abcd - Czech functionalist typography from the collection of Karel Císař and Florian Pumhösl’s 2016/2017 Relief Studies

October 27th — December 2nd, 2023
Opening: 26. 10. at 6:00 p.m.
Gallery UM, UMPRUM, nám. Jana Palacha 80, Prague 1

Accompanying programme:
1.11. at 5:30 p.m. commented tour of the exhibition with curator Karel Císař.
15. 11. at 5:30 p.m. commented tour of the exhibition with curator Karel Císař
29.11.  from 5:30 p.m. commented tour of the exhibition with curator Karel Císař and art historian Hana Buddeus.

"The collector dreams his way not only into a distant or bygone world but also into a better one: one in which, to be sure, human beings are no better provided with what they need than in the everyday world, but in which things are freed from the drudgery of being useful."

Walter Benjamin, Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century

abcd - Czech functionalist typography from the collection of Karel Císař and Florian Pumhösl’s 2016/2017 Relief Studies

The UM Gallery will present the exhibition abcd. Czech Functionalist Typography from the Collection of Karel Císař and Studies for Reliefs by Florian Pumhösl (2016/2017), which will make available for the first time ever the most important examples from the collection of functionalist typography by the philosopher, art theorist, and UMPRUM teacher Karel Císař. The exhibition will offer such treasures as Rossmann's collection fronta, Teig's architectural publications, Sutnar's exhibition catalogues, Tschinkel's didactic manuals, and Antonín Jero's lesser-known private prints. The installation by Austrian artist Florian Pumhösl, emphasizes primarily the combination of abstract forms distinctive of functionalism with photographs of a new materiality, which resulted in the creation of a "new kind of visual typeface".

"The exhibition is a continuation of the group exhibition Figures and Prefigurations, which I prepared ten years ago for the Prague City Gallery in the space of the City Library. However, at that time I related the works of four contemporary international artists to a Central European interwar exhibition design, functionalist glassware, and surrealist typography, while now in the UM Gallery, I am now juxtaposing examples from my own collection of Czech functionalist typography with Studies for Reliefs by Austrian artist Florian Pumhösl (2016/2017), one of the participants in the former exhibition," summarises the curator Karel Císař about the latest exhibition at the UM Gallery.

Most functionalist book covers correspond to the characteristics as published by Karel Teige in his first essay on new typography "Modern Typography" from 1927: they depart from tradition, choose simple and well-legible types, express the specific purpose of the printed matter, balance the plane according to optical laws, employ new technological discoveries and are the product of a collaboration of ‘engineer-graphic’ with other professionals. Some covers, however, do stray from the six theses, as they derive modernity from premodern forms, instead of a simple and legible type employ decorative handwriting or imitate a magazine’s masthead, don’t strive for a balanced plane and cover it with a photograph of water, use the archaic linocut, or again, are simply the product of a single person’s work. Yet another opposition that is contained in functionalist typography ensues from its ‘interdisciplinarity’.

Florian Pumhösl's work was a departure in a reduction of Constructivist typography in the geometry of drawings on glass that was part of the Documenta 12 exhibition in Kassel in 2007. Therefore, plexiglass boxes with samples of fronta magazine were exhibited alongside the drawings. If we compare his drawings with their graphic sources demonstrates that the reference points of the drawings are not particular texts or illustrations but the very organisational principles of distributing optical units on a page. The double lines of the black drawings refer to the void that separates the sequential snapshots of skydivers from the 1943 special issue of fronta magazine.  The same is true of the constructivist book covers by the Czech typographer Zdeněk Rossmann, sampled by Pumhösl in a relief from 2010: The smooth surface of the cover facilitates the most economical form of communication and guides our attention in a speedy and effective manner.

Given that Rossmann, in line with other Bauhaus graduates, was an architect and exhibition designer as well as a typographer, the seemingly abstract treatment in his graphic works was, in fact, a diagram that was equally applicable to the choreography of people moving inside the space of a building or an exhibition, and something similar is true of Studies for Reliefs by Florian Pumhösl (2016/2017). Functionalist typography is linked not only by discs and grids referring to similar formal elements found on book covers but above all by an acknowledgment of the unprinted surfaces of graphic treatments and empty spaces as active factors that ensure similarly quick and easy movement through physical space. 

On the occasion of the exhibition, a publication of the same name will also be published, which will present the issues in rich photographic documentation as well as detailed commentary. The intention is not simply to present isolated book covers, but to compare the graphic design of the larger sets and to trace the systematic use of empty space, reduced geometric elements, pictorial statistics, and photomontage techniques.


Curator of the exhibition: Karel Císař
Graphic Design: Petr Bosák, and Robert Jansa
Architectural design of the exhibition: Florian Pumhösl
Photography: Markéta Slaná and Martin Polák


Karel Císař ( born in 1972, Prague) lives and works in Prague. He studied philosophy at Charles University (Ph.D., 2006) and at the University of Geneva (Diplôme d'études supérieures, 2001). Since 2022 he has been Professor of Theory and History of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague. He published the essay collections The Alphabet of Things: Notes on Modern and Contemporary Art (2014) and Signatures of All Things: Notes on the Theory of Modern and Contemporary Art (2021). He was nominated for the F. X. Šalda Award for Outstanding Achievement in Art Criticism in 2014. In the same year, he was awarded the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory. He curated exhibitions such as Memories of the Future (Václav Špála Gallery, 2009), Figures and Prefigurations (Prague City Gallery, 2013), Sam Lewitt, Cheyney Thompson Grid. Gradient. Drunken Walks (Brno House of Arts, 2017) and Lucy McKenzie & Atelier E.B (Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna, 2022).

Florian Pumhösl (born in 1971, Vienna) lives and works in Vienna. From 1989 to 1997 he studied at the Höhere Grafische Bundes-Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna and from 1989 to 1996 he studied printmaking at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Since 2018 he has been a professor of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Pumhösl has participated in many international group exhibitions, including the 50th. Venice Biennale (2003), 27th São Paulo Biennial (2006), and Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany (2007). Solo exhibitions include Wiener Secession, Vienna (2000), Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany (2003), MUDAM, Luxembourg (2009), Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (2010), MUMOK, Vienna (2011), Raven Row, London (with Mathias Poledna 2011), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2012/2013), Haubrok Foundation, Berlin (2015), Most recently Pumhösl exhibited with Vincent Fecteau at the MAK Center Schindler House in West Hollywood in late 2021/2022.