiration by folk culture and cultural heritage is reflected in this versatility. Karol Plicka was an artist of the Czech and Slovak nations, but his bond with the Slovak people and culture was a matter of existential importance. Slovakia was emotionally closer and more precious for him due to its art baselines and returns. This is where he found unique, living sources of artistic inspiration. He dedicated his artistic efforts to the Czech and Slovak people and his work certainly belongs among the greatest contributions to Czech, Slovak and international culture. 

From the very beginning of his trips to Slovakia, Plicka, the musician, collected songs and Plicka, the photographer, documented everything related to them: the land, the environment and especially the people – the creators and bearers of traditional culture. His photographs do not only pursue ethnographic and documentary objectives. Since the song represented their genetic background, they have a strong lyrical accent and poetizing vision and approach artistic-photographic artifact. Plicka's photographic material in the collections of the Slovak National Museum in Martin documents the period from the 1920s to the 1980s. 

Based on the same inspirations and with the same intent, in 1926, Plicka began to use a film camera during his trips. The ethnographic documentation as well as the strong artistic element and poetization of depiction – as in photography – provided the artistic impulse for these documentaries. These qualities can be found in his very first documentary film entitled Za slovenským ľudom (About the Slovak People, 1928). His artistic vision was further developed in Po horách, po dolách (Through the Mountains and the Valleys, 1929) which was awarded the gold medal at the international art photography exhibition in Florence and at the First Venice Biennale in 1932. However, he fully expressed his film-artistic feeling in his first film with sound: Zem spieva (The Land, Sings, 1933), which was part of the avant-garde trends of the early 1930s. In 1934, as part of the Czechoslovak film collection, it won the Cup of the City of Venice at the Venice Biennale.

In 1939, Plicka left Slovakia and moved to Prague. After World War II, he returned as the director of the Slovak Film Company and helped to build the foundations of Slovak cinematography. In 1946, he was the co-founder of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and its first dean. In 1950, he stopped teaching and began to focus on the creation of folk anthologies and photography books. 

This exhibition, which was prepared from the collections of the Slovak National Museum in Martin, presents part of Plicka's photography related to the Slovak and Czech lands. It is a celebration of the land and a reflection of his admiration of the spirit of its history, and a declaration of the love of the people – the creators and developers of spiritual tradition. 

The thematic sphere of his photographs is modest on the outside: landscapes, historical architecture, people – the bearer of traditions. However, he perceived the land as the magic of nature, the embrace of home, the space of human existence. His photos of architecture and towns and cities express the charm of a cozy home, while in the images of historical monuments we can see permanent values of human genius. Because the song is the holiday of the soul, people are primarily captured in his photographs in holiday moments dressed in fine clothing, which is a harmonious part of their culture. His photographs show us the beauty of common folk, faces full of joyful childhood and youth, as well as the no less
marvelous portraits of old men with faces scored by deep wrinkles which tell the story of a life of hard work. The feelings of beauty, harmony and nobility which we feel when looking at Plicka's photographs are the result of the unity of their form and content.