Following the example of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Prague Museum of Decorative Arts, founded in 1885, opened its first exhibition galleries in 1900 in the austere neo-renaissance building on the banks of the River Danube, designed Josef Schulz. Over a century later, the first new galleries in the completely-renovated building are now open, with the permanent galleries to follow.
The decorations of the original building have been respected and restored with the new exhibition galleries, enhanced by new features such as the 2017 glass chandelier designed by Rene Rubicek. As with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, many of the more prominent spaces were decorated by artists of the day and the exhibitions now flow underneath the painted ceilings. It is a shame however that in order to accommodate new facilities, the original entrance hall with its flowing staircase, while restored, is no longer the entrance hall to the Museum, but a grand space you move through.
Currently on show are exhibitions showing the best of Czech design. The first is ‘Designing for Democracy’ focussed on Krasna Jibza, a cooperative organisation that was a leader in Czech interior and product design until the German invasion in the Second World War and the arrival of communism in 1948 ironically resulted in its closure, when it should have been celebrated for its cooperative principles. What is amazing is how many of the designs still look contemporary today.
The second, and parallel, exhibition is on the fashion designer Hana Podolska and her salon, one of the best-known in Czechoslovakia, which was at its height in the 1930′s but similarly did not survive the advent of communism. Here the exhibition designers have enabled a two storey exhibition case, supported also by revolving displays, as are also used in the other exhibition.
Alongside, a third exhibition celebrates 90 years’ life and work of the Czech sculptor Professor Akademicky Sochar (1923 – 2013), best known for his designs for commemorative plates, medals and other sculptural items, housed in the Founder’s Hall underneath that new glass chandelier by Rene Rubicek.
If these set the quality for the remainder of the galleries as they reopen, this is going to be a museum to return to.