aAt a time when the art world is trying to rewrite the history that has greatly benefited male artists, the Tate Modern is Organize a show Works by Slovakian sculptor Maria Bartosova (1936-1996). Their unique, vibrantly shaped shapes touch on large themes such as belonging, growth, and infinity. Bartuszová has worked outside of traditional centers of contemporary art, but her pieces are far from the fringes. A retrospective at the Tate Modern will provide a comprehensive look at her vision and resourcefulness.
The artist was born in Prague, but soon after her studies she moved to Slovakia. First, to her husband’s hometown, a Hungarian-speaking village called Kamenen, and then to Kosice, now the second largest city in Slovakia which at that time was a rapidly developing urban area in the east of the country.
The intense construction in the area made Košice a good base for artists who take on state commissions. Every building drawn by the Czechoslovak state was required to feature public art by law. This meant that not only government buildings but also schools, libraries, theaters and hotels were obligated to allocate 0.5 to 2% of the total construction budget for “adornment” that would complement the architecture. However, this progressive concept had a downside: a state-run commission had to approve the artist’s proposal.
Although the communist regime tightened after Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia In 1968, Bartuszová managed to stay out of politics throughout her career. Her public artwork ranges from aluminum bas-reliefs, bronze and rock-cut installations, to simple, meticulously executed paintings. The real magic of her work lies in her unrestrained, often smaller plaster cast, formed in her safe studio in Kosice. She developed her own techniques which included filling balloons with plaster and modeling objects by immersing them in water or blowing air into them.
This effective method allowed her to combine childcare and cutting-making along with her independent work. The trick was key to collecting props in a time of scarcity: they tossed their models into small rubber balloons, condoms, or even car tires and weather balloons. These clever techniques have propelled Bartoshova closer to the “perfection in form” you desire, but have also resulted in a series of tactile puzzles.
She molded individual pieces of her multi-part sculptures one by one, pressed freshly mixed flexible plaster against the completed solid sections to create a tightly fitting arrangement. Some of these actions resemble germinating seeds or raindrops hitting the surface of the water. These spatial structures are built to be touched, cut, and reassembled. As such, they were used in workshops with blind and visually impaired children in eastern Slovakia. The endeavor was beautifully organized and documented by local coordinator Gabriel Claddick.
Bartuszová created a series of plaster objects as well as bronze and aluminum alloys that children used in the classroom as teaching aids or relaxing toys that stimulated their visual imaginations. This aspect of Bartosova’s practice demonstrates that art at its best brings people together and provides a space for learning and healing.
She lived a humble life full of artistic pursuits and inspired by nature. When she was going on picnics with her family, she would bring the medicinal herbs of tisane and intriguingly shaped twigs or rocks for future artwork. In her wild, nettle-filled garden, gypsum shells were piled high on an old plum tree.
In socialist Czechoslovakia, her work is rarely recognized because of its value, and even the democratic states of Czechoslovakia and Slovakia today still need reform. During her life, Bartosova had only a few solo exhibitions, in 1983 in Trenčín and 1988 in Kosice. The Slovak National Museum organized a retrospective in 2005. This year, Slovak President Zuzana Šaputova posthumously awarded Bartuzova the Oduvet Steyr Medal and a detailed study penned by curator Gabriela Garlatyova was published in Slovak and English.
Over the past fifteen years, Bartosova’s appreciation for his work abroad has risen. After a group of her works were shown in Documenta 12 In Kassel in 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw hosted a major solo show in 2014. This year, a retrospective at the Tate Modern and a feature at the Venice Biennale concludes a fascinating tour of Europe’s most famous art institution. Bartuszová’s work is now well positioned to shine further afield.
But her family’s ambition is closer to home. Bartoshova’s daughters, Anna and Veronica, who have taken care of their property for the past 26 years, want to build a small museum dedicated to their mother’s work in Kosice. It will contain more intimate performances that emulate installation principles than Bartosova herself envisioned in the 1980s. Her daughters hope to bring visitors closer to the finer things than the crowded rooms of the world-renowned establishments would allow. Until then, the vaults at the Tate Modern are a great place to discover these treasures.