Housed in a former watermill along the Vltava River, Prague’s Kampa Museum of Contemporary Art features the private art collection of Jan and Meda Mládek. In the museum’s 2008 catalogue, Jan’s widow Meda writes about her visit to the Czech capital in 1968, just before the Prague Spring when the Soviets occupied the country, know then as Czechoslavakia:
I returned to Prague for the first time in 19 years. I had studied as an economist and art historian, and wanted to see what those of us living in exile could do for our country in those fields. To my great surprise, I found that the Prague Spring was imminent, and the studios were full of remarkable art.
She goes on to discuss how she and her husband assembled an exhibition of Czech drawings, collages, and prints for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. A generous grant by the Ford Foundation also allowed the couple to host a group of 10 Czech artists to study in Washington D.C. It was during this time—while the art exhibition and students were in the United States—that Russian tanks rolled into Prague and took control of the government. The Czech organization that lent the Mládeks the artwork for the U.S. exhibition was later taken over by another organization called Art Centrum, who contacted the couple with an “urgent request” to discreetly buy the exhibit, “to avoid any unpleasantness for Art Centrum and the artists exhibited.” The couple scraped together the funds necessary to purchase the works of art, thereby turning an impressive exhibition into their own private collection. Over time, the Mládeks added new works to their collection.
In 2002, Meda gifted the collection back to the city of Prague. Visitors today can once again appreciate these extraordinary works of contemporary art in the country in which they were created. The collection includes some of the Czech Republic’s most notable artists from the 20th century, including František Kupka and Otto Gutfreund.