The European cultural heritage base Czech Centre Brussels is no stranger when it comes to pushing forward the Central European republic’s vast and diverse cultural and artistic landscapes to the Belgian forefront since their founding in 1997. With their latest grand exhibition 100Czech: The Story of Czech design – a two-week “open-air” show of iconic Czech objects and design taking over Ixelles/Elsene’s public space – nearing its opening date, the Centre’s director Jitka Pánek Jurková lets us in on the mastery that is Czech design, and its beautiful manifestations in Prague. From one capital city to another, we explore the many wonders that the City of a Hundred Spires has to offer.
Czech design as we know it today finds its origins to an impressive 100 years ago, and pointedly the city centre’s highly popular cafés dating back to the 20s. Exemplary of the art nouveau infatuation that took over the whole of Europe in the turn of the century, one only needs to look towards the intricate and beautiful interiors of Grand Café Orient, incidentally the only cubist café in the world, the grandiosely gilded Municipal House Café, or the beloved artist hub Café Slavia to feel the full extent of the competence of early 20th century Czech design.
Fast-forward to a few decades later, the introduction of communism resulted in a severe adaptation of Prague’s public space, putting a halt to the decadent bourgeois styles of the 20s and 30s. Yet Prague’s design scene was fortunately revived thanks to the Czechoslovak Pavilion officially winning “best pavilion” at Brussels’ Expo 58. This so-called Brussels style was highly popularised back in Czechoslovakia and is still visible in many of Prague’s private homes as well as public spaces. Even the Pavilion was relocated to a park overlooking the city and continues to be admired by many of its inhabitants.
1989 marked the fall of the Berlin Wall and consequently that of the Soviet Union, and with communism overthrown many exiled Czech and Slovak artists were able to finally return to their homelands. One such emblematic figure was the architect and designer Bořek Šípek, who upon his return from the Netherlands was tasked with the ambitious assignment of modernising Prague Castle: postmodern design introduced into the Castle’s baroque interiors, as is still visible today.
For a more detailed and informative lesson on Czech design, the newly renovated Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague is your go-to spot. Located in an astonishing Neo-Renaissance construct, the Museum is filled to the brim with crystal and glass objects – a longstanding cultural heritage of Czech craftsmanship –, fashion items and a vast section dedicated to a retrospective on the photographer Josef Koudelka.
Finally, every October Prague’s grandiose buildings are set up as a stage for the newest design trends in both Czech and international design. This year’s edition of the design festival Designblok will run from Thursday 25th to Monday 29th October in many of the capital city’s art nouveau exhibition grounds and Old Town’s baroque palaces. And with an entire theme dedicating an homage to 100 years of Czech statehood in design, it creates a full loop with Czech Centre Brussels and CzechTourism’s parallel exhibition 100Czech here at home.100Czech: The Story of Czech design runs from Friday 21st September until Thursday 4th October in Ixelles/Elsene. Visit their website for exhibition spots. brussels.czechcentres.cz/100czech