In a garden in Prague’s Smíchov stands a monumental sculpture of ten men of steel called Blacksmiths and Blacksmiths. It welcomes visitors who come to see the studio of sculptors Věra and Vladimír Janoušková. Their work and life is commemorated by the new permanent exhibition prepared by Museum Kampa.
The Janouseks were among the most prominent artists of the 1960s and 1970s. The house built in 1965 in the Brussels style is located in U Kotlářky street under the western slope of the natural monument Skalka.
Věra Janoušková, who lived from 1922 to 2010, worked here with her husband Vladimír Janoušek from the 1960s. After his death, she moved here at the end of the millennium.
Blacksmiths and metallurgists sculpture by Vladimír Janoušek. | Photo: CTK
The building, hidden in a wild garden, has recently undergone extensive renovation. The permanent exhibition here was prepared by the curators Martina Vítková and Jan Skřivánek from the Kampa Museum, the author of the architectural concept is the artist Dominik Lang.
After entering the garden, the first thing that catches the audience’s attention is Janousko’s monumental sculpture of workers from smelters, smelters, blacksmiths and welders equipped with rods for tapping the blast furnace. The work entitled Blacksmiths and Metalworkers was intended for the facade of the Kladno Culture House.
However, shortly after the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia, Janoušek created another, similarly monumental sculpture Threat of War for the Expo ’70 World Exhibition in Osaka, Japan, whose author’s title was Entry of the Troops.
Sculptor Vladimír Janoušek with a model of the sculpture Threat of War, June 1969. | Photo: CTK
Because the Expo organizers also invited him to ceremonially open the event with a Japanese sculptor, the connection with the occupation of Czechoslovakia was apparently widely understood.
Because of this, Janoušek’s work at home soon became politically undesirable, and so even the regime, which did not criticize the Blacksmiths and Metallurgists, remained in the premises of the then Hüte Konev. They had been there for three decades decaying and overgrown with vegetation.
It wasn’t until 2004, when the author was long after his death, that the sculpture in a state of disrepair was bought by Věra Janoušková and placed at the entrance to the garden of the Smíchov studio. For now, the public is only allowed to go on guided tours. The closest will carry out on Wednesday, October 25.
Sculptures in the garden
Vladimír Janoušek designed the studio in the 1960s so that he and his wife could create in it side by side, but at the same time independently. Implementation plans based on the sculptor’s concept were created by architect Josef Hrubý, co-author of the Czechoslovak pavilion at Expo ’58. The architect Alena Šrámková subsequently modified the building for the needs of permanent housing in the 1990s, adding a new floor with a bedroom, bathroom and library.
Today, in the middle of the growing greenery of the Kosher garden, not only Janoušek’s representation of the workers is placed, but also several large-format works by Věra Janoušková, for example the sculpture Fountain, resembling a giant leaf and a water lily flower.
The Fountain sculpture by Věra Janoušková resembles a giant leaf and a water lily flower. | Photo: Jakub Cabálek
Věra Janoušková was one of the most important Czech sculptors of the second half of the 20th century. From traditional procedures and realistic representation, she reached experiments with shape, material and form, while reflecting most currents of the art of the time, from abstraction to figuration. It eventually became the most characteristic for her.
The general public knows her thanks to her fascination with things that have already served their purpose. Janoušková rescued discarded items from landfills and welded, cut or modified the surface of objects no longer needed, such as pots, sinks, stoves, buckets, stoves or pipes.
“I sew sculptures. I never learned to weld, I’m self-taught, I consider my lack of art an advantage,” said the artist, who learned to fuse wire and sew with it.
She discovered the enameled sheet metal from the garbage, which she worked with most often, in the early 1960s. While walking in her husband’s birthplace in Kalná, she saw a rusty blue pot in the stream, through which water flowed and which had no bottom. Janoušková brought it home, cut it in the studio, straightened the sheet metal by stepping on it and covered it with plaster.
She later perfected the procedure. At first, she incorporated enamel into sculptures with a different base, but gradually she switched to mostly all-enamel, most often figurative objects. “It takes a lifetime before you know how,” she commented.
Even under communism, during the so-called Iron Sundays, she humorously accepted the nickname “the first lady of the Czech landfills”. When searching for objects in the dump her captures also a quarter-hour documentary by Czech Television from 2005. “People get rid of things that have served them for years, and I find it sad that they throw away, for example, a sink. So I pick them up and recast them with a metaphor so that they can live on,” he explains his work process here.
Some of the found pots and dish dryers that Janoušková collected but did not have time to process can be seen in the extension in the garden of the studio.
Visitors will also find other works of the couple inside the house itself. Including Věra Janoušková’s early works such as the Odyssea tapestry from 1948 to 1949, in which the stitching technique foreshadowed the way in which the author later welded pieces of pots and shelves, or her collages.
At the bottom of the wall you can see Věra Janoušková’s collages, including the Odyssea tapestry (back left) from 1948 to 1949. | Photo: CTK
To do against something
From the early 1960s, the couple were among the founding members of the creative group UB 12, which also included Adriena Šimotová and Jiří John or Vlasta Prachatická and Stanislav Kolíbal. Even then, Věra Janoušková was among the most progressive personalities of the art scene. “Vladimir had a certain order or structure, whereas I’m more of the emotional type,” she compared.
Vladimír Janoušek, who lived from 1922 to 1986, created sculptural portraits, reliefs or studies of sculptures for inclusion in architecture. He also gradually abandoned traditional materials. From the mid-1960s, he created metal sculptures in which he contrasted the vague outlines of figures with a solid geometric structure, later, for example, he assembled interactive sculptures with mobile elements in the form of pendulums.
The studio of Věra and Vladimír Janoušková was built in the Brussels style. | Photo: CTK
Janoušek represented Czechoslovakia at the World Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. It is one of his most famous works Spring, a fragile plaster sculpture of a winged horse whose body is supported by only four thin wire legs. However, he completed it in 1971, i.e. already at a time that did not favor him.
Under normalization, Janousek was only allowed to exhibit exceptionally. There were several reasons, already after February 1948 the sculptor refused to join the Communist Party, because of which he lost his scholarship to Paris and could only go to Bulgaria with his wife.
After the August occupation, the episode with the Threat of War sculpture made it difficult for both of them. “Belonging to the top generation of the 1960s caused Věra Janoušková’s work to practically not appear in public since the beginning of the normalization process,” she mentioned art historian Marie Klimešová in the magazine Art+antiques.
The Janoušeks therefore took part in unofficial events with friends who often met at their studio in Smíchov.
“After Husák’s speech, we realized that bad times are coming for us. Vladimír walked through the studio here into the night,” says Janoušková in the TV documentary. “But these times, when we were out of the game, intensified the friendship between people again. Vladimír always said: It’s good to work against something because you have a clear opposite and you know what you don’t want,” recalled Věra Janoušková, who herself only had her first retrospective in 1992 in the National Gallery.
One of Věra Janoušková’s sculptures “stitched” from enameled sheet metal. | Photo: Martin Šimral
By that time, the husband was no longer alive. He had been suffering from diabetes since the early 1970s and his condition gradually worsened. “He was experiencing great pressure from the fools, it started with terrible thirst, dryness in the mouth, and then it was discovered that it was nervous diabetes, which stuck with him for fifteen years,” Janoušková recalled. “In eighty-six, his organism had already collapsed. It was then that he was banned from exhibiting,” she emphasized.
The news that the intended exhibition in Brno would not take place reached him at the moment when he was already packing the selected works for it. Shortly after, he contracted pneumonia and died.
In 2011 and 2020, Museum Kampa organized separate exhibitions of works by Janoušková and Vladimír Janoušek. The monographs of both artists were published by the Torst publishing house in 1995 and 2002.