July 05 2013

“The fellowship was incredibly useful to me,” says Shawn Clybor, a scholar who spent three weeks during May and June at The Wolfsonian conducting research. Clybor, a professor of cultural history, is working on a book, Prophets of Revolution: Communism and the Czech Avant-Garde, 1920–1960.

His fellowship allowed him to work with rare materials in The Wolfsonian’s collection. Prophets of Revolution examines the relationship between Czech avant-garde intellectuals and the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Clybor argues that the Czech avant-garde, associated with artistic movements such as Constructivism and Surrealism “helped establish the intellectual and cultural framework for communism in Czechoslovakia.” The bond between the avant-garde and the communist party was much stronger in Czechoslovakia than elsewhere in Europe, which, he contends, contributed to the long-term stability of the communist regime. While we know much about the work of leading avant-gardists such as Karel Teige and Vítežslav Nezval, we know very little about their political engagements, he explains.

At the museum, Clybor was able to work with rare books, journals, and other materials, including Karel Teige’s journals Praha-Moskva (Prague-Moscow) and ReD, and a rare publication of the caricature artist Adolf Hoffmeister published in the Soviet Union at the onset of the Stalinist terror. He also discovered a significant collection of political propaganda posters produced in Czechoslovakia in the mid-1940s. “This was a wonderfully rich and fascinating collection from the post-Nazi era, which reflects the different political parties’ attempts to re-conceptualize themselves and attract voters following the collapse of Nazi rule, shortly before the rise of the communist dictatorship,” he says. He plans to work on an article about the posters.

Clybor, who received his Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University in 2010, has been exploring topics related to Czech history since his undergraduate years. After an initial period of interest in dissidents during the cold war era and in the ways in which culture can challenge and destabilize political regimes, he became interested in “official” culture and how culture can interact with and become an integral part of politics. This led him to study the Czech avant-garde. “There is a lot of interest in what members of the Czech avant-garde did aesthetically but very little is known about what they did politically—and even less is known about what they did after 1945,” he says. In looking at these issues and working to formulate a more integrated history, there is much to “learn about them, their artwork, and more broadly about the relationship between art and culture in authoritarian regimes,” he explains.

Clybor has been a visiting professor at Utah State University and most recently at Manhattan College. Next year he will teach at the Ross School in New York while he continues work on his book. He is one of three scholars awarded a fellowship for 2012–2013 through The Wolfsonian’s Fellowship Program. Inaugurated in 1995, the program has hosted more than seventy scholars to date. 

Caption:

Poster, Pozor na Samozvané Prátele Lidu! [Beware of the Self-proclaimed Friends of the People!], 1945
Návrh Stepán, designer
Komunistricky, Strana Ceskoslovenksa, Prague, publisher
Tisk M. Schulz A.S., Prague, printer
Offset lithograph
35 x 25 inches (88.9 x 63.5 cm)
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection
TD1991.55.13