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The Jewish Museum in Prague spends a large part of its funds on the renovation of Jewish monuments. Since October 1994, when it became an independent Jewish institution, it has repaired and reconstructed eight large buildings, both in and outside Prague, including historic synagogues which it uses for exhibitions and specialised activities. The culmination of this work is the repair and reconstruction of the former Smíchov Synagogue, which was founded over 140 years ago. This project was entirely financed by the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Throughout its existence the synagogue has undergone several building alterations; what was probably the most extensive reconstruction occurred in 1930. During the Nazi occupation the synagogue was closed down and converted into a warehouse for storing confiscated Jewish property. It was also used as a warehouse during the Communist era from the beginning of the 1950s. After the fall of the Communist regime, the devastated building was returned to the Jewish community in Prague and has been rented to the Jewish Museum in Prague since 1998. The first restoration work on the synagogue was carried out in 1999, but the bulk of the building activity was not undertaken until 2003. This project was financed entirely by the Jewish Museum in Prague with contributions in part from the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.
Since the beginning of 2004, work has focused on fitting out the interiors and installing interior storage systems. A three-storey structure was installed on a steel frame in the main hall of the synagogue for the storage of archive materials (covering 2,400 metres). In the depository for the Museum’s art collections, an area of about 1,800 m2 has been prepared for storing paintings and 6,000 drawings, prints and historical photographs. In May, once the microclimatic conditions had been stabilised, the Museum's specialist staff began moving its archive materials and art collections to the depositories.
The establishment of new depositories in the for- mer Smíchov Synagogue
is an important achievement. For the first time since the founding of
the Jewish Museum in Prague, all of its archive materials and collections
of paintings, drawings, prints and historical photographs will be stored
in a way that complies with generally accepted museum standards, that
is to say, in a single place and in stable climatic conditions. The
lighting conditions of the depositories and work areas also meet strict
museum criteria, as does the manner in which items are stored and protected
against mechanical damage and dust. Precise stocktaking of the art collections
will gradually be carried out in the new space; this is necessary for
further research into the collections – particularly their cataloguing
and photographic documentation. The new system for storing items will
also facilitate the comprehensive conservation of the holdings, which
was greatly neglected in this regard for many years (particularly in
the period 1939–1994).
It is expected that the synagogue will begin to carry out its new mission as a study and research centre for the history of Jewish communities in the Czech lands next year. The public will be served on the ground floor by a study, and a specialized bookstore has already opened in the former lobby of the synagogue.
The exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery featured Cudlín’s work from the first half of the 1990s through to the present, with twenty-five large-scale photographic prints. They were selected by the curator, Michaela Hájková, to reflect the observations of a person who is constantly on the move and to capture events taking place in various parts of the world. The exhibition, entitled Passages, also had a clear message: if we accept our nomadism, we are on the right track. Nomadism is a positive state and perhaps a strategy for survival.
This exhibition was put together as part of the series Jewish Artists’ Presence in Contemporary Visual Art, which is focused on charting the relationship between contemporary visual arts and Judaism. It was prepared with the support of the London-based European Association for Jewish Culture and the Prague studio CD-Photo Bler.
The Jewish Museum prepared a series of programmes to coincide with the exhibition. This was launched by singer Kateryna Tlustá-Kolcová, who enthralled the audience with her beautiful, captivating alto during an evening of Yiddish songs, entitled “Lider fun dor cu dor – Songs from Generation to Generation”. Another musical programme, “Loners, Tradition and Joy”, was presented and discussed by music publicist Pavel Klusák, who focused on a generation of radical Jewish musicians from the USA through a close look at music and film extracts. The third programme featured new works from the contemporary literary scene of Prague. Vít Kremlička, a Prague poet, novelist and publicist, read selected texts from his work in progress Manael. Joshua Cohen, a publicist and writer who now resides in Prague after several years in New York and Israel, acquainted the audience with several of his unpublished texts. To close, Róbert Gál, an aphorist and philosopher and author of Signs and Sym-ptoms, read his most recent texts in the original Slovak version.
TWO IMPORTANT AWARDS FOR THE BOOK “TEXTILES
FROM BOHEMIAN AND MORAVIAN SYNAGOGUES”
The first award was the main prize in the “Gloria Musaealis” competition for museums in the Czech Republic – in the category Museum Publications of 2003. This competition, now in its second year, is organised by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the Czech Association of Museums and Galleries. Apart from the best museum publications, it also comprises categories for the best museum exhibition and museum achievement of the year. This year, twenty-nine museums and galleries from throughout the Czech Republic entered the competition and forty-five projects were presented. The main prize was awarded to representatives of the Jewish Museum on 18 May at the Pantheon of the Nati- onal Museum in Prague.
The second award for the catalogue of synagogue textiles was the main award in the Most Beautiful Czech Books of the Year competition for 2003 – in the specialist and scientific literature category. This competition is organised by the Mi-nistry of Culture of the Czech Republic in association with the Museum of Czech Literature. It consists of seven categories: scientific and specialist literature, belles lettres, children’s and youth literature, textbooks, pictorial publications, bibliophilic books and catalogues. In total, 770 publishers entered 157 publications, of which 45 were short-listed. The awards ceremony of the 39th competition was held on 22 April at the Strahov Monastery.
The catalogue of synagogue textiles is a deluxe large-format book (360 pp.) containing 500 full-colour illustrations. It is edited by Ludmila Kybalová, Eva Kosáková and Alexandr Putík. The breadth with which each theme is covered makes the book a unique work from an international perspective. In addition, it is an important contribution for specialists dealing with Jewish material culture and specialised textile collections. The extensive register of personal names and Jewish communities which is included in the catalogue serves also as an important genea-logical source. This award-winning book will be of value to specialists and will undoubtedly attract artists, teachers, students and art lovers alike.
This book, which was prepared and published by the Jewish Museum at its own expense and without the usual participation of a specialised publishing house, symbolises, in its way, the museum’s ten-year development as a non-state cultural facility. Its publication would not have been possible if the Museum had not first put together a specialised textile depository or had not put together a state-of-the-art photo department. The book also represents the fruition of the long-term specialist work of the Museum’s experts and reflects the achievements of the publications department. The Jewish Museum in Prague intends to publish further deluxe books showcasing its own collections, focusing next on its silver items and then on its early manuscripts and printed books.
To order a copy of the book, “Textiles from Bohemian and Moravian Synagogues”, contact the mailing address of the Jewish Museum in Prague, email: salesjewishmuseum.cz or visit our website at www.jewishmuseum.cz/shop/ashop.htm.
SPRING CONCERT AT THE SPANISH SYNAGOGUE
KAFKA-BORGES/ BUENOS AIRES-PRAGUE FESTIVAL
On 7 June, the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre hosted readings from the libretto of Alan Levy’s opera, In the Penal Colony, which was inspired by Franz Kafka and Václav Havel. Participants included Nancy Braun, Matthew Hayes, Daniel Lamken and Joel Sugerman from the International School in Prague.
The American journalist Alan Levy, for many years
editor-in-chief of The Prague Post and one of the most popular and respected
figures in Prague, died on 2 April. One of the fruits of his diverse
intellectual and artistic talents is the opera libretto for which René
Staar composed the music.
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE, THE FUTURE OF JEWISH
HERITAGE IN EUROPE
SPECIALIST STAFF OF THE MUSEUM AT INTERNATIONAL
The Text and Culture conference, organised by “Paidea”, the European Institute for Jewish Education, was held in Stockholm on 23–24 May. The Jewish Museum in Prague was represented by Michael Dunayevsky, Hebraist and library employee.
A conference on the Jewish cultural heritage was held in Luxemburg on 18–20 June, at which Arno Pařík, the Jewish Museum's exhibition curator, gave a lecture on “Renewal of Jewish Monuments in the Czech Republic”.
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