Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Back in Time with Mucha

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Being in a historic city such as Prague, filled with rich tales of kings and queens, German occupation during WWII, and oppression by communist rule, can truly transport someone to another place and another time.

Yesterday, as the rain ceased, our Maymester classes resumed. We met at the CET headquarters to watch a documentary on Czech painter and key contributor to the Art Noveau movement, Alfons Mucha. Then we ventured to the Prague Municipal House around the corner to view tennis player Ivan Lendl's extensive collection of Mucha prints--posters for the theater, advertisements for Nestlé chocolate and cigarettes, and whimsical, nature inspired portraits of women.

Built from 1900 to 1912, the municipal house was heavily influenced by the art nouveau style during its construction. The structure features murals painted by Alfons Mucha and serves as a symbol of Czech nationalism; the Degradation of the People and the Resurrection of the People represented in sculpture on the exterior facade. Before reaching the Mucha exhibit in the upper levels of the municipal house, we checked our bags and coats in the lower lobby cloakrooms. The practice of handing over our belongings seemed a step back in time itself, and the cloakroom remains virtually unchanged since original construction. I handed over 8 crowns, and watched as my jacket and camera bag were delicately stowed away.

Then ascending several flights of stairs, we reached the exhibit and began to gaze upon the awe-inspiring print work of Mucha. The attention to detail and his control of color allowed Mucha to gain popularity within the salons of Paris. I felt enlightened as I walked along four walls of his prints and stared at women who resembled Venus, and various Greek goddesses. I felt the the Municipal House, the cloakroom, the crystal chandeliers, the themes of Mucha's advertisements, and the general art nouveau style had transported me back to the late 19th/early 20th century.

Mucha's work reminded me of modern-day anime, and childhood cartoons like Sailor Moon with otherworldly women, the movement and shapes created by locks of hair, and the emotion found in wide, blank eyes. Also of psychedelic rocks posters from the 70's. So while I was transported in one moment to the 1910's, I also saw the carrying influence of Mucha's work and the Art Nouveau style over time based on my own knowledge of popular culture. It is a small wonder that history and art can be lasting in such a way as this, and that the hospitality can be found in a cloakroom, and majestic lighting in an old chandelier.

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