Hertha Hurnaus


The first solo exhibition of the photographer Hertha Hurnaus at the Krobath Gallery is dedicated to the works of the architect Vladimir Dedeček, which were built between 1960 and the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The photos, however, are not documentary in nature, but rather an homage to an era of change in the field of architecture. As the images focus on interiors and details, the buildings are only recognisable to experts. They emphasise the common features of these structures: colour compositions that are reminiscent of abstract works of art. Located barely an hour’s drive from Vienna, these buildings are not unlike spaceships that have just returned to earth from an optimistic future.

The photographer, Hertha Hurnaus, positions her work on Vladimir Dedeček’s (born 1929) buildings in a larger context. Between 2005 and 2007 she documented works by Dedeček and his contemporaries for the book “Eastmodern”. It was the first English-language publication on buildings from the post-war modernist period in Slovakia. The period since then has seen the publication of several volumes of photographs documenting architecture in various countries from the former Eastern bloc, but none on Slovakian architecture.

This situation is now set to change, at least as far as Dedeček’s works are concerned. The Slovak National Gallery commissioned Hertha Hurnaus to photograph all of the architect’s buildings that still remain. In 2015 a monograph will pay tribute to Dedeček. The Slovak National Gallery itself is one of the most significant buildings designed by Vladimir Dedeček. It was designed as a huge bridge – visitors can pass underneath it to access an open courtyard. If nothing else, this exhibition aims to raise awareness of the qualities of this unique architecture and thus ensure their preservation in future renovation projects.

The exhibition in the Krobath Gallery features photographs of nine buildings, including:
University of Bratislava, Faculty of Mathematics & Physics, designed 1963-66, realised 1967-78
Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava, 1967-69
Slovak National Archives, Bratislava, 1976-83
Supreme Court of Justice, Bratislava, 1984-89
University of Agriculture, Nitra, 1961-66
Institute of Governance and Public Policy, Bratislava, 1984-89

The buildings assigned to Vladimir Dedeček stood out in an architectural landscape that was otherwise defined by regulation. Residential housing projects mainly used concrete slabs in a technique that came to be known as “prefabricated construction”. But Dedeček’s structures bear no trace of the huge burden of state representation. Instead, they have a playful air – like large, walk-in op-art or kinetic art sculptures.

Hertha Hurnaus often takes a narrative approach to photographing architecture. The series on Dedeček’s buildings plays with the absence of people, although some photos feature pieces of furniture, hinting at what the function of these spaces might be. The images depict, for example, the empty seats of the National Gallery’s outdoor cinema, a furnished classroom, the futuristic plenary hall of the University of Agriculture in Nitra, or a leather bench, which could be from a discotheque, but is actually in the Supreme Court of Justice in Bratislava. This method transforms the buildings into stages, making the viewer wonder “Which drama could possibly be staged here?” One thing is for sure: we need to revisit modernity and learn to engage with these kinds of buildings once again.

Oliver Elser
(English translation: Mandana Taban)