National Technical Museum partially reopens
Footsteps echo through the large marble lobby of the National Technical Museum as workmen hurry past, putting the finishing touches on a building that has been closed for four years. On Feb. 16, the museum will partially reopen with five permanent and two temporary exhibitions.
“Everything has been reconstructed: the structure, offices, all the exhibitions,” said Olga Šámalová, spokeswoman for the museum. “Everything was old-fashioned; it had to be done. The exhibits were 40 years old. … Everything needed to be renewed.”
Those who visited the museum before it closed will remember the slightly shabby air of the building itself and how dated the exhibitions felt. Now there is a feeling of freshness and brightness, not only in the building itself, but also in the exhibitions. The History of Transport display has always been one of the most memorable exhibits in the museum, with several airplanes hanging from the ceiling. The exhibit, which traces the history of the automobile as well as domestic development in the air and shipping industries, has been updated with a new layout and new pieces.
“There’s a plane here, the oldest plane in the Czech Republic. In 1910, it completed the first long-haul flight in Czechoslovakia, from Pardubice to Prague,” Šámalová said. “There’s also a special model of a Tatra [car] from 1935 that was owned by President [Tomáš Garrigue] Masaryk.”
The astronomy exhibit has also been renewed, and has two parts: One focuses on the history of astronomical knowledge and the second on the history of astronomical instruments. The museum possesses a variety of rare and unique astronomical instruments in its collection, including a sun dial, sextants and antique binoculars.
New display, old architecture
The highlight of the new exhibitions, however, is the section focused on architecture, engineering and design. Martin Ebel, who curates this portion of the museum, says the museum has not featured a display on architecture in 70 years.
“The exhibition is based on items from the collection and spans the mid-19th century to the present,” he said. “The left half is arranged as a gallery, the middle part is supposed to represent public space, and the right is architect studios from the 19th and 20th centuries.”
The large room that holds the architectural exhibit is flooded with light and divided by colorful partitions. Spanning the front of the room is a model of the dome on the National Museum, showing both the architectural details and the engineering that have gone into the design. An original model of the Rudolfinum is also in the exhibit, as is a teaching model of the Powder Tower used in the classroom in the late 1800s, and original reliefs and stairs from the National Theater. For a beautiful view over Letná Park, visitors may climb a staircase to a platform whose support structure was built from a bridge in Bechyne that was destroyed in the floods of 2002. Commenting on the view, Ebel said visitors “can see the reality that is in the exhibition.”
“The National Theater is there and here,” he added.
Models dominate this portion of the architectural exhibit, following a timeline of architectural history and movements, from Art Nouveau to Cubism and Functionalism. Models include the Czech pavilion from the 1937 World Exhibition of Arts and Technology in Paris, the Czech pavilion at the Brussels World Expo 1958 and the Kotva department store. A great deal of space is dedicated to the Bata company from Zlín, including a large model of the company’s administrative building and original window panes from the same building.
Many elements have been naturally woven into the architectural exhibit, like the replica Cubist column anchoring one of the museum’s “public spaces” and an Art Nouveau swing door separating the two architectural studios. The second half of the exhibition is reserved for temporary shows.
“My favorite is the functionalism display, and the front part on architecture from the beginning of the 20th century to World War II. That’s when architecture was at its peak,” Ebel said.
Several components of the project remain uncompleted, including the facade and three permanent exhibitions: metallurgy, mining and technology in the home. Reconstruction work has faced several delays and cost 353 million Kc so far, with an additional 130 million Kc for the exhibitions. Originally scheduled to be finished in May 2008 to coincide with the museum’s 100th anniversary, the work is now expected to be completed by spring 2012. Management issues have also plagued the process. Then Culture Minister Jirí Besser sacked Director Horymír Kubícek last summer under suspicions of financial mismanagement, and Karel Ksandr was appointed the new director in December.
The Functionalist building of the National Technical Museum was completed in 1942 and holds more than 63,000 items in its collection, about 5 percent of which are on display. Šámalová says the temporary exhibitions that will be shown when the museum reopens include one from the technical museum in Brno and several 20th-century machines from the military history institute in Prague.