In this week's edition of the Arts, Dita Asiedu, looks at the House of the Black Madonna, where a new Museum of Cubism has just opened its doors to the public. But before that, a brief review of the latest arts news:
This weekend will see some two thousand choir members from Europe and South Africa flock to Prague to take part in the 13th International Festival of Advent and Christmas Music. Fifty-three choirs from 18 countries will be judged by an expert jury consisting of outstanding figures of Czech and international choral music. The winning choir will be presented with the Petr Eben Award, named after a famous Czech composer of choir and spiritual music, with special awards also given to winners in individual categories such as arrangements, voice qualities, and conduction. It will ceremoniously come to an end with a public concert of Christmas and Advent songs at Prague's Old Town Square under the conduction of South Africa's Johan van der Sandt.
The sixty-five year-old Czech writer, Jiri Grusa, has been elected president by the 69th congress of the International PEN Club by 54 votes to 7 votes. He was the only candidate nominated and takes over from Mexican writer and poet Homero Aridjis, who has been International PEN Club president for two consecutive terms since 1997 and was not seeking a third term. Mr Grusa is currently the Czech Republic's Ambassador to Austria and will resign from that position to take up his new role at the helm of the influential writers' organisation. In the former Czechoslovakia, he was an active opponent of the Communist regime and was expelled in 1981 for taking part in the "Prague Spring" protests. He writes in German as well as in his native Czech. The organization Poets, Essayists and Novelists (P.E.N.) was founded in 1921 in Great Britain.
The renowned Czech artist, Jiri Anderle, has opened a gallery in the Prague 6 district, exhibiting his work and his collection of African art. Mr Anderle, now 67, studied painting and graphic arts at the Prague Academy of the Creative Arts. From 1969-1973, he assisted the world-famous Czech artists Zdenek Sklenar and Jiri Trnka at the College of Applied Arts in Prague and participated as a mime in Jiri Srnec's internationally renowned Black Theatre in the 1960's, travelling with the ensemble all over the world for eight years. Mr Anderle has been given over forty awards in the course of his career. His work is exhibited in the collections of many of the world's most famous museums such as New York's Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery, and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., Centre Pompidou, the Municipal Museum of Modern Art in Paris, Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum, the Nationalgalerie Berlin, the Brussels Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Folkwang Museum Essen, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Moscow's Pushkin Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Vienna's Albertina Museum, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, and Prague's National Gallery.
And that was a brief look at some of the latest arts news. As you heard at the beginning of the programme, the House of the Black Madonna opened its doors to the public this Friday after being closed for almost two years. The building, which in itself is a beautiful and rare example of Cubist architecture, is also home to the Czech Republic's first ever Museum of Czech Cubism. Thanks to the National Gallery in Prague, visitors now have the chance to see several hundred examples of Cubist art and furniture that the gallery acquired from its own collections, the Museum of Applied Arts, the National Museum, a number of smaller regional museums, and private collections. Milan Knizak is the Head of the National Gallery:
"People will see examples of all the possible levels of Czech Cubism. When they enter the house, the first floor is now closed because we are going to reconstruct the Cubist café together with a few more people. We hope it will be opened next year almost exactly the same as it was before. There are other three floors with exhibitions. On one of them, visitors can see Cubist paintings by Filla, Kubista, beautiful sculptures by Gutfreund and then they will also see some pottery and some glass. One floor higher, they will be introduced to some other painters, as well as posters, furniture, light fixtures, a lot of different pieces. The floor above is for temporary exhibitions and now there are drawings and prints of Czech cubists, together with some African sculptures that served as an inspiration at that time. They are real original pieces that these artists in their time saw in Prague in the beginning of the twentieth century. The last floor will be used for our lectures, workshops, and various accompanying activities."
When you think about the interior design of the actual exhibition space, does it have to be a little different than for other more classic works of art?
"First of all, it's very difficult to design it because the shape of the rooms is uneven and there are very special ceilings and the rooms had no proper shape and there are many windows all around and we had to cover some of them and make walls for paintings. But our architect did well and the result, I think, is fantastic. It even surprises me how beautiful it is. "
You said that visitors are going to be able to see only Czech examples of Cubism. How did Czech Cubist art differ from that of other countries, how was it unique?
"The architecture, design, and such things can only be found here. This means that there are no other variations anywhere else. The paintings and sculptures are of course somewhere else too and we were influenced by Picasso and Braque. But Czech Cubism differs from French Cubism because it always tells a story. It's a Cubist form with a Baroque content. For instance, if you look at Bohumil Kubista, who is one of our painters, he carries very old and almost Baroque stories, he works with skeletons and he paints very nice scenes, which never appear in French Cubism because it especially is more formal and works more with what's outside the painting. I once said that Czech Cubism is the form of Picasso with the content of Edvard Munch because Czech painting was influenced by Munch very much because he had the first big exhibition in Prague in 1904, which was very early and had a great influence on the young Czech artists of the time."
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