SEFO: Olomouc’s long-awaited post-war Central European art museum

SEFO, visualisation: archive of Olomouc Museum of Art

Plans to build a futuristic museum in Olomouc showcasing some 200,000 post-war artworks from across Central Europe have been on hold for over a decade, plagued by land disputes, funding issues and political intrigue. But with a new culture minister and museum director in place, hopes are high the ambitious project will finally take off this year.

Delays in realising the new art museum, known as the Central European Forum in Olomouc, or SEFO, in part led to the ouster last summer of the then minister of culture, a former mayor of the host city. Without much explanation or transparency, critics charged, he had called a new architectural design competition – and seemed determined to overpay for the land that SEFO should sit on.

Now, with the full support of the new culture minister and well over half a billion crowns in funding greenlighted, a site for the project should secured within a matter of months, according to Ondřej Zatloukal, director of the Olomouc Museum of Art, of which SEFO is a part.

SEFO,  visualisation: archive of Olomouc Museum of Art
“Without a doubt, the Central European Forum is our greatest task in the coming years. I expect much preparation for this giant investment will be realised that this year. We hope to secure a building permit soon and could lay the cornerstone in 2022. But of course it all depends on which option we choose together with the Ministry of Culture.”

So, while the SEFO saga continues, there are now only two options under serious consideration: erecting a futuristic building on a vacant plot according to the 2009 design of architect Jan Šépka or adapting disused military barracks dating back to 1845.

There has been some local opposition to Šépka’s somewhat brutalist design, which detractors say resemble a concrete cluster of anthills or silos, and so would clash with the surrounding Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical buildings.

Šépka himself notes that conservationists and other experts found it a thoughtful, welcome addition to Olomouc’s historic Denisova Street, though he did make some modification to the interior he had originally envisioned.

“Of course, I considered all such things with a certain distance. I asked myself many questions about whether or how to transform the structure in some way. But I still believe that such a building, which works with a certain legacy of the past but, at the same time, transforms it into the present. And I find it interesting.”

Jan Šépka,  photo: Vojtěch Havlík / Czech Radio
Meanwhile, the Olomouc Museum of Art continues to collect and catalogue Central European works for eventual display at SEFO. It already boasts more than 90,000 items from the Visegrad Four countries – the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary – as well as from Germany and Austria.

Altogether, the collection, which is set to eventually double, has an estimated market value of over 2 billion crowns. Hopes are that the new museum will boost tourism to Olomouc, once the historical capital of Moravia.