Place: Veletržní Palace
The Story of the Veletržní Palace
Exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Veletržní Palace fire
The exhibition was prepared by the National Gallery in Prague, Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, in cooperation with the National Technical Museum, the Institute of Planning and Development and the Prague City Archives
Curators: Jakub Potůček, Radomíra Sedláková
Exhibition graphic design: Pavel Bosák
Graphic layout: frvr (Dan Fiedlaender, Jan Vranovský)
Production: Lucie Slunečková
Accompanying program: Education Department of the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art
Venue: Veletržní Palace, mezzanine
Dates: March 21, 2014 – July 27, 2014
The Veletržní Palace, a major example of early functionalist architecture and part of the Czech Architectural Heritage, is a building with a rich and interesting history. Its breathtakingly simple unadorned architecture is based on two contrasting, differently-sized exterior parts – the longer with simple alternating bands of sills and windows, and the shorter displaying only a bare wall with square windows and simple cross-shaped compartmentalization.
The story of the Veletržní Palace began in 1924 when an organisation called the Association of Prague Trade Fairs held a competition for six architects: Alois Dryák, Josef Fuchs, E. Kotek, Miloš Vaněček, František Rothmayer and Oldřich Tyl. They were of different generations and represented different architectural concepts – from decorativism to functionalism. The jury decided in two rounds. The architects Dryák, Tyl and Fuchs were chosen in the first round and a joint design by Oldřich Tyl and Josef Fuchs was chosen in the second. They designed the first palace in 1925 and construction began immediately. The building work was entrusted to the Karel Skorkovský building company, a leading structural engineer specializing in concrete structures, which collaborated with Stanislav Bechyně. Thanks to both these men, the first palace gave Prague a work whose reinforced concrete skeleton was elegant and refined. During construction, trade fairs were already being organized on the old fairground as well as the New Fairground, which was situated where today’s Park Hotel stands and was fitted with temporary pavilions.
The Veletržní Palace was partially completed on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the state of Czechoslovakia. In 1928, the first trade fair was held on more than three floors and Alfons Mucha’s Slavic Epic was presented to the public for the first time. Completion work was carried out on the palace throughout 1929 and the building gradually came to be used for trade fairs held in autumn and spring and other events. The building also housed several restaurants and Prague’s largest cinema; art exhibitions were held in its lobby. The Veletržní palác operated more or less in this manner until 1951, when trade fairs were abolished and the palace was turned into an office building for foreign trade companies.
The Veletržní Palace burned down in a fire in 1974. It took five years for the city to decide what to do with it. There was pressure to tear it down as its fire- and water-damaged reinforced concrete frame appeared irreparable. However, there was also enormous opposing pressure. The palace’s admirers demanded that the unique structure, which the famous French architect Le Corbusier had studied with some envy, be preserved. It later proved possible to reconstruct the building, which spurred new debates over its use. There were many ideas: hospital, student dormitory, department store, office building, museum of the revolutionary workers’ movement, Prague 7 administration centre, university headquarters and more. Gradually, the novel idea of rebuilding the Veletržní Palace as the base for the 20th-century art collections of the National Gallery inPrague came to the fore.
The palace was finally given to the National Gallery in 1980. Stavoprojekt Liberec was appointed chief architect and its designers, led by Miroslav Masák, saved it from demolition and misuse. Reconstruction took a long time. The scarred site had to be cleared and the design was changed several times. The first phase of construction was completed by 1993 and three floors of permanent exhibitions opened to the public in 1995. They were used to present fine art as well as architecture, graphic design and stage design. The exhibitions were completed by 2000 and spanned four floors, one of them reserved for short-term displays.
The Story of the Veletržní Palace exhibition recounts the history of the building.
A review of the surviving archives of the Association of Prague Trade Fairs brought much new information to light, such as evidence that the palace competition had probably been fixed or construction budgets that were a never-ending source of financial trouble for the builder. They also revealed the fate of Dr. V. Boháč, who had spearheaded the establishment of the Association of Prague Trade Fairs and the construction of theVeletržníPalace, or showed that television had its first presentation in the building and was condemned by manufacturers of radio receivers as something “with no future”. New photographs were found, too, documenting the sad history of the New Fairground during World War II, when it served as a gathering point for the deportation of Jews to concentration camps.
The exhibits include blueprints documenting the architectural development of the palace until its opening in 2000 and photographs showing trade fairs and the palace after the fire. Many materials are presented to the public for the first time. The exhibits come from the National Gallery inPrague, theNationalTechnicalMuseum, theInstituteofPlanningand Development of Prague, the Prague City Archives and private collections.
A book entitled The Story of the Veletržní Palace accompanies the exhibition. The exhibition is one of a series of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of theVeletržníPalace fire that is being held under the auspices of Mayor Tomáš Hudeček.
The 40th anniversary of the Veletržní Palace fire
1924 - construction
1974 – fire
2014 – present day
“The Veletržní Palace is one of the most beautiful and distinctive buildings in Prague. It was erected in the late 1920s and its life was influenced by the political, social and cultural events of its time. A devastating fire engulfed the palace in 1974. After lengthy debates of what to do with its body, the structure was handed over to the National Gallery in Prague. The Veletržní Palace is an important theme for the Gallery’s Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, which has its seat there. The size and operational functions of the structure attracted attention as soon as it was built. As a gallery, it often provokes contradictory emotions. The project dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Veletržní Palace fire shows that the National Gallery in Prague handles this remarkable structure in a complex manner and approaches it as a key exhibit in the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art. The project also shows how the palace plays a major role in determining the events and exhibitions held in it and generally affects the mechanism of its operation.
There will be a number of exhibitions, discussions, workshops and other events in the Veletržní Palace in 2014, which are directly or indirectly linked with the building. The first exhibition will present the Veletržní Palace’s story and disclose a number of surprising findings; the exhibition Glass Hell will focus on the fire in 1974. The exhibition by Jiří Sozanský will show how the theme of the Veletržní Palace found its way into the work of one of our most interesting artists in the late 1970s and how it encompasses a number of often existentialist themes. Discussions and workshops will offer meetings with architects (e.g. Miroslav Masák, the designer of the post-fire reconstruction), art theoreticians, historians and students of architecture. They will focus on current reflections and future possibilities for working with the Veletržní Palace for exhibitions and, more generally, operating within the context of the city of Prague.
The majority of anniversaries result in assessments of the past. The 40th anniversary of the Veletržní Palace fire provides an opportunity to recall the history of this rare building, highlight its genius loci and show its possible future face.”
For the implementation team: Helena Musilová
The National Gallery in Prague will organize several connected exhibitions and other projects in 2014:
1. The Story of the Veletržní Palace: March 21 – July 27, 2014
Curators: Radomíra Sedláková, Jakub Potůček
2. TheVeletržníPalaceFire in Photographs: August 14 – October 12, 2014
Curator: Helena Musilová
3. Jiří Sozanský: October 23 – February 8, 2015
Curator: Jiří T. Kotalík
• Additional exhibitions
Great Artwork for a Great Building
• panel discussions
Discussions about future exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art in the Veletržní Palace
Guarantors: Ladislav Kesner, Helena Musilová
• Macro and Outside Context – theVeletržníPalaceas a tourist destination in theCzechRepublicandPrague
1. How should the exhibitions and programs in the Veletržní Palace ful fil the mission of the National Gallery in Prague? For whom are they primarily designed?
• Centre – Dramaturgy of permanent exhibitions, target groups
1. What is a basic metaphor for the concept of exhibitions? Is the aim still to present “a history” of Czech modern art or another, radically different non-historical form of presentation? What lesson is to be learned from foreign institutions?
2. Micro – structure, architectural layout, accompanying activities
3. What are the possibilities of designing exhibitions in theVeletržníPalace? What are the best options for placing the artworks in the context of long-termVeletržníPalace exhibitions?
• conferences and a workshop
The future of the building called Veletržní Palace/ guarantor: Jakub Potůček
Presentation of the visions of the newest generation of architects in cooperation with their universities and colleges
• videomapping: August 14, 2014 – the date of the fire
Main media partner: Česká televize
Media partners: Hospodářské noviny, IHNED.cz, Český rozhlas, Prague Events Calendar, Anopress IT, Rádio 1
Partners: Securitas, RailReklam, Hlavní město Praha, Galerie hlavního města Prahy
Technology partner: Samsung
Dukelských hrdinů 47
170 00 Prague 7
There is no separate admission fee for the exhibition. It is an integral part of the Veletržní Palace tour and the permanent exhibitions of modern and contemporary art of the National Gallery in Prague.
Basic fee CZK 180
Reduced fee CZK 90
Family fee CZK 240
School group CZK 20
The purchase of an all-year ticket is recommended if repeat visits are planned.
Press release of March 20, 2014
Contact for journalists
Eva Kolerusová, spokeswoman, tel.: 222 321 459, mob.: 724 501 535