Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art
Art of the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries / Veletržní palace
The permanent exhibition of 20th and 21st century art on three floors of Veletržní palác acquaints visitors with the development of Czech and foreign fine art during the course of the last two centuries. The extensive exhibition space in this Functionalist building is home to over 2,300 exhibits and spans an area of 13,500m2. The exhibition presents the work of leading artists in Czech fine art in monographic profiles or in a selection of key works, along with the work of foreign artists. The image of the period is complemented with examples of architecture, furniture, the applied arts, fashion, design and stage design.
You will also find photographs, drawings and prints concentrated in graphic cabinets. Alongside celebrated figures we have also included artists who have been neglected in the past or are yet to be discovered. Czech art is shown through qualities which distinguish it from its international counterparts and which make it unique. The objectives of this new conception are emphasised by the inventive archectural design of the individual halls
MUSEUM OF THE CZECH CUBISM / At the Black Madonna House
The museum is situated in the centre of Prague, in an outstanding piece of Cubist architecture by Josef Gočár, the Black Madonna House, at the point where Celetná St. meets Ovocný trh. The house dating from 1911–12, designed for František Josef Herbst as a department store with a café on the first floor, is an example of how a modern building can sensitively be incorporated in the historical core of the Old Town. The fact that after the recent reconstruction its spaces have been assigned to the Museum of Czech Cubism owes to a brilliant decision by the Ministry of Culture. The exhibition was arranged by the National Gallery in Prague in collaboration with the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and the National Museum.
The exhibition of Czech Cubism presented on the second and third floors of the Black Madonna House focuses on the years 1910–19, the most imporant stage of Cubism in the Czech lands. Painting is represented by the works of Emil Filla, Bohumil Kubišta, Vincenc Beneš, Josef Čapek, Antonín Procházka, Václav Špála, Jan Zrzavý, Otakar Nejedlý, and Otakar Kubín, while sculpture is the domain of Otto Gutfreund. The collection of paintings and sculptures was chosen from the holdings of the National Gallery in Prague and supplemented by a number of loans from galleries outside Prague and from private collectors. The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague loaned the various pieces of furniture made from designs of the architects Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár and Vlastislav Hofman. Their architectural works, along with documents of Josef Chochol’s works, are shown in a number of photos and two models: Gočár’s Black Madonna House and Chochol’s tenement house in Neklanova St. in Prague. It is the Czech Cubist architecture dating from the years before World War I that is quite unique and cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. Samples of applied art were also loaned by the Museum of Decorative Arts. The exhibited ceramic items were executed from the designs by Pavel Janák, Vlastislav Hofman and Jaroslav Horejc, while the glass was designed by Josef Rosipal and posters present the works
of Jaroslav Benda, V. H. Brunner and Václav Špála.
Exhibits on the fourth floor include drawings and prints by all the earlier mentioned artists. In an interesting way, they are also complemented with items of African sculpture, whose simplified and succintly expressed forms fascinated not only Emil Filla when he visited the Trocadéro in Paris in 1912, but also other Czech artists, and considerably influenced the forming of their Cubist views. The exhibited collection is rounded off with a number of documents, photos, reproductions of archival material and references to literature on Czech Cubism, which classified it within a wider context.
The Black Madonna House project counts on providing space for short-term exhibitions on the fifth floor, where also instruction programmes will take place. The instruction department of the National Gallery in Prague has prepared extensive accompanying programmes for schools and individuals.
A longer-term prospect also counts on reconstruction of Gočár’s interior of the café which had been abolished following the changed use of the former department store. The café will doubtless make a sought-after place of social encounters in the centre of the Old Town.
Czech Cubism 1910–1919
Czech Cubism became one of the important movements in the development of art, design and architecture of Central Europe in the first half of the 20th century. The proponents of Czech Cubism born in the 1880s were able to use the creative ideas of their own cultural background, particularly of the Baroque, alongside the new inspiration found in European, mainly French modern art, and established Cubism as the most complex style of the modern times. The exhibition of Edvard Munch’s works, held in Prague in 1905, provided a key to the psychological nature of modern times. It was above all under the influence of Munch’s symbolical Expressionism and the French painting of the second half of the 19th century that the young Prague artists arrived at expressive painting as the starting point for their efforts to conceive of art in a new way.
For the first time, the would-be creators of Czech Cubism presented their own works in Prague at an exhibition of the Osma (Eight) group in 1907. In the years 1907–1910, the works of the painters Emil Filla, Bohumil Kubišta, Antonín Procházka, the sculptor Otto Gutfreund, and the architects Pavel Janák and Josef Gočár featured a number of motifs and presented questions, whose revolutionary solutions were made possible by their acquaintance with the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. From 1910, Czech Cubism was formed as the central tendency of modern art in the Czech lands. In 1911, the Cubist artists established the Group of Fine Artists, in the autumn of the same year, their Art Monthly magazine began to be published, while in early 1912, their first joint exhibition was organised. The framework, within which this Cubist generation worked, was formed by the influence of the Cubism in Paris, and also the ideas of the Central-European art historical knowledge. The members of the Group of Fine Artists included, besides the writers Karel Čapek and František Langr, also the art historians V. V. Štech and Antonín Matějček. Theoretical arguments for the generation’s inclination to Cubism were particularly provided by the pupil of the Viennese school of art history, Vincenc Kramář, author of the first art-historical work on Cubism and the most important collector of the Cubist works of Pablo Picasso at the time. In the years 1910–1912 Cubism was developed as a style that in Prague, unlike in Paris, permeated all fields of fine arts. The stylistic expression was based on the perception of the surface and edge as the supporting elements of crystal shapes that provide the artist with an ability to understand and express the spiritual values of the world perceptible by senses. In this respect, the architect Pavel Janák went furthest, transferring Alois Riegel’s ideas concerning the artist’s wishes and vision into works in which the architectural design and the object of arts and crafts became artefacts equal to paintings or sculptures.
From 1912, opposing views started developing within Czech Cubism. While the architects and industrial designers continued in their efforts to create a uniform style, expressed in the morphology of the hermetic and analytical Cubism, the artists forming the core of the Cubism in painting and sculpture, Emil Filla and Otto Gutfreund, kept pace with the works of Picasso and Braque while looking for the new possibilities of this style. The result was a less confined model of art production, re-evaluating the hitherto emotionally-expressive tendency of Czech Cubism. Apart from their own theoretical activity, the key notion was Kramář’s understanding of Cubism as an attitude to reality that advocates plurality, in much the same way as the questions of time and space in modern natural sciences and psychology were tackled. Another factor was the response to the poetics of simultaneous images in the poetry of the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, at that time translated into Czech by the brothers Karel and Josef Čapek.
After 1912 the Czech Cubists thus started sharing in the formation of the avant-garde art concepts. The decisive period was the years of World War I which marked Otto Gutfreund’s stay in France, took Emil Filla to Holland and Bohumil Kubišta to the war fields. The experience of war accelerated and focused the relation of the Cubists to the idiom of their art expression and its anchoring in reality. In his paintings and collages featuring still lifes, Filla newly discovered everyday objects. With Josef Čapek, the complex problems of Cubism centred on the basic motifs of art production, the human figure, shape and structure. Gutfreund‘s sculptures revealed new possibilities of the impressive combination of the abstract structure and object sign. This was also the basis for the new development of architecture, particularly in the works of Bedřich Feuerstein, one of the younger representatives of the Cubist generation.