Prague's new modern art museum occupies a former electrical substation

Kunsthalle Praha, in a former industrial ruin in Malá Strana, will open with electricity-inspired artworks.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 09.02.2022 18:00:00 (updated on 09.02.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

A new art museum is opening later this month in Prague, across from the Malostranská metro stop in Prague’s Malá Strana district.

Kunsthalle Praha is making use of a former industrial space, the former Zenger Electrical Substation. The electrical station was built between 1929 and ’32 to ensure a steady flow of electricity to the funicular at Petřín so it could handle the crowds for the 1932 Sokol meeting.

Unlike many other technical buildings of the time, which had a functionalist look, this one was somewhat disguised with neo-Classical details by architect Vilém Kvasnička so it would blend in with the historical buildings around it. Over time though, the building was no longer needed as a substation and has now been repurposed. Kunsthalle Praha occupies a total of 5,700 square meters, with 1,300 square meters of exhibition space.

“After more than six exciting and challenging years of planning, reconstruction, and program development, we are thrilled to finally open the doors of Kunsthalle Praha to the public,” Ivana Goossen, the director of Kunsthalle Praha, said.

“I am profoundly grateful to our team and to our partners – the curators, artists, institutions, and lenders of artworks who trusted us at the beginning when all we had was a ruin in the center of Prague, some architectural drawings, a sparkle in our eyes, and lots of potential,” she added.

Interior of the Zenger Substation. Photo: © Alexandra Timpau, Kunsthalle Praha
Interior of the Zenger Substation. Photo: © Alexandra Timpau, Kunsthalle Praha

It has a stated mission of supporting artistic discovery and research, connecting the Czech and international art scenes, and bringing the experience of 20th- and 21st-century art to the widest possible audience. Kunsthalle Praha was established as a not-for-profit and non-governmental institution by The Pudil Family Foundation.

The chief curator, Christelle Havranek, said the inaugural exhibitions will introduce Kunsthalle Praha’s philosophy and approaches. “We aim to reveal the identity of the new space that we are shaping: a place of encounter between past and present, here and elsewhere, and where knowledge meets creativity,” she said.

The first exhibition, “Kinetismus: 100 Years of Electricity in Art,” opens Feb. 22 and runs to June 20. It will be a nod to the building’s electrical roots as well as to Czech avant-garde artist and kinetic art pioneer Zdeněk Pešánek who created a series of allegorical kinetic light sculptures titled “100 Years of Electricity” for the facade of the Zenger substation in 1936. The exhibition’s title also refers to his book “Kinetismus,” about the artistic combination of motorized movement and artificial light.

Pešánek’s light sculptures were presented at the International Exposition of Arts and Technology in Paris in 1937. They then disappeared, never to be installed on the substation’s facade. Only the preparatory models remain. The Kunsthalle Praha team has attempted to bring Pešánek’s ideas back to life and explore their legacy by tracing electric-inspired art up to the modern-day in four categories: cinematography, kinetic art, cybernetic art, and computer art.

The exhibition features over 90 works by several generations of artists from all around the world. Visitors can use their smart devices to connect to a digital guide that offers several options and two routes.

Jean Tinguely, Robot Art, 1959. Photo: courtesy of British Pathé, © Jean Tinguely, © ADAGP, Paris, 2021
Jean Tinguely, Robot Art, 1959. Photo: courtesy of British Pathé, © Jean Tinguely, © ADAGP, Paris, 2021

The exhibition will feature interactive activities designed for visitors of all ages including a nine-meter Art Wall where people can create their own work thanks to an interactive console. There is also a space for children to unleash their creative potential.

A second exhibition, “Zenger Electrical Substation: Electricity in Architecture, Electricity in the City,” explores the history of the building. The exhibition explores the role modern technology has played in the development of both the building and Prague in general. Visitors can immerse themselves in a video-projection of artist Zdeněk Pešánek’s planned light sculptures and play with a large-scale construction set of the building.

More building history can be found in the site-specific installation “Cabinet of Electrical Curiosities” by conceptual artist Mark Dion. He assembled objects and artifacts collected during the building’s renovation. construction. It tells the story of the building from its construction to the present time, and will remain on permanent display.

This isn’t the only former substation to get a new life. Edison Filmhub, on Jeruzalémská Street in New Town, is also in a renovated space and gets its name from Thomas Edison, considered the father of electricity.

To learn more about Kunsthalle Praha, visit their website or Facebook page.

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