Where to find fresh art in Prague
“In an age when growing numbers of people tend to think dangerously alike, art’s capacity to suspend, even for a moment, our habitual ways of seeing may well prove to be of its greatest value,” reads the motto of the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague.
Here are a few tips about Prague galleries and exhibition spaces that do not gravitate to time-honoured masters, but seek to put their finger on the pulse of today’s fast-paced times.
When visited by an art-lover from abroad, my first reaction is to send them to the Rudolfinum. Although this building on Palach square looks pretty conservative from the outside, the exhibitions held here under the stewardship of Petr Nedoma, the director, reach out far beyond Czech borders. This is the type of Gallery which tries to capture, identify, and even shed light on the spirit of the times. A one-for-all example might be the exhibition “Only the Good Ones: The Snapshot Aesthetics Revisited”, which examined and highlighted spontaneous, often accidentally taken photographic images. The Rudolfinum is also one of the few galleries in the Czech Republic which has the budget to afford the big names like Andy Warhol or the pop-art photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. On the hypothetical axis drawn between Berlin and Vienna we would be hard pressed to find a gallery other than the Rudolfinum to fulfil this role. Rudolfinum, though smaller and more parochial, naturally, belongs to the same family as Britain’s Tate Modern, Germany’s Martin-Gropius Bau or the Austrian Kunsthalle.
If being tax-funded makes the Rudolfinum, like the National Gallery, just a little bit conservative at times, the Holešovice DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, which is a private project under the art patronage of Leoš Válka, certainly does not suffer from that limitation. At the same time, this relatively young Gallery (which opened in 2008) has every ambition to become an institution of note in its field. This gallery stands out with its evident self-assuredness.
“Today’s world is hypnotised by the idea that nothing is more successful than success, that there is a recipe for everything and that the experts always are the best qualified. DOX is a place where the tyranny of the experts is thrown into doubt. DOX provides an arena for antagonisms, false starts, rejected projects and experiments. DOX is a place where the unpredictability of art is a value which facilitates unexpected benefits,” the director Leoš Válka says about his gallery. DOX, located in post-industrial Holešovice, is worth a visit not least for the excellent architectural reconstruction of the building, which was originally a machine-making factory for the company Rossemann & Kühnemann.
Any list of current art venues would not be complete without the National Gallery and its Veletržní palác (Trade-fair Palace) in Holešovice, which is focused on contemporary art. This venue has a credible permanent exposition of modernists, not lacking, say, Picasso, but still finds it challenging to gain a following. A more gripping or daring place, from a curatorial point of view, is the Galerie hlavního města Prahy (Gallery of the capital city of Prague), which houses its contemporary art exhibits in the buildings complex ‘at the golden ring’ U Zlatého prstenu, on the second floor of the City library, or in the ‘House of photography’ Dům fotografie.
An exclusive venue for the arts is Museum Kampa, with its glass limb reaching over the Vltava river, founded on the initiative of the art collector and patroness Meda Mládková. The emphasis shifts at times to the modern, from the contemporary, but this is a venue deserving of its place in any list of fine galleries.
A private showroom, where you will find the youngest generation of artists from the Czech Republic, as well as from Europe, is the Chemistry Gallery in Bubeneč. This is a commercial gallery in long-term cooperation with the artists it represents. These include e.g. that legend of Prague street-art, Pasta Oner.
The Fotograf small gallery in Školská street is centred around its namesake magazine and offers a glimpse into the thought processes of its editors. The gallery and magazine alike explore the boundaries of this traditional medium, dissipated by the advent of social networking and digital photography into millions of pictures of babies, blurred footage of conflicts and tons of selfies.
Like-minded spaces are the SVIT gallery in Prague 6 or the Futura in Smíchov. These galleries, geared to staging small, concisely focused art exhibitions for a narrowly targeted audience are akin to many Berlin galleries, such as the Kunst-Werke Berlin. An extremely cosy, photographically oriented gallery apt for the quiet souls of introverts, tucked away in a courtyard, is the Josef Sudek gallery, where the small exhibition room sometimes displays just the one solitary photograph. The peace of mind which pervades the soul of any visitor to this quiet courtyard is hard to describe.
Those who don't like their art in surgically clean white rooms, there is a “grunge” space, which require a trip out of the city centre. It is the Meet Factory in Smíchov, which, in addition to exhibitions, provides arty accommodation and puts on musical events.
And if you like fun with your art, visit the City Surfer Office in Žižkov, a trendy place, especially for vernissage/opening parties; likewise we can recommend the Café-gallery Berlínskej Model which is a good place to begin your exploration of that hipster capital called Letná. Come to think, you could start out here. There’s a good chance you will meet some students of UMPRUM or AVU (the decorative and the fine arts faculties), who will advise you where to go looking for contemporary art.
Journalist and photographer. Has lived in London and Berlin, but feels at home when he is travelling. “I am something between a Russian and a German. I was born in Prague,” he says about himself.