Review: I Follow in Your Footsteps: Homage to Jan Z
A nonagenarian glassmaking couple's creative dialogue
Posted: January 23, 2013
Miluše Roubíčková's Ball of Yarn is one of more than a dozen large masses of glass threads on display at Museum Kampa.
And why not, indeed! After a collective 181 ½ years on the planet and 14 decades exploring their medium, René Roubíček and Miluše Roubíčková - the Czech Republic's second-most famous glassmaking couple after Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová - have earned the right to do exactly as they please.
Even though the titles of their concurrent exhibitions at Museum Kampa indicate it is one show in two parts - "Glass - And Why Not I!" and "Glass - And Why Not II!" - each one has a separate space: Roubíček in the exhibition hall of the museum's main building and Roubíčková in the annex in the former stables. Their shows even end on different dates.
A decade ago, as part of the "European Masters of Glass" series at the Museum of Decorative Arts, they held a joint show where their sculptures freely intermingled. However, unlike Libenský (1921-2002) and Brychtová (born 1924), who worked together as a team, the Roubíčeks work individually, each with a distinctive artistic personality and style.
Born in Prague six months apart (Roubíček turns 91 Jan. 23, while Roubíčková remains a relatively youthful 90 until July), they both studied monumental painting and glass at Prague's School of Applied Arts during the war and continued their studies at the Academy of Applied Arts. Like most glass artists of their generation, they didn't jump straight from the academy to their own studios but spent their early professional years designing for companies and teaching.
at Museum Kampa Roubíček ends Feb. 24; Roubíčková ends Feb. 17. U Sovových mlýnů 2, Prague 1-Kampa. Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
After crossing the museum's courtyard from one exhibition to the other, it becomes clear there was a lively dialogue and cross-influence between them over their many decades of married life.
René Roubíček is showing predominantly newer pieces, obviously full of vitality and vision well into his ninth decade. The pieces range from soaring, spiraling glass columns (made between 1967 and 2012 but mostly on the later end of that range) on both sides of the entrance to the poetic and whimsical tabletop sculptures from the series "Forge of Angels," which he made in 2008-09.
The playful fantastical creatures from this series are joined on two beautifully crafted freestanding sets of metal shelving by some freewheeling fruit bowls that announce their purpose with whimsy and finesse. Roubíček, also a musician who played wind instruments, often does many variations on a theme and has a strong sense of rhythm and flow.
At the back of the room is a long "banquet table" topped with sculptures showing a harder-edged sensibility. Several textured glass slabs vaguely recall big thick slices of Swiss cheese. Others have broken-looking edges or topographical ridges jutting out at a right angle.
Other sections are lighter in tone, such as a table that looks like the aftermath of a cocktail party for giants, with wine goblets about a meter tall and some tipped-over stemware, including a martini glass dribbling its spilled drink (in the form of glass) over the table edge.
At the back of the room is a series of hollow blown-glass columns, again, with one tipped over, like the ruins of a Roman temple. Some of these (from the series "Don't Worry, Be Happy - We Are Returning to Europe," 1989) are made from the kind of colorfully mottled glass generally favored by Roubíček's wife. Both artists are excellent colorists and have a remarkable talent with hot-shaped glass.
The Pop Art-influenced sculptures of Miluše Roubíčková are whimsical and at times even a little kitschy. Greeting visitors is a huge glass vase holding about a dozen glass calla lilies. In this same Pop spirit, her exhibition is neatly organized by category, almost giving the sense that you have walked into a shop.
In one corner of the first room is a series of containers, like umbrella stands or huge vases, most of them holding oversized flowers or budding stems but one with a collection of canes and a couple of smaller containers holding big spoons - all rendered in glass.
Her giant glass blooms may seem a tad familiar from the shops lining the tourist thoroughfares in Prague. However, it was Roubíčková who originated these popular glass sculptures in the early 1970s, and hers show more artistry then the ubiquitous commercial copycats.
In the center of the room are more than a dozen large masses of glass threads from her "Yarn Balls" series. In a corner is an array of glass shopping bags, three of them tipped over - a display method that clearly appeals to both husband and wife.
A glass display case in the second room contains some of her best-known pieces, such as her "Bundt Cake" series, along with other food-related sculptures, including bags of candy, cabbages, canning jars and an ice cream sundae (most from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s). Other domestic motifs include oversized glass thread spools.
Both Roubíčková and her husband were drawn to the motif of the head (he is not showing any of his here, though). Against the back wall of the second room is a row of colorful abstracted heads, sometimes topped with a whimsical flouncy chapeau or a delicate glass coiffure.
The long-running artistic dialogue of this remarkable glassmaking couple is a real harmony of art and life and definitely worth a visit.
Mimi Fronczak Rogers can be reached at