Since 1966

The International Symposium of Ceramics Bechyně was founded in 1966 as the second oldest in the world, after the symposium in Gmunden, Austria. Among its founding fathers were prominent Czech ceramists Lubor Těhník, Pravoslav Rada, Jaroslav Pýcha and Václav Šerák, who joined forces with the art and craft theoretician Karel Hetteš to help them organise the event. The Symposium took place in the premises of the Secondary Art School in Bechyně, co-organised by the school’s representative Bohumil Dobiáš Jr. Works created during the Symposium and produced by authors from all around the world then became parts of collections of the Aleš South Bohemian Gallery (AJG) and The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague (UPM). In the 1960s Central Europe, symposia were a popular type of informal gathering of artists from the politically divided world, who could for a few weeks work together intensely, experiment with new artistic techniques and share experience. Those techniques were then to be used for their subsequent artistic creation and in production; both sculptures and prototypes for ceramics were designed during the symposium.

The founding of Bechyně’s Symposium was a natural culmination of the success of Czechoslovak ceramics, which started rising to fame in the late 1950s thanks to a number of international awards (EXPO 58 in Brussels being one of them). Most of the participants of the symposia were medal-winners from the 1962 International Exhibition of Ceramics in Prague, which was renowned worldwide; among the participants were Carmen Dionyse, Kurt Ohnsorg or Karl and Ursula Schied. The symposia then further intensified the newly established contact between local Czechoslovak authors and their colleagues from the East and the West alike. Shortly after the symposium started taking place, The International Museum of Ceramics in Bechyně was founded as a part of the Aleš South Bohemian Gallery. The Museum became a platform to present the art of internationally acclaimed artists, and which was acquired from the symposia for Czechoslovak collections. After the optimistic 1960s, Czechoslovakia again became isolated after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion. The symposia in Bechyně though continued to invite guests not only from the Eastern Bloc, but also from Sweden, Great Britain or Canada. Maybe even thanks to that the symposia, in contrast to other similar European projects, did not disappear, but quite the contrary, it continued to be active despite a number of crises. Standing behind this great success are dozens of years of devotion and efforts by a number of ceramists and academics, such as Dagmar Tučná (UPM), Petr Svoboda or Otto Eckert, all active in the 1970s.

 One of the founding principles of the Symposium was a focus on ceramics as both objects of daily use and free sculpture. In the 1960s authors were thematically free to create as per their free will, in the collections thus one can find vases by Alena Kroupová and bowls by Tony Behnam, along with figural reliefs by Marta Taberyová, free objects by Imre Schrammel and playful exterior sculptures by Jindřiška Radová. In the 1970s and 1980s, the participants often focused on particular artistic issues such as the use of ceramics in architecture; in 1970, along with other authors, Marie Rychlíková and Děvana Mírová explored the potential of decorative walls, all as a part of the symposium academically supervised by Milena Lamarová (UPM). Soon afterwards it became possible to work with a wider variety of materials as well. During the symposium in Karlovy Vary (1971 and 1988), the artists Imrich Vanek or Heidi Manthey worked with porcelain, in Uherské Hradiště (1971) authors including Karel Nepraš explored the possibilities of working with majolica (tin-glazed pottery), and their colleagues could, additionally to Bechyně, participate on the symposia in Kunštát na Moravě (1984), Kostelec nad Černými lesy (1990), Dalovice (1994) or Louny (1994).

New era starting in the 1990s meant founding of a Community interest society to represent the symposia, and in 2002 Jiří Hlušička and Petr Macek became its managers. The organisers kept on cooperating with its founder Václav Šerák, the curator of AJF Milouš Růžička among others. The symposium, which permanently returned to Bechyně, was continuously supported by previously involved institutions; along with the long-standing cooperation with the Bechyně school represented by Jiří Novotný, it was academically supported by AJG and UPM, represented by Helena Keonigsmarková and Jana Horneková, to name a few. Along with important Czech male and female authors, such as Elżbieta Grosseová or Jindra Viková, a number of international guests took part in the Symposium, with Ray Chen or Svätopluk Mikyta among them. During the 1960s and 1970s boom, a number of symposia were founded all around the globe, some of them referring to Bechyně as their inspiration (e.g. Römhild, Germany). A majority of them still takes place nowadays, only to prove the agility of the symposium format up to this day, when the world is so much more interconnected than 50 years ago. A number of new members joined the team of organisers in 2017, with the ideas of the founders still being present: efforts to create a platform that could bring Czech and international authors opportunities to meet and work together; strengthening the position of the symposium in the global context; attempt to reflect on the subject of ceramics on the academic level, and finally, to try to engage in the wider context of contemporary art.