Fotograf Magazine

Rössler – Man of the Future

Rössler - Man of the Future

No such success has been achieved with the present publication. More than 60% of the illustrations appear again in this second selection. As a result of that, the artist’s legacy appears to be meagre, even if the KANT album includes a 134 page-size illustrations and sixty others, while items found abroad represent a valuable body of research. Other reproductions are matched to the texts of five authors: Vladimír Birgus, Jan Mlãoch, Robert Silverio, Karel Srp, and Matthew S. Witkovsky. It is a pity that there is no indication of how many of Rössler‘s works the authors drew on. Birgus‘s glossary of the key moments of Rössler‘s life and work doesn‘t even list purchases by the state collections of the turn of the 1960’s and 70‘s (purchases by the Moravian Gallery in Brno, and the Museum of Applied Arts in Prague). The only clue to approximate orientation as to the magnitude of Rössler‘s legacy is the fact that the purchase of several dozen photographs, photograms, collages and drawings of the 1920’s and 30‘s by the J. Paul Getty Museum (in 1984) is considered to be the second best collection (after the one at the Museum of Applied Arts in Prague).

It is appropriate that, apart from the above-mentioned sources, the researchers examined the Rössler estate. However, I sorely miss information as to the size of the original works from which the reproductions were taken, which would indicate the degree of finality or definitiveness Jaroslav Rössler himself ascribed to each work. As to the printing, its quality is rather uneven. It is not even that some works were – for reasons of economy – printed with less nuance (often they are too dark), while others are fully nuanced. The last eight pages of the book in particular convey very dubious information. This is partly because of the neglected printing, partly because the three images included (and who knows to what degree faded)

Artefacts of the 1930‘s are commented on by Birgus to the effect that Rössler appeared to him so far absorbed by colour, that he neglected the composition of the image, often bordering almost on chaos, departing from the modernity of his black and white compositions. Birgus says that it is difficult to distinguish still lifes Rössler created independently from those commissioned as advertisements. From the above, as well as from Mlãoch s descriptive article and from the works not included, it follows that the pictorial editors did not fully tune into Rössler‘s mood. It is therefore only reasonable that, as authors of the book‘s concept, they invited their colleagues to render the respective chapters in terms of interpretation: so far as theory goes, we get a vivid picture of Rössler, even if the degree of insight varies. In some places, Mlãoch’s facts are revealing. We learn for instance about the company‘s changing name, which puts down Rössler‘s Parisian drifting. (ad marginem: the information that Studio Lorelle changed into Studio Piaz in 1932 does not correspond with the dates as given at the end of the book. It is not the only inconsistency in the volume).

Karel Srp, who has worked with the Birgus and Mlãoch team on the artist‘s most extensive travelling exhibition (opened in the spring of 2001) has again, with inspiration, undertaken to write about the photomontages and drawings (first memorably presented at the retrospective). In addition, Srp comprehends Rössler‘s activities in the context of the Czech avant-garde movement. Vladimir Birgus‘ introduction surveys Rössler‘s work between 1919 and 1935. Both the erudition of the text and the accompanying reproductions are significant. They evoke the visual bonds or counterpoints of Rössler‘s photographs, montages and drawings with the works of Drtikol, Coburn, Man Ray, Bruiguizer, or Funke, as well as making a comparison with the presentation of the works in the press of his day. Matthew S. Witkovsky‘s article, A Continuing Experiment, is valuable also. Witkovsky aptly defines Rössler‘s solitary position against the trends of the day.

The proportion of post-war and earlier reproductions in the main
section of the book (25-109) corresponds with the importance of Rössler‘s contribution to the history of world art in the given period. The choice of most of the 16 advertisements is justified also. No matter how exploited the artist felt in this field, unwillingly or unwittingly he illuminated the ads with his original imagination.

In the interests of making Rössler’s way of thinking accessible to the masses of those interested, even his blunders were exposed (see the paraphrase of Birgus‘ comment). In my opinion it would have been sufficient to include those just as illustration on the margins of the texts. In fact, it would have been sufficient not to leave out any stylistic points of reference from the 1950‘s through the 1970‘s, which would have allowed the reader to find his or her own way through the material. My main objection is that while there is a lot of overlapping between the two existing monographs, both in terms of illustration and the facts given, on the other hand there are considerable omissions in the post-war period in both books. No wonder, then,with the lack of illustrations, that the most popular Czech daily MF Dnes, simplifies its objections to Rössler‘s postwar work as presented in the first monograph. According to MF Dnes, Rössler attempted to create compositions influenced by Informel, fashionable in that period, which Birgus, however, will not hesitate to call “naive and conventional”. That is apt: by comparison with the excellent photographs of the 1920’s and 30’s, the later pictures are mere pale shadows. In my opinion this statement of Jan H. Vitvar (published in the issue of 25 June 2001) is a misunderstanding. What Birgus called naivete and conventionalism was the intensification of Rössler‘s old lyrical streak – not Informel, but the alleged sacharine quality of roses, necklaces, laces, feathers, or grapes made pretty by the Sabattier technology. Further, the facile attractiveness of his compositions with eggs and slide projections of the Eiffel tower was criticised by Birgus. Objections were made specifically to the series of variations on the apple as a symbol of knowledge. Some other works Birgus considered baroque and loose, though some of those very ones were at the same time an unquestionable contribution to Czech art photography. In the second book, Robert Silverio defends the late Rössler in an article on his post-war period. But instead of rehabilitating Rössler fully, he assigns the task to his followers. In his conclusion, Silverio simply states that it is certain that at least a part of Rössler‘s post war work is still awaiting its re-evaluation and recognition.

The present effort was reflected in a review by Jan V. Vitvar in MF Dnes of 2 June 2002 – „An Extensive but Unconvincing Monograph“ – „the true recognition and critical understanding of Rössler‘s work is still ahead of us.“, writes Vitvar. And indeed, what has been achieved so far is hardly an exhaustive survey of Rössler s contribution to photographic culture. The extant works will nevertheless liberate future critics from the task of exposing all of Rössler‘s shortcomings, and enable them to concentrate on his main works. That is no mean achievement – for he ranks among world class artists, of the kind that each generation has to assess anew.

Josef Moucha