Housed in a former electrical substation, Kunsthalle Praha is sparking new creative energy in the Czech capital. Its striking inaugural group show celebrates 100 years of electricity in art.
Kunsthalle Praha, a major new not-for-profit arts and culture organisation has opened its doors to the public in the Czech capital.
The building housing the new institution began as the Zenger Electrical Substation in the 1930s, generating electricity for the city’s tram and trolleybus network.
The station became defunct as technology evolved, but was acquired by the Pudil Family Foundation in 2015 with the intention of giving the building a new life as Kunsthalle Praha. The institution focuses on 20th-century and contemporary Czech and international art and will function as an ‘open meeting point’ where art lives but also engages a wide audience.
Czech architecture studio Schindler Seko was tasked with reimagining the building as an art destination, which now comprises three large galleries, a bistro, a café and an extensive retail space. But it wasn’t without challenges.
After structural issues and contamination rendered the entire interior unfit for purpose, it was gutted and replaced with a monolithic concrete structure, with the monument-protected facade kept intact. ‘It’s hard to create a good contemporary art space in a building that’s not purpose built’, says Ivana Goossen, director of Kunsthalle Praha.
Structural issues and contamination rendered the building’s original skeleton unfit for purpose; it was gutted and replaced with a monolithic concrete structure with the monument-protected facade kept intact.
‘It’s hard to create a good contemporary art space in a building that’s not purpose-built,’ says Ivana Goossen, director of Kunsthalle Praha. ‘[But] it gave us an opportunity to create a space that was really made for art.’
While the collection is important to the identity of the institution, it won’t form the primary focus. ‘From the beginning, we never wanted this place to be a temple for the collection,’ Goossen explains. ‘[The collection] allows us to exchange; when we request something on loan, we’re able to give something on loan. So it is a very important part of what we do, but we never intended to have a permanent show of the collection. We wanted to live the “kunsthalle” concept.’
This has created a model built on cooperation and a diverse mix of thematic and solo exhibitions, for which Kunsthalle Praha often partners with external curators and artists to develop a vision for each show. ‘Depending on the exhibition, the artists, and the opportunity, we will support the creation of new work. It’s a larger story we want to tell. I think it’s so important for artists to have the support to venture into a new area,’ says Goossen.
Kunsthalle Praha inaugural show: ‘Kinetismus: 100 Years of Electricity in Art’
The opening exhibition ‘Kinetismus: 100 Years of Electricity in Art’ is an ode to the original fabric of Kunsthalle Praha. On view until 20 June 2022, the show surveys how electricity has transformed movements and artistic practices from the start of the 20th century to the contemporary era.
Though the show is international and multi-generational, at its heart is a tribute to the work of Czech avant-garde art pioneer Zdeněk Pešánek. In 1936, the artist created a kinetic light sculpture titled 100 Years of Electricity for the facade of the Zenger substation, yet the installation mysteriously vanished before it got the chance, surviving only in the form of models.
The Kunsthalle Praha team, spearheaded by guest curator Peter Weibel, chose to focus on bringing Pešánek’s ideas back to life, in dialogue with a century of electricity-driven art.
This optically dazzling and comprehensive exhibition involves more than 90 works organised into four categories: cinematography, kinetic art, cybernetic art, and computer art. Visitors will encounter everything from the trailblazing experiments of Bauhaus-affiliated figures to cutting-edge immersive technology by teamLab.
The show will include the work of pioneers such as Mary Ellen Bute, Carlos Cruz-Diez, László Moholy-Nagy, Martha Boto and Marcel Duchamp; established living icons such as Julio Le Parc, Cerith Wyn Evans and William Kentridge; and other leading contemporary names including Ryoji Ikeda, Refik Anadol, Shilpa Gupta, Olafur Eliasson, Xavier Veilhan, Random International, and Angela Bulloch.
Alongside the inaugural show, Kunsthalle Praha has also unveiled a permanent commission by conceptual artist Mark Dion titled Cabinet of Electrical Curiosities, as well as a separate exhibition, ‘Electrical Substation: Electricity in Architecture, Electricity in the City’ which explores the building’s rich industrial past, and Prague’s history more broadly.