The Jan and Meda Mládek Collection

The František Kupka Collection

The collection of works by František Kupka (1871-1957), one of the most important 20th century artists, is central to the Jan and Meda Mládek Collection. This priceless collection features 215 oil paintings, studies and drawings, and it is one of the most comprehensive private collections in the world. Meda Mládek donated the collection to Prague, and it is curated by Museum Kampa.

The collection traces the development of Kupka’s abstract art; unlike Kandinsky and Malevich, Kupka started with the figure. It opens with several paintings and drawings that were still in the Art Nouveau style, followed by illustrations for French satirical magazines from the first few years of the 20thcentury, and then figurative works from 1906-1912. They include a watercolour study for Bathing Woman(1906) and a number of Gigolettes (1908-1909 – painting, drawings). The collection also includes one of the first two abstract paintings ever to be exhibited, Amorpha, Warm Chromatic, which was shown alongside Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours(now at the National Gallery in Prague) in the Cubist room at the Autumn Salon in Paris in 1912. Kupka’s purely abstract studies for his Discs of Newton (1911-1912) and the painting Around a Point (1911-1930) are very important. There are also preparatory drawings for Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours (1911-1912) and a series of studies for Cosmic Spring – Creation (1911-1920), A Tale of Pistils and Stamens (1911-1919) and Four Stories of White and Black. One of the largest and most beautiful paintings in the collection was formerly Localisation of Graphic Motifs II (1912-1913), which Jan and Meda Mládek donated to the National Gallery in Washington, where it is now part of the permanent exhibition. One of Kupka’s most impressive paintings is Cathedral (1912-1913). Meda Mládek first met Kupka in 1955, when she was studying art history in Paris, and she has been a passionate collector of his art ever since. Today no major retrospective of Kupka’s work can dispense with studies and paintings from her collection.

The Otto Gutfreund Collection

The collection of works by Otto Gutfreund (1889-1927) has 17 of the artist’s sculptures. Jan and Meda Mládek had long been attracted to Gutfreund. As the art historian Jiří Šetlík relates, having thoroughly studied the literature the Mládeks concentrated on Gutfreund’s Cubist work from 1911-1914, which seemed to them to be unique in world art, and they also added individual sculptures from 1923-1927, when Gutfreund was working with Civilism as his contribution to developing a new visual style for the First Republic. The Mládeks made use of their contacts with Jiří Kotalík, the director of the National Gallery in Prague from 1967 to 1990, and their acquisitions were conducted through Artcentrum, which at the time was the only company that could legally export artworks from Czechoslovakia. Having bought this collection (with multiple castings of some works), they eventually succeeded in having Gutfreund included in a number of major sculpture exhibitions and installations in the United States. Their collection now had a comprehensive set of sculptures (unfortunately it could not be expanded further, as in 1984 the Mládeks were again banned from entering Czechoslovakia), which was presented to the public on numerous occasions.

The Jiří Kolář Collection

Work by the poet and artist Jiří Kolář (1914-2002), one of the best-known artists of the 20th century, who turned text, paper and lettering into a discipline in its own right, is extremely well represented in the Jan and Meda Mládek Collection, which has more than 240 of his works from various periods. In his rare early confrontages and reportages from the 1940s and 50s he initiated the principles from which he developed a way of thinking that crossed from verbal to visual expression. In the late 1950s and the first half of the 1960s Kolář devised the methods that would be the foundation for all of his subsequent work. The collection includes early rollages, made by cutting reproductions into strips and combining heterogeneous motifs. There is also a powerful series of crumplages, where reproductions are crumpled and pasted onto a sheet of paper. The collection has early prollages, where a hole is cut in one image and another image pasted below it. There are interesting stratifies in which the artist cuts through layers of coloured paper. One of the most important methods is the chiasmage, where the surface of a collage is covered with fragments of lettering and text, musical scores and star charts. There are charming unzipping collages and series of classic collages, as well as a unique collection of banners and a number of objects whose surfaces are covered with collages. The artist often combined his various techniques. Meda Mládek systematically followed Kolář’s art, focusing mainly on the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, and hers is one of the most interesting and complete collections in the world. It has been exhibited on several occasions. In 1994 it was first presented in Prague at the Czech Museum of Fine Arts, with a catalogue that featured reproductions of all the works. The collection has travelled to other countries many times, and there is increasing interest in it. It has a counterpart in the Jiří and Běla Kolář Collection, which is also kept at Museum Kampa.

The Collection of Central European Art

This collection features Czech, Slovak, Polish, Hungarian and Yugoslav art, mostly from the 1960s and 70s, although some of the collections also include younger artists. The most extensive collection is of Czech and Slovak art, with paintings, sculptures, objects, drawings and prints by noted artists from the generation that emerged in the 1950s and the early 1960s. In 1967 the Czechoslovak authorities allowed Meda Mládek to start travelling to this country again, 19 years after she emigrated. She visited studios which were, as she herself says, full of wonderful art. She quickly found her bearings and began meeting the most interesting artists, including Václav Cigler, Hugo Demartini, Stanislav Kolíbal, Adriena Šimotová, Vladimír Janoušek, Věra Janoušková, Eva Kmentová, Magdalena Jetelová, Radek Kratina, Jan Kubíček, Karel Malich, Alena Kučerová, Jiří Načeradský, Otakar Slavík, Karel Nepraš, Aleš Veselý and others. In 1984 Czechoslovakia closed its borders to the Mládeks again. Meda Mládek also visited other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, buying work by Polish artists who are now famous, such as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Edward Dwurnik, Izabella Gustowska and Józef Łukomski, and by the Hungarian artists Ákos Birkás and György Jovánovics, and from Yugoslavia sculptures by Ivan Kožarić and Branko Ružić and paintings by Mića Popović. Jan Mládek died shortly before the end of the communist regime, and Meda Mládek was able to return to Czechoslovakia in 1989. Over the years she had tried to support artists who had practically no opportunity to sell their work in their communist homelands. She chose carefully, visiting each studio several times before making a decision, and this resulted in a unique and highly personal collection.