The Spirit of Prague

Ivan Klíma wrote the following in The Spirit of Prague – For me, the material and spiritual centre of this city is an almost 700-year-old stone bridge connecting the west with the east. The Charles Bridge is an emblem of the city's situation in Europe, the two halves of which have been seeking each other out at the very least since the bridge's foundations were laid. The West and the East.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Turista, or Turistický

I'm here for over 10 weeks, so I can be a tourist for a bit: turista, or turistický. In my first few days at Hotel Leonardo (ask me about this place – good breakfast, a sleeping loft so low short little me hit his head numerous times, and a great staff), I wandered the city on foot in the rain.

The rain was a heavy, constant presence early... and so on Sunday, I decided I needed to immerse myself in a museum. I chose Veletržní palác - Národní galerie. The National Gallery and the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art. I rode Tram 17 on a rainy Sunday in late morning. At the Veletržní palác stop, I looked around and saw nothing. I hesitated. An older French couple clutching a map was doing the same thing. They looked at me, pointed to their paper which listed the same destination. I nodded and we half stood up, but didn't see the museum and the rain was coming down hard. The tram moved on, and we all shrugged, laughed. The next stop was the end of the line, and we had to get out, stand in the rain, wait for the tram to turn around and take us back one stop where we instantly saw the gallery this time. I smiled, they laughed, we walked to the museum together without speaking a word to each other the whole time. Language barriers at work, but a connection made. Every time I saw them in the museum, they'd smile, clasp their hands, and laugh.

The museum itself was immense. Over five floors of art in a vast echo chamber, an institutional, communist, space. Czech Art of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Czech Art of the First Half of the 20th Century, Architectural Drawings for famous buildings, International Art of the 20th and 21st Centuries (so close and completely alone with works by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, and more), and finally, Alfons Mucha's The Slav Epic – Slovanská epopej. 

Slovanská epopej is housed in a large, vaulted, dim space. It is a series of 20 (+) incredibly large, two story high paintings by Alfons Mucha that highlight Slavic and Czech history through the ages. These paintings have largely been criticized as overtly patriotic and not Mucha's best work (not to mention historically inaccurate), but to be in this space, dwarfed by the size of each painting alone, to read the history he attempts to address (or rewrite for his own artistic purposes) in each one, to understand the work and years, literally years, creating these pieces... it was a fantastic immersion into the culture I am about to live and work within... and highly recommended.

I spent nearly four hours inside this museum, and could easily come back, as with so many museums. I can't even begin to list all the art I saw, but some of my favorite odd-ball things were: a yellow soccer ball with spikes, 3-D models of sets for famous plays/operas over the years in Prague, costume design sketches over 100 years old, and a fantastic exhibit on Jan Kotík that I just happened to catch the last day of a 6 month long run. Providence in Praha, the fortunate turista.

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