Thursday, December 2, 2010

Along the Vltava river

The walk to the Kampa Museum located on the bank of the Vltava river in Prague is very romantic, especially a month ago, with all the colored foliage. The island is a park, and the building hosting the museum has a long history starting in 1393. It used to be a water mill, of course was damaged during wars, burned, was rebuilt...and after more recent incidents was finally acquired by the City of Prague which allowed the museum to open in 2003. It looks like the week-end residence of a rich aristocrat, with its main building hosting the permanent collections and the Stables exhibition hall, the temporary exhibitions.
Meda and Jan Mladek, Czech-American collectors, contributed to most of the permanent collection, which includes more than 200 works from
Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957) and sculptures from Otto Gutfreund (1889-1927). These two Czech artists' works occupy two levels of the museum and are displayed in a chronological order. Kupta's path is a history of the abstract movement and the Parisian life. I discovered Gutfreund and his cubist sculptures like "Don Quixote" (1911-12), or Cellist (1912-13), dynamic, full of character, powerful. It is poignant to look at his post-war works, academic, emotionless, like the artist had disappeared from his works. He was well-known then, professor at the College of Decorative Arts in Prague. He drowned in the Vltava river in 1927.
The permanent collection of Central and Eastern European artists is rich with hundreds of paintings, sculptures, drawings from Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian artists from the 60's to the 80's and later years. Several donors added works to this already rich collection, including George Soros.

In the Stable exhibition hall, next to the museum, a temporary exhibition was dedicated to Ladislav Novak (1925-1999), who is an original Czech artist. An action painter of a kind, he created "Decollages", "Fumages" and the famous "Froissages", creating a dreamlike world. A fairy like, lonely character is the center of a story, and annotations in French are inscribed with a pencil at the bottom of the works, giving clues about the character depicted. The works could be the illustrations for a book.

One cannot escape the history surrounding these works. Most artists , living in exile or in hiding, could not be silenced and this museum is a testimony to the power of their creativity.

A quote from Jan Mladek is encrypted on the entrance of the Kampa Museum: " If a nation's culture survives, so does the nation". The Czech Republic should fare well.

"Madame Kupka among verticals" (1910-1911) Frantisek Kupka
"Don Quixote" (1911-1912) Otto Gutfreund

photograph by the author:
"Rose" (1978) Ladislav Novak
view of one room, permanent collection at the Kampa Museum

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