Kunsthalle Praha aims to give Prague’s art scene some bright spots

PRAGUE – Kunsthalle Praha, which opened at the former Zenger Power Substation here on Tuesday, is not the first exhibition space in a former power plant. From the very beginning, however, this privately funded redevelopment opposite Prague Castle is bringing electric art into the spotlight with its inaugural exhibition “Kinetismus: 100 Years of Electricity in Art“Extended until June 20.

Featuring nearly 100 works of art, the exhibition shows how electricity has transformed art over the past century, enabling artificial light and movement. With the advent of household electricity in the 1920s, artists had new options for them: They were no longer limited to still images and dependent on external light sources.

Peter Weibel, curator of the exhibition, says how much art revolutionizes electricity is not always appreciated. Unlike in music, where electric instruments and amplifiers are well received, he says, “In the art world, disconnected art – like painting and sculpture – is greatly appreciated. high, and the art of using electricity is eliminated.”

“There is a lack of understanding,” says Weibel. This hegemony of painting and sculpture is ‘an injustice to art,’ he added.

Kunsthalle Praha’s inaugural exhibition shows how the rapid technological advances of the last century have inspired successive generations of artists, from the early days of cinematography to machine art count. Works by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy are on display alongside contemporary works by Tokyo-based art groupLab and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, whose installations ” Lightwave” greets visitors as they arrive.

Weibel, head of the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, says the starting point of the exhibition is the work of Zdenek Pesanek, a Czech artist who died in Prague in 1965. Pesanek is the man. pioneered kinetic art – art that depends on motion for its effects. (His 1941 book “Kinetismus” named the exhibit.)

Pesanek has a direct connection with the Zenger Power Substation building: In the 1930s he designed a cycle of allegorical sculptures for the building’s facade, made of industrial materials with neon tubes are built-in and represent electrical concepts, such as the principle of an electric motor. However, the sculptures never appear on the façade. They were introduced at the International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life in Paris, in 1937, but later disappeared under unclear circumstances. (The exhibition opens with prepared models of the sculptures.)

One of Pesanek’s other works, “The Spa Fountain”, has two translucent bodies made of synthetic resin, lit from the inside by colored bulbs and curved neon tubes, at the center of the exhibition. . It was made in 1936 to celebrate the thermal spa culture in what was then Czechoslovakia..

“Electricity is a symbol of modernity,” said Matthew Rampley, professor of art history at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. This is why Pesanek and his contemporaries found it so appealing, he added.

The exhibition is part of a plan by the founders of Kunsthalle Praha to revive the local art scene. The organization was founded by Petr Pudil, a Czech businessman whose career spans industries from coal to real estate, and his wife, Pavlina Pudil. The Pudil Family Foundation, which Pudils founded to promote Czech and international contemporary and modern art, purchased the building in 2015. The purchase and renovation cost 35 million euros, about 40 million dollars, the couple said in a joint interview.

“Our mission was to create an organization that focuses on contemporary art and partly modern in an international context,” says Petr. In addition to bringing top-quality art to Prague from abroad, Kunsthalle Praha will also provide a platform for emerging artists from Central Europe, he added.

“We have a lot of freedom, because we are an NGO and not for profit,” said Pavlina, adding that Kunsthalle Praha will be funded by the foundation and through membership fees.

Petr says there is a lack of privately funded art spaces in Central Europe because “the culture of giving is still quite new in the post-Communist countries.” He added: “The reality is that a public institution does not have enough capital to acquire important works of art – not only in the Czech Republic, but I mean in the whole region.”

“The best pieces of postwar and contemporary art are in private hands, and it’s very difficult for the public to see,” says Petr. “We want to fill this void.”

Private ownership also means financial independence in an area where nationalist governments have put pressure on cultural institutions in recent years. Ivana Goossen, director of Kunsthalle Praha, said: “Although public institutions must be independent, they are funded by the government and that often has consequences to varying degrees in different countries. “. “We’ve seen examples in Hungary or Poland, where the art scene has been affected quite heavily.”

Petr says he and his wife expect their investment to have a broader impact on Prague’s artistic landscape. “It is very difficult to predict how, but we certainly expect that new galleries will open and it will somehow be reflected in the model of other institutions,” he said.

“As an entrepreneur,” he added, “I really believe that, if you make a core investment, you are definitely creating an ecosystem.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/22/arts/design/prague-petr-pudil-kunsthalle-praha.html Kunsthalle Praha aims to give Prague’s art scene some bright spots

Fry Electronics Team

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