Meda Mládková (born Marie Sokolová), 1919
Meda Mládková was born in Zákupy, northern Bohemia, where her father was the director of a brewery. Her family moved to Brandýs nad Labem, a town close to Prague, a few years after she was born. Meda says that she saw ‘horrible things’ at the end of WWII, particularly aimed at the ethnic Germans remaining in Czechoslovakia, and she decided to leave the country. After a few years in Vienna, Meda moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where she studied economics. On her way to London to continue her studies in economics, Meda stopped in Paris where she had a meeting with Jan Mládek – a fellow Czechoslovak émigré who held a prominent position in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The pair would later marry, and Meda decided to stay in Paris where she studied art at the Sorbonne and L’Ecole du Louvre. She was also active in exile publishing in Europe – she fundraised for the journal Současnost while in Switzerland, and, in Paris, started the publishing house Edition Sokolova which published the works of Ivan Blatný and Ferdinand Peroutka.
In 1960, Meda and Jan moved to Washington, D.C. where Jan continued his work as a director of the IMF. Meda studied art at Johns Hopkins University, and the pair started a foundation to promote Central European art in the United States. Meda regularly returned to Czechoslovakia, where she made contact with prominent Czechoslovak artists and provided opportunities for their works in the United States. She organized a well-received exhibit concerning Central European art in the 1960s and 1970s at the Hirshhorn Museum.
Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Meda decided to return to Czechoslovakia on a more permanent basis. She donated the couple’s art collection to the city of Prague (Jan had died just prior to the fall of communism), and founded the Museum Kampa, a modern art gallery on the site of Sova’s Mills on Kampa Island. Meda has been given many awards for her contributions to Czech art and culture, including, most recently, the Gratias Agit award from the Foreign Ministry for ‘promoting the good name of the Czechs abroad.’ Today Meda splits her time between Prague and Washington, D.C.
Meda left Czechoslovakia in 1946
“I saw horrible things here when the Russians came, and I was totally shocked. It was horrible, horrible how the Czechs behaved badly to the last Germans here. It was something unbelievable; it’s starting to come out now slowly. I didn’t want to live here, and I went to Vienna. I spent several years in Vienna, and from Vienna – the Gestapo were looking for me – I went to Switzerland.”
While living in Washington, D.C., Meda worked to promote Czechoslovak artists in the United States
“The artists would come, I would find them scholarships, and they stayed with me. For example, [Jiří] Kolář, [Stanislav] Kolíbal, they all had shows; I arranged them. Glass shows [that] traveled through all of America. I helped them a lot, I think. And also, buying them. That was, for them, very important.”
And did American audiences, in your experience, react well to this Czech art that you were presenting, or was it quite unusual for them?
“I did a show which was called Expressiv where I also [included] the Poles and Yugoslavs, and it was a sensation in America. I have articles and articles [about it].”
Meda returned to her home country and founded a modern art gallery, Museum Kampa
“I came, and immediately I said I will give all our art to Prague.”
Why did you want to do that?
“Because I realized that they needed it. I was the only one who had it. The sculpture by [Novchorecky] would not exist; there was no space to put and he would have had to destroy it. My husband loved this country so much, so it was my duty to do it.”
What was the central idea of Sovovy mlýny [Museum Kampa] when you opened it? To present Czech art?
“Central European art. Everywhere the Russians occupied. And it’s very similar. Artists from, say, Hungary or Yugoslavia from the same period – you may not even realize who is Czech and who is Yugoslav. Because they were living under the same pressure. No freedom. And they are very, very similar.”
Category: Oral History