Daniel Libeskind set to design museum in Prague

Daniel Libeskind, photo: CTK

Prague looks set to follow Paris and Madrid with its very own museum devoted to the great surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. The architect chosen for the task is none other than Daniel Libeskind, who has won international acclaim for his Jewish Museum in Berlin, and plans for the Ground Zero site in New York. The Polish-born American architect was in Prague this week to visit the Dali Museum site and promote the project.

Daniel Libeskind,  photo: CTK
Daniel Libeskind said that he was in the Czech capital "to put his hands on the cobblestones of Prague and get into the spirit of the city." He said what he felt the essence of a Dali project should be.

"Well, Dali was a great force of the 20th Century and a permanent force of the imagination. So anything that has to do with the imagination, dreams and the future is certainly part of the programme that the word 'Dali' suggests."

At a meeting with the architect, Prague's Mayor, Pavel Bem, said that the project needed to be looked at from two perspectives.

One priority, he said, was to keep in mind existing architectural styles native to Prague, from the Gothic of the Middle Ages, to the Functionalism of the 1920s. But at the same time, such a project should be provocative, confronting the old with the new, the past with the future. The Mayor added that Prague was the kind of city that deserved the best of world architecture, and a building by an architect of Libeskind's caliber would benefit the city.

But why a museum to the Spanish artist Dali in Prague? Well, the man with the dream is gallery owner Miro Smolak.

Mr. Smolak says that the surrealist icon came to Prague in 1974 to sit in as a model for the Czech sculptor Josef Nalepa, the first and only time Dali had given such permission. Mr. Smolak had once envisioned the sculpture ascending out of the water under the Charles Bridge but such an idea was impossible to realize under communism. The sculpture will be on show in the museum and the building will be derived from a Dali sketch drawn on a newspaper in the 1960s. But what is the Prague public to expect from this building? Will it be as strange and surreal as Dali's paintings - with watches melting into the landscape? Mr. Libeskind was quick to respond.

"You know Dali always said expect the unexpected. So, you can't just be too literal and expect melted time. But you can expect something that is on the level of aspirations that Dali opened to the world."

Mr. Libeskind is to have a three-dimensional model ready for Prague on the 11th of May this year. The day marks the 100th anniversary of Salvador Dali's birth. It is estimated that the museum will cost between 300 and 400 million Czech Crowns or between 12 and 16 million US dollars, which will be funded via private investors. But such a price doesn't concern Mr. Smolak as he is convinced it will become a huge cash-cow. The Dali Museum in Spain welcomes over 1 million visitors per year.