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Who doesn’t know her accordion-pleated cat and inflatable Buffalo? However, fewer know that the life-work of Libuše Niklová (1934—1981) includes a considerable amount of innovative plastic toys, whose originality at the time by far exceeded the qualities of standard toy production, both local and foreign. Even fewer associate her name with the renowned visual and theatre artist Petr Nikl (1960), a member of the former Tvrdohlaví art group and author of internationally acclaimed Orbis Pictus project. Organizing Niklová’s very first retrospective exhibition was the initiative of her son whose peculiar poeticism has been greatly inspired by toys. To pay tribute to her he has designed a concurrent exhibition of his own works reflecting upon his mother’s production.
The symbolic title of the project, 200 dm³ of breath, refers to the key role which air played in all of the designer’s creations, be it little rubber figures, animals with accordion-like trunks or inflatable objects. It gave them shape and volume, allowed them to make sounds and harmonized perfectly with the elasticity and flexibility of plastic. The designer’s retrospective in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, whose rather impressive, transparent-inflatable installation made by Petr Nikl himself, presents both Niklová’s twenty years production for Fatra Napajedla, a company with which her work is inseparably linked, as well as her early designs of toys made by Gumotex Břeclav, where she commenced her career immediately after finishing her studies at the College of Applied Arts in Uherské Hradiště. At the time, the rare combination of Niklová’s imagination, incredible inventiveness and vigorous diligence were very well accepted by both her employer and in numerous competitions, owing to which the majority of her designs were put into production. This is something that even young designers today often struggle to achieve. The toys she designed from the mid-fifties until the end of her life have become popular companions to several generations of children. Whereas the small whistling rubber figures are attractive through their gentle charm, the inflatable and polyethylene toys designed for Fatra Napajedla excel in both their artistic creativity and technological ingenuity. She conceived of her inflatable furniture for children as living animals on which a child could sit and play at the same time. She transformed the bellows pipe from a flush cistern into the torso of her unique accordion-pleated animals, which produce a sound when squeezed. She also cleverly added similar sound-producing mechanisms to her inflatable toys. Through her attractive and thoughtful packaging and stylized printing on toys, swim rings, boats and mattresses, she excelled in the field of graphic design. Although this unique designer passed away at the early age of forty-seven, she left an incredibly rich pioneering work, a total of nine patents and three protected industrial prototypes, as well as the pleasure which her toys have brought to both children and adults to date.
Monograph 200 dm³ of Breath – Libuše Niklová’s Toys
A monograph will be published to mark the occasion of Libuše Niklová’s retrospective. The art historian and design theorist Tereza Bruthansová and the graphic designer Zuzana Lednická from Studio Najbrt are currently preparing the monograph. It will be richly illustrated with color and black and white photographs, and will also include a list of the designer’s works. It will be published by the publishing house Arbor vitae societas.
The second part of the project is the exhibition Petr Nikl: Dialogue with Mum in the Museum of Czech Literature – Hvezda Summer Pavilion, Prague (March 31st – May 30th, 2010).
Curator) Tereza Bruthansová
Installation) Petr Nikl
Graphic design) Zuzana Lednická (Studio Najbrt)
Organised by) Arbor vitae societas, Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and Museum of Czech Literature
Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague
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