I won’t lie, I was far from enthused by the prospect of spending hours inside The National Technical Museum in Prague, but was outvoted by the males on our festive trip to the Czech capital. The National Museum, numerous art galleries, monasteries and libraries brimming with antique books were far higher on my agenda, but was pleasantly surprised and impressed. The museum is housed in an enormous concrete and brick building adjacent to Letna Park with views over the Vlatva river, and I was immediately won over by the gruff looking but utterly charming old(er) man who sold us our tickets and took the time to share much information about the museum with us! The collection is vast; comprising transport, architecture and civil engineering, printing, mining, astronomy, horology, photography and household appliances across six floors. The stand-out gallery is dedicated to transport and takes up the entire back of the building with a triple height exhibition hall filled with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, trains, planes suspended from the ceiling, and even a hot air-balloon charting the history of developments in Czech transportation. With fourteen large permanent displays as well as the temporary exhibition and only two hours allotted for our visit, we decided to focus on printing and architecture. The printing gallery mimics an antiquated print shop with typesetting blocks, printing presses from various periods, newspaper and bookbinding machinery, and outlines the role print material played in developing the country’s national consciousness. Similarly the architecture gallery documents the most significant buildings erected across Czechoslovakia over the last century via original models, plans, sketches, photographs of their construction and replicas – and I enjoyed recognising and learning more about the civic landmarks I had already visited or walked past in the city. Despite my reservations, this museum challenged my preconceptions and highlighted how important technical innovations are in all our lives in myriad ways.
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Nestled between the Old Town Square and Vlatva River you’ll discover Josehov, Prague’s Jewish quarter. Turning off a street brimming with designer shops and boutiques, the cobbles are suddenly decorated with the Star of David – and six synagogues, the Jewish Town Hall and one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Europe all vie for space within a few streets. My first stop was the Spanish Synagogue, a Moorish revival style building which opened in 1867 with a double height gilded main hall surrounded by balconies and stained glass windows. The exhibition inside tells the story of Jews in Czechoslovakia since the emancipation under Emperor Joseph II through to the traumatic events of the 20th century. Five minutes’ walk away is Pinkas Synagogue, devoid of any interior decoration and instead the walls are covered in 78,000 names written in black or red ink representing Czech victims of the Holocaust. This powerful memorial was designed by the painters Vaclav Bostik and Jiri John and opened in 1960 but was closed eight years later during the Soviet occupation of the country, and only reopened after the fall of Communism in 1998. Behind this synagogue is the Old Jewish Cemetery, an apt location to memorialise the pre-twentieth century Jewish community with graves dating from 1400’s until 1768. A path leads you around the tomb stones to the Ceremonial building which outlines daily and special Jewish rituals and practices through a basic but informative display. My final visit was to Maisel Synagogue, a neo-gothic style building which resembled a church more than a traditional synagogue. Whilst it was interesting to witness such architectural variation in close proximity, their singular usage as museums felt a little unnatural and I was sad not to see a practising community within the synagogues, and ultimately the exhibition content began to feel a little repetitive across all five sites.
Salvador Dali, Alfons Mucha and Andy Warhol are not three artists you would automatically group together – but the surrealist, art nouveau, and pop-art styles complement each other in the Gallery Of Art Prague (or GOAP for short). Under the shadow of the Church of our Lady before Tyn and housed in a historic building within the city’s Old Town Square, the gallery dedicates each of its three floors to one artist. It opens with Dali, showcasing the Spanish artists’ surreal drawings, etchings, paintings and sculpture which feature imaginative and often disturbing characters and scenes. This exhibition also draws attention to his lesser known explorations into ceramics with many pieces painted directly onto plates, as well as furniture (a red sofa inspired by the actress Mae West’s lips) and cosmetics (a range of glass perfume bottles). The next floor sees a complete change in mood with the ethereal works of Mucha, as muted colours, shapes inspired by nature, seductive women with long flowing hair and delicate illustrations and advertising posters line the walls. Following the spiral staircase up to the final floor you are greeted with oversized Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo soap boxes now synonymous with Warhol. Neon pink and blue letters spell out the artist’s name, which leads onto the more typical silk-screen images of flowers, dollar bills, Marilyn Monroe and Lenin as well as album covers designed for the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground (a bright yellow banana with the caption ‘Peel slowly and See’). Despite deploying diverse styles and techniques all three artists were united in their ability to create popular images used by global advertisers; Dali designed the logo for Chupa Chups lollipops, Mucha created posters for various products and a stage production of French actress Sarah Bernhardt, and Warhol appropriated numerous logos and created iconic album covers – and GAOP illustrates why all three continue to share mass popularity today.
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