Kunsthalle Praha opens with exhibition focused on electricity in art

Prague’s art scene has got a notable new player with the opening of the privately-owned museum Kunsthalle Praha. The venue’s first major exhibition reflects the building’s history as an electricity transformer station.

Kinetismus: 100 Years of Electricity in Art, the first major exhibition at Kunsthalle Praha, brings together a dazzling selection of over 90 works that buzz, whir and flicker.

Photo: Vojtěch Veškrna

The show’s focus on electricity reflects the history of the building, which was originally known as the Zenger Transformer Station.

A second exhibition at Kunsthalle looks at the story of the venue itself, which is located at Klárov, the area opposite Malostranská Metro station. Art historian Vendula Hnídková is its curator.

“This building was constructed in the 1930s. Originally there was an intention to build an alternative project, which was on the opposite side of the street.

"But because it is located in the heart of historical sites, there wasn’t a common agreement about the location and about the design, so the investor, the Electrical Works of the City of Prague, were forced to find an alternative site to build an alternative project.

"And this building is the outcome of long-term disputes about the proper design.”

Now, after a major “transformation” taking half a decade, the building has been turned into a spacious modern gallery and venue, including terraces with stunning views.

Kunsthalle Praha is the brainchild of businessman Petr Pudil, who made billions in the coal industry, and his wife Pavlína. The couple are known as committed art collectors.

Kunsthalle Praha chief curator Christelle Havranek explains the concept of the new venue.

“Kunsthalle, as you can tell from the name, is a format of art institution which shows short-time exhibitions and is focused on the local scene, but giving an international context.

"Also we would like to help the local scene, or local artists, to produce works and to exhibit new projects, rather than existing works that they have already done in the past.”

Given the no doubt astronomical cost of the project, I asked Havranek how Kunsthalle intended to generate income.

Kunsthalle Praha | Photo: Vojtěch Veškrna

“Mostly from admissions. But also from memberships, which is a model that I think is quite well-known in England or the US – the membership system.”

Meanwhile Vendula Hnídková says Kunsthalle Praha should prove a real shot in the arm for the Klárov district.

“I think that the basic idea is something groundbreaking in terms of the locality.

"Prague inhabitants and Prague dwellers perceive this part of the city as a tourist ghetto where we actually don’t go to, because there is no purpose to come here.

"And I think the culture institution may shift this perception of Klárov as a neglected area into somewhere where we might have a reason to go, so I really welcome it.”

Kunsthalle Praha | Photo: Filip Šlapal

Kunsthalle Praha opens to the public on Tuesday. Kinetismus: 100 Years of Electricity in Art runs until May 22.