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Meda, Ambassador of Art

It is rare that we celebrate the art lovers, patrons and philanthropists whose support and passion can often be a driving force in the creative world. One such generous supporter is the eminent collector and art historian Meda Mládková, who is this year celebrating her 100th birthday. On this momentous occasion Canon Czech Republic partnered with Museum Kampa, the spiritual home to the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation, to hold an exhibition dedicated to Meda, her life and her collection of Central European art, which is considered one of the most important in the world.

Meda Mládková was born in Czech Republic in 1919 but spent most of her 100 years living in exile. For much of that time she lived in the USA with her husband, governor of the IMF, Jan Mládek, and the couple’s home in Washington was a little slice of Czechoslovakia, welcoming creatives and intellectuals in the rich tradition of the great literary salons of the 18th Century Paris. And like its Parisian counterparts, which were known for their inspiring female hosts, Meda played a central role in growing a network of esteemed figures from the world of politics, art, design, architecture and fashion. However, it was in their work in advancing the profile and understanding of the artwork of their home country that she and her husband became well-known in the art world of America and across the world.

In 1989, after the death of her husband, Meda returned to her native Czech Republic and formed the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation, through which she oversaw the construction of Museum Kampa, transforming the ancient and dilapidated Sova’s Mills in Prague into a world class museum and permanent home to her priceless collection of artworks. Meda’s mission to bring the work of Central European artists to the world has seen the museum attract around 100,000 visitors a year and the also regularly hold events and educational activities that continue to raise awareness.

A red wire sculpture standing on a red base, which resembles a human by Karel Nepraš
A sculpture by Karel Nepraš welcomes visitors into the exhibition.
A gold jacket with red brocade and a mandarin collar displayed on a mannequin.
Meda’s choice of fashion plays a large part in her identity.

The exhibition recreated Meda’s famous Washington ‘salon’, as well as showing photo and video footage and her favourite pieces of furniture and clothes. It was a fitting celebration of Meda’s important role as a patron of the arts, as well as her colourful life and passion for the work of pioneering abstract artist, František Kupka. Meda met Kupka while studying at The Sorbonne, in Paris, and immediately fell in lifelong love with his paintings. She played a key role in Kupka’s success, drawing the attention of curators, critics and galleries to his work and is now the owner of the largest private collection of Kupka's works in the world.

A man photographs a painting
Eminent Czech photographer, Jan William Drnek photographs Kupka’s ‘The Cathedral’
A man sits at a laptop, working.
After careful photography, the image goes into post-processing, to make the digitised file print perfect.

A replica of Kupka’s largest work, ‘The Cathedral’, painted in 1913, was created for the exhibition using the Océ Touchstone elevated printing solution. It is probably the most valuable of his paintings and as such, could not be included in such an interactive show. Instead, renowned Czech photographer Jan William Drnek photographed the original on the museum wall, then prepared the files for professional print.

It had pride of place alongside an extraordinary cornucopia of ‘Medarabilia’: many thousands of photographs from her family archive were scanned and digitised for the museum, while over a hundred others were professionally printed for exhibiting or used in the show catalogue. The digitization and print of Meda’s photographs was a massive undertaking, with a great deal of care and manual work involved to ensure that each image was perfect for the exhibition. Every photograph was handled with care, cleaned and prepared before processing. In particular, the two images of the Mladek’s famous lounge were edited, enlarged and printed at large scale from prints that were originally only 10x15” in size.

MEDA Ambassador of Art ran until the end of September 2019, but Meda’s collection of the work of František Kupka and his contemporaries can be seen in the museum’s permanent collection. Discover more on the Museum Kampa website.

Written by Jitka Štědroňová


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