Conran in conversation with Lydia Cowpertwait, Director of DAIS

Conran and Partners and Dais Contemporary recently collaborated on the refurbishment of Hotel Maximillian, a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Prague, Czech Republic. Conran chatted to Lydia Cowpertwait, Director of Dais Contemporary, about their process:

C - As part of the refurbishment of Hotel Maximilian in Prague, Conran and Partners enlisted Dais Contemporary to help bring the internal spaces to life with a bespoke art collection. Tell us a bit about your brief?

L - Every time we work with Conran and Partners the brief always starts with the Conran design concept and the vision for the space. After discussing this in detail, we then respond with a selection of artworks that we feel are complementary to that vision. With Hotel Maximilian, the designers at Conran were inspired by the Czech avant-garde artist Karel Teige and the cultural movements that he advocated in Prague. So the art concepts we put together stemmed from this influence.

C- Our design approach for the hotel reflects the cultural and architectural heritage of the urban context, how did this concept help to shape your curation?

L - Yes this was a great aspect to the project. The hotel is made up of two conjoining buildings, one of which was connected with Karel Teige in the 1920’s’. Karel Teige promoted Avant Garde art movements in Prague including surrealism, poetism (which was initiated by his group the Devetsil), and various strands of modernism. In 2005 the interiors of Maximilian were renovated to designs by modernist Czech architect Eva Jiricná. Conran and Partners chose for these historical and cultural influences to be the pivotal sources of inspiration for their design approach. Consequently these art movements shaped the art collection that we put together for the building. Some of the artworks chosen reflect a modernist appreciation of simple colour and form whilst others reference Teige’s poeticism. This includes playful photographic collage works by artists Alma Haser, Steven Quinn and Piotr Krzymowski. What we liked about this is that modernism, and the other cultural philosophies that Karel Teige promoted, have been less celebrated in Prague. So to see these influences come to life in the hotel’s spaces feels like a breath of fresh air and is a great way of unearthing some of Prague’s more obscure and interesting cultural history.

C- Tell us about some of your favourite pieces in the collection?

L - One of my favourites is a commissioned triptych we provided by Swedish artist Robin Seir for the lounge. Two of the works are acrylic on canvas and the other one is a beautiful copper relief work. Each artwork is simple in its visual language. In his practice the artist breaks down and transforms lettering, logos and other signifiers from society, attempting to strip them of their meaning and focus instead on pure form and colour. This speaks with the modernist principles that Karel Teige promoted in Prague and I felt once the works were hung they are really harmonious with the Conran and Partners designed interiors.

C - What colours inspired the collection you put together?

L - Hotel Maximilian sits in a row of historic 19th-century buildings on Haštalská street close to Prague’s Old Town Square. The row of houses are well known in Prague for their vibrant assortment of pastel colours, which is a distinguishing feature of architecture in Prague at large. This became an obvious source of inspiration for Conran and Partners design concept, and also for us with the choice of artworks we put forward. So you will see that Conran and Partners’ designs and the artworks on display show a subtle reverence to this use of colour.

C - How did you select which artists to collaborate with?

L - I get asked this question a lot. We have a roster of artists that we always work with but each new project brings a new set of challenges and so we often find ourselves searching for new artists and new artworks that will suit the brief. We find artists through galleries and exhibitions, which is obvious territory, but we also use the Internet a lot these days too. Platforms like Instagram, for example, are a great resource. It connects you with a broad range of new and exciting work that you might not see anywhere else. With Hotel Maximilian, as with all our projects, it was important to us that the artworks connect with the space and Conran and Partners’ designs on a conceptual level, as well as an aesthetic one. This makes things more tricky in terms of sourcing the artworks but it always feels worth it when we do this because it adds authenticity to what it is we are doing, and it weaves a narrative that visitors will remember.

C - In total how many pieces are in the collection?

L - Other than the artworks in the bedrooms there are 16 artworks ranging from smaller pieces to much larger scale works.

C - How did your focus change from selecting pieces for the guestrooms compared to the common areas?

L - Depending on the room type you get different works and I would say comparatively with the public areas the bedrooms have more playful pieces, which adds a light hearted touch to these spaces. The standard bedrooms all have prints from Karel Teige’s Alphabet collage series that were printed and framed. This ties in nicely with the inspiration behind the project as a whole. For the suite bedrooms, we provided large-scale contemporary collages by London-based artist Steven Quinn. These works are inspired by the work of Teige and are a playful series featuring dancers from the 1920’s and 50’s set amongst collaged landscapes from Europe. We also provided a unique black and white surrealist photograph by Spanish photographer Chema Madoz for the grand suite of the hotel.

C - How does the collection blend the old with the new? What binds the collection together?

L - The collection features prints of Karel Teige’s collage works, which he made in the 1920’s. So this is the historical feature of the art collection. These are then juxtaposed with various modern artworks, which were made by contemporary artists. The nice aspect of this is that the modern works also pay homage to Karel Teige’s practice as an artist, and his philosophical ideas. So whether it be modernist principles of simple colour and form or more surrealist and playful approaches to image making that you can see, there is a range of interesting artworks that are lively and stimulating to enjoy; and they all play their part in telling a story that explores the history of Hotel Maximilian’s building and Prague itself.