This article is a review of a new gallery opening in Prague and the exhibition presented there.
A new hub for modern art in Prague.
The brand-new museum with all its grandiosity is creating a strong competition to DOX – arguably the leader of contemporary art showcase venues in Prague. Kunsthalle’s central positioning in the city (Malostranská metro station) is another ace in its sleeve; with its entry facing the exit of Prague Castle tourist route and capturing the hungry eyes of visitors with Instagrammable looks.
The first exhibition celebrates the building’s heritage (a former Zenger Electrical Substation) while interconnecting it to art. An elegant tribute entertains the visitor with plenty of interactive pieces while guiding through the 20th century art experimentation. The exhibition features over ninety works of art by several generations of artists from all around the world, including independent figures and members of emblematic groups such as Bauhaus, GRAV, Dvizhenie, ZERO, and teamLab. It is a vibrant mix of the work of pioneers such as Mary Ellen Bute, Zdeněk Pešánek, László Moholy-Nagy and Marcel Duchamp; established names such as Julio Le Parc, Yaacov Agam, Woody and Steina Vašulka, François Morellet, Adéla Matasová, William Kentridge; and representatives from younger generations such as Refik Anadol, Žilvinas Kempinas, Shilpa Gupta, my personal favourite Olafur Eliasson, Michael Bielický and Kamila B. Richter.
My excitement to finally enter the building in a pre-reserved slot is slightly clouded by the queue and metal detector check (an unheard-of security measurement in Czech museums). However, I rapidly forgot about it as a bunch of friendly staff members (equally unheard-of in Czech museums) greeted me on every possible corner of the hall. The establishment is a not-for-profit and an NGO, but it does offer a membership in various packages (more on that here).
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, yet the place is full (a part of me wonders if anyone in this city has a job). Right from the start I get swept away by several beautiful architectural details of the interior itself: rough concrete texture on the walls reminiscing of the building’s substation past, glossy terrazzo flooring and a minimalist umbrella locker.
Once I started going through the exhibition – two hours passed swiftly. Curators did a great job; artworks are grouped together accompanied by info boards providing historical context and more in-depth analysis, yet they are always followed by some interactive piece. Cycling through a 90s version of a metaverse city, floating infinity, real time fly portraits, shadow play, digital graffiti wall, inverted tower dome, etc. - visitors don’t get bored.
Two items stood out for me:
Mark Dion’s Cabinet of Electrical Curiosities. Imagine if Wes Anderson styled your grandpa’s garage shelves. The extremely visually satisfying permanent site-specific work for Kunsthalle Praha, the Cabinet of Electrical Curiosities, puts to use various artefacts discovered and uncovered in the Zenger Transformer Substation that date from its construction in the 1930s to the present day. The building once powering Prague’s trolley system carries a transcendental spirit of rapid lifestyle change. A set of once revolutionary objects - switches, lightbulbs, batteries and other electrical components – is carefully curated on shelves, in drawers and in glass display cases.
Otto Piene’s Lightroom Prague. Not sure if a public museum is the place to meditate but this piece had the most meditative vibe I have ever experienced in my life. For Piene light has been an essential medium since the middle of the past century, and the concept of Lightroom Prague finds its origins in artworks such as Light Ballet (1959) which is also composed by ‘dancing’ lights projected onto a dim space. The piece has a little two-seater bench for those willing to observe for longer (which I highly recommend). Mesmerising firefly dance resembles astral movements, and one loses track of time getting hypnotised by it. I had my earpods in, which probably made the experience even more immersive, as the space is not sound insulated.