Prague 1 plans gold pavilion for Mucha paintings

City Hall and the Prague 1 district have conflicting ideas for the Slav Epic

Prague 1 announced that it wants to build a modern, gold-tone oval gallery adjacent to Štefánikův most (Štefánik Bridge) to house Alfons Mucha's Slav Epic. The gallery could be erected in four years. This is not the only new art gallery being proposed. Prague City Hall announced at the start of January it intends to build an exhibition hall at Těšnov, near the Florenc metro stop.

It is also intended for Alfons Mucha's Slav Epic, a series of large-scale Art Nouveau paintings that until recently were in the National Gallery at Veletržní palác. The 20 paintings are now headed for a controversial tour of Asia.

Descendents of artist Alfons Mucha say the city has a long-standing obligation to create a suitable gallery to display the paintings, as that was a condition of the city taking ownership of them in 1928.

Prague 1 is looking at transforming a small piece of parkland near the Ministry of Industry and Trade at the end of Revoluční Street into the modern looking oval gallery that has an estimated construction cost of Kč 184 million.

Prague 1 Mayor Oldřich Lomecký (TOP 09) said he would like to see a wider pubic debate on where the cycle of paintings go, and the decision should not be left up to a committee. The location at Těšnov, where a train station used to stand, was chosen by experts at the Prague Institute of Planning and Development (IPR) without public debate.

“We are ready to invest in the project ourselves. If the capital decides that the Slav Epic will be elsewhere, we still intend to construct the building and put something else in it,” Lomecký told the media.

The gold gallery is designed by architect Petr Malinský. It resembles a flattened gold ball raised up on three legs. The oval shape, which is the main part, would be covered by glass plates that are coated on the inside. The top of the building will have gold-colored spikes symbolizing sun rays. Malinský says the building will be like the sun rising above the Vltava river.

The inspiration for the building comes from Slavic mythology. A golden egg is supposed to have the source of everything that arose out of the darkness.

The building has no windows, as the paintings should not be exposed to sunlight. The paintings would be hung around the inside perimeter of the building. Zoning and building permits are still needed, and talks still need to take place with preservationists, as the building site is in the historically protected area.

Malinský has contributed to the design several buildings in Prague including Main Point Karlín, Budova Filadelfie, Hotel Boscolo - Carlo IV Praha and Palác Euro.

This is not the first modern-design museum suggested for the area next to Štefánikův most. A Salvador Dalí museum designed by famed architect Daniel Libeskind was proposed in 2004 and was to be funded privately. The design was heavily criticized for being too modern for the area, and it was never built.

An office building with shops called Novomlýnská brána by architectural studio DaM was proposed for the same general area in 2012, and also not realized. A neo-Gothic building called Eliščiny lázně stood at the site until the 1940s.

The site at Těšnov that City Hall favors is now a green area near a highway overpass. The site used to be an ornate train station that fell into disrepair and was torn down in the communist era to make way for the highway.

Many people still lament the loss of the classical-style building in 1985. Recently, there has been a movement to reconstruct the facade and make an arts space behind it. It is not yet clear if that idea will be integrated into the design for a gallery to display the Slav Epic.

To complicate matters even further, Prague 3 would also like to display Mucha's cycle of paintings in the National Memorial on the Vítkov Hill. This, however, would not satisfy the condition of making a new gallery for the paintings.

The exhibition of the Slav Epic was seen by 400,000 people since it opened in May 10, 2012, at Veletržní palác. The exhibition closed Dec. 31, 2016. The paintings are now being prepared for shipment to Asia for a tour, and should return to Prague to be displayed in mid-2018. The paintings will go to Japan in February, and after that may go to China but those details are not yet clear.

Some people including the artist's grandson John Mucha are protesting the tour as they claim the paintings are too fragile to travel.

Before the paintings were moved to Prague, they were on display at a chateau in the town of Moravský Krumlov, where they were seen by some 20,000 people per year. The city of Moravský Krumlov has been attempting to have the paintings returned, and says the cycle would not exist if the city had not protected and preserved it during and after World War II, as Mucha was not highly regarded by either the occupying Germans or the communists. John Mucha also favors returning them to Moravský Krumlov.

The Slav Epic is a series of 20 monumental canvases painted between 1910 and '28. The largest measures over 48 square meters. Mucha devoted the latter half of his artistic career to this work. The idea was formed in 1899, while he was working on the design for the interior of the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian government for the Paris Exhibition of 1900. In preparation, he traveled widely through the Balkans, researching their history and customs of the Slavs in the regions that had been annexed by Austria-Hungary.

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