Muzejní noc is an open museum night in Brno that happened two Saturday evenings ago from 18:00-24:00. Museum entry was either free or very cheap, and I took the opportunity to go to the Moravské Zemské Muzeum at Palác Šlechtičen and Moravská Galerie v Brně. The first has exhibits about Moravian history and culture, while the second is a modern art gallery.
It was a nice communal atmosphere in Brno that evening, with tons of people coming out to go to museums. Plus, the city opened up City Hall’s tower for free to the public who wanted to view the Brno city center. After a dinner of vegan “no-fish and chips” at Forky’s (it was great!), I was ready to start hitting up the museums.
First I visited Palác Šlechtičen, where there was an exhibit on Czech “krojovaná” fashion. “Kroj” refers to the traditional, historical costumes that men and women wear at local celebrations such as the hody. Designers at fashion school were tasked with bringing these patterns, colors and features into the 21st century, with clothing that people might want to wear on a daily basis!
For example, one design team came up with flowy, reversible red and black sweaters with a typical Czech pattern along the edges:
Meanwhile, I’m not sure this steampunk-eque dress with various silver gears is as related to Czech or Moravian design as it is just cool. And I’m a sucker for anything steampunk. But you can see that the white costume to the left gives a man’s costume a modern touch.
In Moravské Náměstí, there is a reconstruction of the historical German House. Through the 1800s and up to the end of World War II, the Czech lands had a large population of Germans (as anyone who has read Bohumil Hrabal’s amazing “I Served the King of England” knows), resulting in a large German influence on the language and on surnames.
Even the name of the square has been through many changes – from Kaiser Josef Platz to Adolf Hitler Platz to the Soviet Red Army Square to today’s name since 1990 – and reflects the history of occupation here. The German House was the cultural center for the German population, but as you can imagine, during and after WWII as it was “transformed into a centre of primitive Nazism,” it became the target of Czech wrath.
On November 20th, 1944 the German House was bombed, and shortly after it caught fire and began to burn down – no one stopped it.
More information panels at different points around the reconstruction give information about the history of Czechs, Germans, and Jews in Brno, which a project founder put nicely this way:
Along the Western edge of the structure, and this was my favorite part, is a hilarious cartoon series which uses an intermixed lingua franca of Czech, German and Yiddish to explain the unfortunate history of these three speaker groups in the Czech lands. For example, the title is a complete misspelling of the word “Pictures” and then a misspelling of the German name for Brno.
Meanwhile at Špilberk Castle, in addition to jazz music, there was even an unexpected fireworks show:
The Moravská Galerie v Brně was amazing. The set up was wonderful and there were so many quirky art exhibits, including these sketches showing variations on “umbrellas”:
These multicolored, Dr. Seuss-esque chairs:
These hilarious additions to classic sculpture that both poke fun at and enhance their artistic qualities:
A seal version of the tragic Greek figure of Tantalus tries to find Nemo, but can never reach him.
In this exhibit where the walls are nearly filled with varied and quirky art,
the art even makes fun of itself:
There was photography of experimental and performance art, including one artist who put mirrors along a field at intervals. When photographed, it looked like abstract art, as if holes of white nothingness had opened up in the ground.
I loved how the introductions for the pieces are artfully typed and stuck to the wall with letter stickers. There was also some “serious” art, like that of Kubišta, Procházka, and Čapek (Josef), much of which, though, was very colorful and Cubist.
As an example of the collection, here is Jan Zrzavý’s painting of a café (this is what my ideal life looks like):
And not least of all, there was a SLIDE from the 2nd floor to the 1st. Worth it for this if nothing else.
We rode it twice. With all the other kids 🙂
A cool part of the evening was that a famous Pink Tank (officially Soviet tank no. 23), painted this way by Czech sculptor David Černý, was being displayed in Brno next to the Red Church. It’s been moved temporarily from Prague as part of the TRIBES 90 exhibition project.
When you see a large pink tank in front of a church, it’s tempting to go “whaaaaaaat?” and just move on. But the reasons behind this piece of “art” are actually very interesting…
The tank’s history starts in July 1945, when it “was donated by the government of the USSR to the City of Prague to commemorate the liberation by the Soviet Army.” As you can imagine, gratitude for such a gift did not last long.
In April 1991 – not long after the end of Communism in CZ – Černý and some friends stole away to Smíchov, a neighborhood of Prague, where the tank still sat. It took two evenings to paint it pink, thus provoking a response that “polarized the Czech public.” On the one hand, people felt that it dishonored a historical monument, and that it disrespected the memory of Red Army soldiers who lost their lives during the liberation of Czechoslovakia from Nazi Germany. Others “interpreted the Pink Tank as an anti-militarist symbol of the Cold War which had just ended.” Most importantly, Černý brought the questions of “where the limits of artistic freedom are in a democratic society or whether artists have the right to intervene in the public space in a way other than aesthetic” to the forefront of pub discussions at the time.
Personally, I think it is the artist’s right and obligation to make political points. There’s a reason people roll their eyes and sigh when they think of politicians – usually, they don’t inspire us. Art fills in the cracks of what regular civilians need to be spurred to action, the motivation to get angry and get active in their political process.
They say laughter is the best medicine. One who laughs genuinely can’t be defeated. And considering what Czechoslovakia had been through to that point, who could blame people for wanting to delegitimize the history of the invaders?
In other pastel color news, here’s what the Czech countryside currently looks like:
Anywhere you look, rapeseed fills the fields, and people are pissed. I started to notice this sign everywhere in Brno and to wonder what it means. I suspected the two were connected:
I might translate it as “leave us a home,” or “leave us room.” On the bottom it asks, “Do you see ‘yellowly’?” The message is addressed to Andrej Babiš, whom you probably don’t know if you’re not a reader from Central Europe. He
is a Czechpolitician, entrepreneur and businessman of Slovak origin. From January 2014 to May 2017 Babiš served as Finance Minister of the Czech Republic and Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the economy in Cabinet of Bohuslav Sobotka. Babiš has led ANO 2011 party since 2012 when he founded it as a protest movement against established politics. Babiš, the second richest man in the Czech Republic, is a former CEO and sole owner of the Agrofert group with a net worth of about $2.6 billion according to Forbes magazine. (Wikipedia)
Babiš is a Donald Trump-like figure in that he created a political corner for himself in the ANO party with populist politics “against established politics” despite being “the second-richest man in Czech Republic.” He is the owner of many media companies, which people fear he uses to influence public perception of the country’s goings-on, in addition to Agrofert, an agricultural corporation. (Despite this, he is a very popular politician; as the former Finance Minister, people believed that being a billionaire gave him expertise to positively influence the country’s economy.)
Because of him, rapeseed is a very lucrative crop and has been planted everywhere, while many armchair botanist Czechs complain that it limits biodiversity. Just like with solar panels, they feel the fields can be put to better use – instead of only “seeing yellow,” we should also be seeing green, orange, white, and brown as well.