Those of you who either live in Prague or have visited the city have surely wondered what the big white stately building on Kampa Park on the left bank of the Vltava River houses. Known to locals as the Sova Mill, named after one of its 15th century owners, Vaclav Sova, it was abandoned and left to its own fate for years until prominent art collector Meda Mladek decided to turn it into a museum.
Since the 1960's the Czech-American couple Jan and Meda Mladek have been dedicated to promoting and collecting art from Central European painters and sculptors who were persecuted, exiled or forced to go underground by the Communist regime, believing that culture is the basis for a nation's survival. When the Sova Mill became available, Mrs Mladek saw it as a one-time opportunity to realise her dream of sharing with the Czech people the hundreds of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and graphic works she had accumulated over the years:
"You know, I am quite tired because it was really a great effort for years. You can't imagine. I had to go through problem after problem because it is a very beautiful area, everybody wanted to have a hotel or apartment building and so on here. I came and started to fight for it and nobody believed that I could ever get it, especially me being a woman from America - that was out of the question. But I did succeed and everybody is astonished."
On Monday, the Kampa Museum for Central European modern art was ceremoniously opened. It was originally expected to be open to the public one year ago but just before the completion of reconstruction and interior design, the Vltava River burst its banks and flooded the building up to a height of five metres. The fate of one of its exhibits, the huge wooden chair carved by artist Magdalena Jetelova was followed by the media as this beautiful work of art drifted some fifty kilometres down the river and was eventually found close to the town of Melnik. Although not much art was lost, two years of reconstruction went down the drain.
But the hard work that followed has made a visit to the museum even more worthwhile. It now houses collections of abstract painter Frantisek Kupka and Czech cubist sculptor Otto Gutfreund as well as works from other significant Central European artists - works that have often not made it to art lovers in Central Europe.
And for more about this new cultural gem of Prague, tune into this week's Arts, in which Dita Asiedu talks to Meda Mladek about the artists represented and the reaction of the public to the opening of the museum.
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