Current Affairs Cubist House of the Black Madonna re-opens in Prague

28-11-2003 | Dita Asiedu

Those of you who have walked from Prague's Powder Tower towards the Old Town Square may have come across an unusual building on the corner of Celetna Street and Ovocny Trh. The House of the Black Madonna named after the stone sculpture of a black Madonna sitting on top of it, is one of the world's rarest examples of Cubist architecture. The building was closed in January 2002, but Prague was proud to announce this Friday that its doors have finally been re-opened to the public:

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Cubist House of the Black MadonnaCubist House of the Black Madonna In the early twentieth century, wholesale merchant Frantisef Josef Herbst commissioned the renowned Czech architect Josef Gocar to design a department store. The House of the Black Madonna came to being between 1911-1912 contributing to Prague becoming one of the best representatives of cubism in the world. Milan Knizak is the head of the National Gallery in Prague:

"The House of the Black Madonna belongs to the pearls of Czech cubist architecture, which is a kind of style that is only in the Czech Republic, it's our speciality. We don't only have buildings but also furniture, pottery, glass and a lot of other different things. No other country in the world had developed so many different variations of cubism."

But the House of the Black Madonna was destined to suffer many transformations. It only remained in its original state until 1914, when small changes were made. The Grand Café Orient, located on the first floor, disappeared in the mid-1920s and it, as well as the shops on the second floor, was reconstructed into bank offices. In 1941 the wooden framework of the ground-floor display windows was replaced by steel, after a late Functionalist design by V. Kubík. In the post-war decades the whole house was gradually divided up into offices and became the main building of a state exhibition agency. The building was festively re-opened on October 18 1994 as a new centre of Czech art and culture, only to be closed down less than eight years later. Today, it houses the new Museum of Czech Cubism, run by the National Gallery:

"There was a café and some shops but it was used by the Czech Museum of Modern Art, which basically is the Central Bohemia Gallery, and it was used for various exhibitions. Then, because they belonged to Central Bohemia, they moved to Kutna Hora, which is a town that is not far from Prague and it became empty. We then won the tender that was issued by the Ministry of Culture. But the house was closed because there were some problems in the ownership and there were some debts and we were ready to open the museum already two years ago but it was not possible."

And according to Mr Knizak, plans are underway to reconstruct the first floor and re-open the Grand Café Orient in its original appearance before the end of next year.

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