One of Prague’s hidden secrets is Prague City Gallery on the 2nd floor of the Municipal Library which itself was built between 1925 and 1928 in that flowering of Czech independence to the designs of Frantisek Roth, who was a student of the Austrian architect Otto Wagner, with statues above the entrance portico by Ladislav Kofranek. It completes one side of Virgin Mary Square, with the early 20th century City Hall opposite, while the other side has the 18th century Clementinum housing the National Library. The Municipal Library was the first purpose-built library of the new independent nation and one of the most modern in Europe at the time.
On entering the Library you soon meet Matej Kren’s striking sculptural column of 8000 books donated by the Library, apparently going down to infinity, while you need very good eyesight to spot the small sign to the staircase and lift to the gallery on the 2nd floor above. There is, it has to be said, a separate entrance from the street, round the corner from the Library entrance, but I wonder how many people actually use it?
The gallery is worth finding it, as a treat awaits. The Prague City Gallery has been here since 1996, as one of its locations across the city, with surprisingly extensive gallery display areas in the two wings on either side of the central high volume reading room of the Library below used for temporary exhibitions that focus on contemporary art with a particular link to Germany, with the currently exhibition ‘Transformation of Geometry’ showing works from the collections of two private collectors – Siegfriend Grauwinkel in Berlin and Miroslav Velfl in Prague. If this is just a little of their two collections, then they are indeed collectors to watch.
The common theme of the wide variety of works chosen for the exhibition is the manipulation, transformation, simplification, twisting and curving of geometry, with works by a large cast of modern international and national artists in both 2 and 3 dimensions, with the curators taking advantage of the different spaces, the large ones allowing exploration of a theme; the first room being quite graphical. The larges spaces are complimented by an enfilade of small rooms providing a more intimate experience for a more intense examination of one or a few artworks.
Amusingly, the exhibition galleries have a geometry of their own which acts as a counterpount to the art on show.