The art of Jan and Meda Mládek

František Kupka

This is a cornerstone of the Jan and Meda Mládek collection. Its price is today already virtually inestimable. It consists of 215 studies, drawings and paintings, and ranks alongside the world's most comprehensive collections of its kind,

The collection encompasses the artist´s lifelong production, starting with early studies and paintings dating from the 1890s, through sketches from the turn of the century, and expressive figure drawings from the period immediately preceding the stage during which Kupka embraced abstraction.

The collection also comprises various studies for book illustrations (e.g.,for The Song of Songs), and designs of decorative carpet patterns. Particularly fine items include a watercolor study for Bathing Woman (1906), or study for Gigolettes (1908 - 1909). Of key importance for Kupka's artistic development are purely abstract studies for Newton's Circles (1911 - 1912), and for the painting, Around a Point (1911 - 1930).

Of similar relevance are preparatory drawings for Fugue in Two Colors (1911 - 1912), as well as a series of studies for Cosmic Spring: Creation (1911 - 1920), for A Story of Pistils and Stamens (1911 - 1919), and for Four Stories of White and Black. Previously one of the Collection's finest - and largest - paintings, Localization of Graphic Motifs II (1912 - 1913), was donated by the Mládeks to Washington's National Gallery of Art, where it has since been prominently displayed. One of Kupka's most impressive paintings, in this collection and beyond, is Cathedral (1912 - 1913). Significant for the artist's development are studies for Vertical Planes (1912 - 1913), and Warm Chromatics. Meda Mládek's first encounter with the art of František Kupka took place at the time of her studies of Art History in Paris, in 1955, and she has been an avid collector of his work ever since then. Nowadays no major Kupka retrospective would be imaginable without a loan of studies and paintings from her collection.

Otto Gutfreund

This is a section consisting of 17 sculptures by Otto Gutfreund, an artist whose genius attracted Jan and Meda Mládek over a long period of time. Art historian Jiří Šetlík observes that the couple's thoroughgoing study of specialized literature was followed by collecting endeavors focused on the output of his Cubist period spanning the years 1911 - 1914, to which they added individual sculptures dating from between 1923 and 1927.

In the process, the collectors drew on their contacts with Jiří Kotalík, then Director of the National Gallery in Prague. Their acquisitions were mediated by Artcentrum, at that time the sole firm authorized to conduct exports of art from Czechoslovakia. The Mládeks then purchased the collection in question (including even several casts of certain exhibits), and subsequently succeeded in gradually raising the international awareness of Gutfreund's creative legacy, as well as eventually in incorporating his work into several major sculpture shows and installations. Their collection came to represent a comprehensive body of Gutfreund's output (whose further enlargement was regrettably obstructed by the fact that from 1984 the Mládeks were once again banned entry into Czechoslovakia), which has since been publicly exhibited on numerous occasions, in recent years always in conjunction with the Mládeks' František Kupka Collection. Accordingly, the two collections are likewise being coupled now in the permanent exhibition of Museum Kampa.

Jiří Kolář

The output of Jiří Kolář is very strongly represented in the Jan and Meda Mládek collection, which contains over 240 of his works from different periods. Rare early specimens include confrontages and raportages dating from the 1940s and 1950s. These items document the birth of the seminal principles which formed the groundwork for the artist's approach involving an overlap between verbal and visual expression. In the late 1950s and early '60s Kolář discovered basic methods that were to constitute the initial impulse of his entire subsequent production. The Mládek Collection contains early rollages, works made by cutting pictorial reproductions down to narrow strips and re-assembling them, combining various motifs. Likewise part of the Collection is a remarkable series of crumplages (muchláže in the Czech original), produced by crumpling reproductions and pasting them up onto paper surface. Another category of early works represented in the Collection are prolages, in which different motifs interpenetrate, an effect achieved by embedding images into holes cut or perforated within surfaces already covered with imagery.

An interesting group of exhibits in its own right is constituted by stratifies, in which the artist cut through several layers of color paper glued together. A technique that proved to be of the essence to Kolář's artistic development was that of chiasmage, a method involving the covering of a surface with fragments of diverse types of lettering and texts, musical notation or astronomical charts. Other forms include charming "unfastening" collages, and of course, various series of classically made collages. A unique collection within a collection is represented by so-called transparents, of which there are several here. Another section consists of objects whose surface is covered with collaging.

Kolář would seldom stick to a single technique, more often than not combining several different approaches. Meda Mládek devoted much time to the systematic study of Kolar's work. In the process, she concentrated chiefly on his output during the 1950s, '60s and '70s. This collection is definitely one of the world's most interesting as well as most comprehensive bodies of the artist's works. It has been shown in public on several previous occasions. In 1994 it made its debut appearance before Prague exhibition-goers, in the Czech Museum of Fine Arts, a show that was accompanied by a catalogue containing reproductions of all the works on display. The collection has likewise traveled a good deal on the international exhibition circuit, where it has attracted an ever-growing interest.

The Collection of Central European Art

This Collection groups together art works by Czech, Slovak, Polish, Hungarian and Yugoslavian artists, dating mostly from the 1960s and '70s. Some of its sections have been supplemented with works by younger generations of artists. The collection's most extensive department, devoted to Czech and Slovak art, consists of groups of paintings, sculptures, objects, drawings and prints by major representatives of the generation of artists that emerged on the scene during the late 1950s and early '60s. Meda Mládek started to visit Bohemia and Slovakia in 1967 (after nineteen years in exile), when she was first permitted entry by Czechoslovak authorities. She then made a tour of artists' studios, only to find them, as she herself says, filled with brilliant art works.

Having promptly oriented herself on the country's art scene at large, she proceeded gradually to establish contacts with individual artists. These included Václav Cígler, Hugo Demartini, Stanislav Kolíbal, Adriena Šimotová, Vladimír Janoušek, Věra Janoušková, Eva Kmentová, Magdalena Jetelová, Radek Kratina, Jan Kubíček, Karel Malich, Alena Kučerová, Jiří Načeradský, Otakar Slavík, Karel Nepraš, Aleš Veselý and others. In 1984 Czechoslovakia once again became a territory out of limits for the Mládeks. Beyond this country's borders, however, Mrs Mládek's travels encompassed other countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well.

Figuring among her Polish acquisitions from that period are for instance works by the now famous Magdalena Abakanowicz, and by Edward Dwurnik, Izabella Gustowská and Jozef Lukomski; in Hungary she made purchases from Akos Birkás and György Jovanovics; in Yugoslavia, sculptures from Ivan Kožarič and Branko Ružič, and paintings from Miča Popovič. Jan Mládek died shortly before the downfall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, and Meda Mládek had to wait until 1989 before being able to return to the country. Since then, she has worked systematically for the setting up of a museum in Prague that would house her collection.

After a lengthy period of searching for suitable location, she was eventually made aware of the possibility of restoring and converting to the purpose the historic premises known as Sova's Mills (Sovovy mlýny - a former corn-mill on the Vltava river). Over many years in the past, Meda Mládek strove to support artists living and working in communist-governed countries, who were deprived of virtually any opportunity to sell their works. In the process, she carefully weighed every choice she made, paying several visits to each studio before making the final decision. The outcome of her effort has taken the shape of a collection that is unique both in terms of content and in that it bears the unmistakable imprint of its builder's personality.

Other collection in the care of Museum Kampa

The Jiří and Běla Kolář Collection

This is a Collection that was built over several decades. Its contents correspond with Jiří Kolář's interest in artistic idioms conveying unorthodox views of contemporary world. At the same time, the collection echoes his ...

The Collection for Jindřich Chalupecký

This collection was initiated in late 1989, whereupon it was put on display at the National Gallery in Prague, under the title Homage to Jindřich Chalupecký. The show's exhibits were originally intended for sale, the proceeds from which were to be used for the ...

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