"Freedom in art" has been the guiding principle of Umělecká Beseda since 1863. Credit: Prague City Museum.

160th Anniversary Exhibition of Umělecká Beseda Association Opens in Clam-Gallas Palace

Umělecká Beseda (“Art Forum”), the oldest Czech art association, is celebrating 160 years since its foundation. On the occasion of its anniversary, Prague City Museum is hosting an exhibition of works by the association’s members in the reconstructed premises of the Clam-Gallas Palace. The exhibition V Umění Volnost (“Freedom in Art”), which features more than 130 works by 58 artists, will outline the path that Umělecká Beseda has travelled over more than a century of its history. 

Visual art from the last 20 years of the association is represented in its full range, from classical painting to graphics and ceramics to conceptually composed works. The exhibition opened on 5 December, and will run until 29 February next year in the ornate baroque spaces of the Clam-Gallas Palace.

“The goal was to show that the Baroque palace does not have to serve only as an example of Baroque art,” explained Ivo Macek, director of the Prague City Museum. “Modern art and the Baroque palace complement each other in their diversity and correspond beautifully.” 

Credit: Prague City Museum.

“Freedom in art” is the idea that the founders of Umělecká Beseda wove into the shield of the association in 1863. It refers to the ideal of ​​openness and readiness for creative confrontation across artistic and philosophical views. It also marks the connection between the art of words, music and visual creation. By founding the association, leading contemporary personalities of art and cultural and social life showed their ambition to connect events on the Czech art scene with European trends. The period of the so-called National Theatre generation and the interwar years are among the highlights of Umělecká Beseda.

The group has been associated with important personalities from music (such as the composers Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák, the duo Voskovec and Werich, and the conductor Václav Talich), visual arts (Josef Mánes, Jan Zrzavý and Kamil Lhoták), and literature (Neruda, Vrchlický and Kainar). The idea of Umělecká Beseda survived the strangulation of activity after February 1948, and even the dissolution period during the period of normalisation. The renewal of the association after November 1989 indicated that “freedom in art” is an attractive idea for all generations, as evidenced by the association’s exhibition in the Clam-Gallas Palace.

The representative exhibition mainly presents the current work of the members of Umělecká Beseda, which reflects the widest spectrum of contemporary artistic trends. The show is enriched by historical reminiscences and key phenomena from the association’s history, as manifested not only in the works of the members, but also in the cultural and social shaping of the whole country. 

Credit: Prague City Museum.

“In the exhibition, visitors will encounter the works of important contemporary authors, such as photographer Jindřich Štreit, sculptor Šárka Radová, painter Miloš Šejn, sculptor Jan Hendrych and glassblower Pavel Trnka. This is, of course, only a fraction of the names represented in the exhibition,” said exhibition curator Lenka Stolárová, from the Prague City Museum. “The show is also accompanied by musical samples from the works of the members of the Umělecká Beseda Music Department. The department of literature is also emphasised, and with the help of film recordings and photographs, the associational life across departments and decades of the existence of Umělecká Beseda.” 

The “Freedom in Art” exhibition will be open to the public in the Clam-Gallas Palace until 29 February 2024. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Tickets can be purchased separately or together with a tour of the representative floor of the recently reconstructed Clam-Gallas Palace, one of the key buildings of Prague Baroque architecture.

160th Anniversary Exhibition of Umělecká Beseda Association Opens in Clam-Gallas Palace
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