Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Eroticism, identity, and cultural context: Toyen and the Prague avant-garde
by Huebner, Karla Tonine, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2008, 438; 3349266
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation situates the life and work of the artist Toyen (Marie Cermínová, 1902–80), a founding member of the Prague surrealist group, within the larger discourses of modernism and feminism/gender studies. In particular, it explicates Toyen’s construction of gender and eroticism within the contexts of early twentieth-century Czech feminism and sex reformism, the interwar Prague avant-garde, and Prague and Paris surrealism. Toyen’s interest in sexuality and eroticism, while unusual in its extent and expression, is intimately related to her historical and geographic position as an urban Czech forming her artistic personality during first a period of economic boom, avant-garde optimism, increased opportunities for women, and sex reformism, and then a period of economic crisis, restriction of women’s employment, social conservatism, and tension between the subconscious and the socialist realist. Toyen’s ambiguously gendered self-presentation, while again unusual, needs to be considered in light of her enthusiastic reception within three predominantly male avant-garde groups (Devetsil, Prague surrealism, and Paris surrealism). I stress that the social and cultural environment of her childhood and youth created an atmosphere that enabled her to pursue lifelong personal interests and obsessions in a manner that was unusually public for a female artist of her generation.

As a case study of one artist working within a specific avant-garde movement, this project contributes to critical re-evaluation of surrealism, the Central European contribution to modernism, and the role of female artists in the avant-garde. This intervention in the history of surrealism makes its intellectual contribution by changing our perception of the movement, giving vivid evidence of the Prague group’s difference from and influence on the Paris group, and presenting a more complex and nuanced view of women’s role in and treatment by surrealism.

This dissertation employs a mixed methodology that combines investigation of historical context with aspects of feminist, psychoanalytic, iconographic, and semiotic approaches. No previous study of Toyen or the Czech interwar avant-garde has been done in this manner.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McCloskey, Barbara
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 70/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Biographies, Art history, Womens studies, Modern history, Gender studies
Keywords: Avant-garde, Czech, Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, Eroticism, Gender, Prague, Surrealism, Toyen, Women artists
Publication Number: 3349266
ISBN: 978-1-109-05575-7
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