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Prague's Traditional Reinvention

Touring Dlouhá street.

Photo: Monika Hoefler

Entropa is provocative, and definitely Czech, and Dox couldn’t have gotten luckier to land such a piece within months of opening, notes Leoš Válka, the gallery’s director. In a city of slightly twee costume, crystal, and folk museums, the sprawling, multilevel Dox is a pioneer, not only because Válka chose to set it in Holešovice, a still-grimy grid of blocks to the north of the city that’s populated by students, immigrants, and aspiring artists keen on the cheap rents of its early-20th-century buildings. “The idea behind Dox is to place Czech artists in a world context, across the contemporary disciplines—visual art, architecture, new media, design,” Válka says. It’s a new format for the city, and one that potential supporters are still acclimating to. “We haven’t got the history of privately funded activities, of philanthropy, and the government’s still coming up to speed with how to manage its grants,” he explains. Nevertheless, he adds, “our timing’s been extremely good; people here have been traveling, they’ve gone and cultivated perspectives on [contemporary] art elsewhere in the world.” They’re ready, in other words, to appreciate their own contemporary artists.

Feldman has also recommended a tour of the three-year-old Lobkowicz Palace Museum, which enjoys a rather more rarefied position high above the city in the Prague Castle complex. It was opened in 2007 by William Lobkowicz, a charming Boston native who also happens to be a prince by title of what was for five centuries Bohemia’s most powerful and wealthiest family. Its fortunes having been dispersed and its landholdings seized not once but twice, first by the Nazis, then the Communists (his grandfather, Maximilian, fled Czechoslovakia in 1948), they are now being meticulously traced, gathered, and catalogued by Lobkowicz and his wife, who have lived in Prague for 20 years.

The museum is stunning, a world-class collection lent intimate dimensions by its placement in the family’s residence (a late-Renaissance palace, overlooking castle vineyards and the rooftops of Malá Strana) and by a thoughtful audio tour written and presented by Lobkowicz himself. Masterpieces like Peter Brueghel the Elder’s Haymaking and two galleries hung entirely with ancestral portraits by the likes of Velázquez are the marquee attractions. But equally captivating—to Lobkowicz as well as to visitors—are the smaller dramas, such as hand-scrawled sheaves of music from Beethoven’s Third Symphony, a jewel-like ladies’ salon with 200-year-old murals of exotic birds, and case after velvet-lined case of family porcelain, much of it painted in the same blue-onion pattern that Qubus’s Velćovský has twisted ever so slightly to his own creative purposes.

Lobkowicz’s love for his adopted city is palpable, his investment in it total, and his perspective on it unique—that of both an outsider and a member of its most established society. This is likely why the view he takes of things is a long one: It’s great that there’s a renewed enthusiasm for the country’s own culture manifesting itself, he explains, but in the two decades he’s lived here, he wasn’t particularly worried about it disappearing—global onslaught or no. “Prague has always been a mosaic; it’s maintained an open-minded energy for a thousand years,” he says. “The city is never going to lose itself.”

Maria Shollenbarger, a London-based writer, is a frequent T+L contributor.

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