Prague Autumn, Kampa Museum

Kampa Museum for Central European Modern Art

In this week's Arts, Dita Asiedu invites you to the Prague Autumn International Music Festival and speaks to Meda Mladek, thanks to whom the Kampa Museum for Central European Modern Art was opened in Prague this week:

Prague Autumn International Music Festival
From September 11 - October 1, classical music lovers flock to the Czech capital for the Prague Autumn International Music Festival, which has in its thirteen year history developed into one of the most renowned music events in the Czech Republic and Central Europe.

The festival, held under the auspices of the Prime Minister and the Lord Mayor of the City of Prague, includes 20 concerts, with 9 foreign orchestras - the BBC Scottish Symphony, St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Russian Philharmonic, Moscow Chamber, EU Chamber, Festival Strings Lucerne and the Budapest Gipsy Symphony orchestra. Among the famous conductors and soloists performing this year are John Nelson, Carlo Rizzi, Gabriel Chmura, Constantin Orbelian, Enrique Barrios, Ilan Volkov, and Alexander Dmitriev, to name just a few. The concerts will be held at Prague's Rudolfinum, the State Opera Prague, and the Town theatre in the Karlovy Vary spa town.

There are plenty of highlights but two of my personal favourites - a concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, featuring pieces from Leos Janacek's "The Fiddler's Child", Antonin Dvorak's Cello concerto in A Major and "The Golden Spinning Wheel" as well as Bohuslav Martinu's "Symphony No. 6" and a performance by the Budapest Gipsy Symphony Orchestra called "Hundred Gypsy Violins".

Ticket prices range from 100 to 1,200 Czech crowns. For more information, visit the official Prague Autumn website at

Meda Mladek,  photo: CTK
Earlier this week, we gave you a short preview of the opening of a new museum in the heart of Prague. In this week's arts I speak to Meda Mladek - a Czech-American art collector, thanks to whom the Kampa Museum of Central European modern art was opened this Monday:

"You know, I am quite tired because it was really a great effort for years. You can't imagine. I had to go through problem after problem because it is a very beautiful area, everybody wanted to have a hotel or apartment building and so on here. I came and started to fight for it and nobody believed that I could ever get it, especially me being a woman from America - that was out of the question. But I did succeed and everybody is astonished."

Kampa Museum of Central European modern art today
The museum was supposed to open exactly a year ago and then two weeks before, the floods came and the result was four to five metres of water...

"Higher than the windows, can you imagine?"

Yes I can, because I stood on the other side of the Vltava River and saw what was left of the building. It was shocking. But what was lost in the floods?

Kampa Museum of Central European modern art hit by floods in 2002
"We didn't lose so much. A few sculptures of contemporary art, which we practically replaced because I found the money for it and the artists made or are making new ones. The really important art was upstairs with the exception of three very beautifully carved big columns. Because the windows were broken, everything that was wood floated out. The glass paintings you see on the wall - the whole wall was full of them - but they were mainly destroyed."

Who are the paintings by?

"They are by Dana Zamecnikova, the wife of the artist who made all the doors and the tower of the building."

What about now? The museum is open to the public. What will it find here?

"The Kupka and Gutfreund collections, which are displayed together in the big building. Then, they can see art from the period when the Communists took over power, especially when the Russians occupied the country. This was the traumatic time for everybody - when the artists could not sell and nobody had the right to write about them so that they were totally forgotten."

So what does their art feature? What topics are covered?

Kampa Museum of Central European modern art
"There is no topic. You have here these sad figures, for example. Then there is Kolar, a great Czech poet who once wrote a diary on how disappointed he was with the Communist system because as a child he was hoping that the Communists will bring some kind of a solution. He was then denounced and in prison for I think one year. When he was released he decided that he would not write poetry anymore because they wouldn't publish it. He also went to the Osvetim [Auschwitz] concentration camp where he said it was too bad, even for a poet. So he started to think what he could do instead as an artist. You see, at the time the Communists wanted to destroy all the castles and monasteries, they threw out the furniture, the carpets, and millions of books probably were out on the street. The very intelligent people would take the books. He was one of them and he started to cut the books into little pieces and made pictures out of them. And here you see two beautiful paintings made out of little pieces of books."

Now that is a beautiful story and it's something that many visitors will not know when they see the art. Will you be offering guided tours?

"Yes. I am preparing a catalogue and in October, we will have a three month long big exhibition in another museum with all our art made on paper. I hope that I will have finished something on it by then. I think it will be very nice because I have beautiful pieces on paper. You see, at that time, the artists who did not have the possibility to exhibit concentrated on small pieces, on pieces of paper. So, I have fantastic pieces."

Kampa Museum of Central European modern art
How long did it take you to accumulate all this art?

"From 1968 until today."

Do you know how many pieces you have in your collection?

"About two thousand."

Do you have the time at all to look at it and enjoy it?

"Now I'm sitting here and enjoying it and tomorrow I will sit in another room to enjoy more. It was a part of my life, we were surrounded by Czech art. You see, we have quite a beautiful house in Washington, which was full of Kupka and Czech art. It was amazing how people who did not have the chance to see this art even in Prague because the artists could not exhibit there would come and say 'my god this is Nepras, oh this is Kolar!' and they were running from one piece to another. They had never seen them. They saw them in our house in Washington."

But people not only appreciate it there but here in the Czech Republic as well. Before this interview, two women came to you and thanked you. They really looked like they wanted to give you a big hug and kiss you for this place...

"Especially women. There was one day when a woman in the morning met me and said 'I have been waiting here and hoped but wasn't sure I would meet you. I admire you so much. I'm a teacher in a little town.' That same afternoon another woman, also a teacher, embraced me and was crying. You see, women never believed that I will ever succeed... women especially."

One can really tell that you want the public to enjoy this art. We're currently sitting on a beautiful sofa, and all the exhibition spaces have sofas or chairs for visitors to be able to sit down and enjoy the art...

"Yes. This is what I wanted. So that people can come and sit here, also because the area is so beautiful. This helps me, of course. If we were somewhere in the suburbs, it would be more difficult but God did help me."