Saturday, August 22, 2015

TWO MUSEUMS AND A MUNICIPAL HOUSE IN PRAGUE

THE AUSCHWITZ ALBUM
In Prague when the temperatures are running in the upper nineties for days on end there is very little you can do to find relief. Walking the streets without a very specific destination wasn't going to be our plan for attacking the heat. We decided we'd take the afternoon to see a couple of museums, but only by cab. Our first choice was to go to a photography museum, photography being a medium all three of us are very interested in. We went through the list of possible photography venues, a list that only gave a description and location of the museums. We had our hotel call for a cab and when the taxi arrived we told our cab driver, "The House of Photography" having very little information to go on but willing to look at any exhibition if the gallery was air-conditioned. We had wanted to see the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam but hadn't planned the necessary two months in advance for that to happen. What did happen at the House of Photography in Prague was an exhibit of The Auschwitz Album, a series of photos placed in an album and found by a survivor of Auschwitz.
It is the only surviving visual evidence of the process leading to the mass murders at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It would be used as a major piece of evidence at the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt. The museum wasn't air-conditioned but enduring a minimal amount of heat was no sacrifice compared to the horrific reminder held in these images. If Amsterdam wouldn't let us in to Anne Frank's house, the House of Photography in Prague was an equally dynamic reminder of the horror of the war and the inhumanity that continues to plague us.

THE MUCHA MUSEUM 
We hailed another cab for the few blocks we needed to go to get to our second museum, the Mucha Museum. This museum is dedicated to one of Prague's most revered sons. Alfons Mucha was a Czech born artist and designer best known for his graphic illustration.
His work became known as Mucha Style and was the precursor to the Art Nouveau Style that swept the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mucha's work takes much of its patterning from nature with its  elelgant curves and bold patterns. Mucha's initial collaboration that catapulted him to the forefront of design was with the famous French actress, Sarah Bernhardt. His first poster for her created a huge stir around Paris.
Whether his models gazed from the frame in beautiful elegance toward her admirer or the lovely beauties turn their sudductress profile to the viewer,  His use of beautiful young women in elegant  poses was his illustration signature. I had my own model and the comparison between his work and Emmy was to my eye breathtaking.

THE MUNICIPAL HOUSE
It was Mucha's style that influenced a great deal of architectural work built in Prague between 1880 and 1920. Possibly the most famous of these and the cultural center of Prague around which the rest of Prague spins is the Municipal House. Completed in 1912,
Mucha had a very strong influence on the design of the Municipal House. It is one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in the world.
Today the building is used as a concert hall, event location and houses a collection of restaurants, cafes and shops.
From the grand entrance of oxidized copper grillwork, leaded glass and columns topped with cherubs
to the mosaic art that caps the front fa├žade, the exterior of the building in the daylight like a many faceted jewel.
Of course, you have to like this over the top ornamentation and gilding. I am completely in awe of this amount of detail. Knowing what I do know of creating even the smallest of details and the work that needs to go into it I can get completely exhausted just thinking about what it must have taken to create such intricate finishing touches.
The buildings sides are as interesting and complex as the entry. Where as the ground level of so many gorgeous older buildings have been renovated with a modern and inappropriate muddling of incongruous styles,
The Municipal House holds true to its original design from the basement grillwork right up to the decorative tile work of its curved crown.
The interior is only viewable by tour and then only on Saturdays but if you are going to a concert or having a bite to eat at one of the restaurants you can slid past the guards that keep some of us riff-raff from sneaking through.
Once inside, the building drips with architectural jewelry. A suspended clock, if not for its grand scale could have easily donned the neckline of a fashionable woman of high style and position in the society of the time.
The lighting fixtures throughout the interior are all custom designed and continue to reinforce the vision emblematic of Mucha and the period. The ability to have control over every detail in this building is an architect's dream.
And of course the building wouldn't have been true to Prague without the work of Mucha being intertwined throughout the entire structure. The Municipal House is like a peony in a great garden.
The fragrance and the showiness of its blooms are hard to ignore and left unappreciated.

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