See a giant sand worm aka Olgoj Chorchoj

The Museum of Applied Arts of the Moravian Gallery is currently hosting a fascinating temporary exhibition of the work of the Czech design studio, Olgoj Chorchoj (OCH).

Virtually unpronounceable for foreigners, Olgoj Chorchoj turns out to be the name of a mythical giant sand worm in Mongolia. According to legend, this poisonous creature lives in the Gobi Desert and is fatal to anyone who sees it. Local herdsmen are reported to be so terrified of it that they will not even speak its name.

The connection with contemporary Western architecture and design may seem tenuous, but for award-winning Czech designers, Michal Froněk and Jan Němeček, it was their fascination with sci-fi that attracted them to the legend and led them to choose Olgoj Chorchoj as their design ‘trademark’ in 1990. After all, why establish a creative enterprise with a forgettable, unimaginative brand?

Now in their fifties, the pair first began to work together while still students at the Prague Academy of Art, Architecture and Design.

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There, they were inspired by the charismatic postmodern designer and architect, Bořek Šípek, who invited them and 13 of their fellow students (including the now celebrated sculptor, David Černý) to visit his studio in Amsterdam.

That fortnight in Holland was critical to the emerging designers in establishing their first post-revolutionary contacts and was the beginning of Olgoj Chorchoj. The design philosophy which began to develop then has continued to be central to the work of Froněk and Němeček and they remain committed to the production of high quality, globally competitive Czech design which, irrespective of the material used, is characterised by a deliberate juxtaposition of purpose and beauty, of rationality and elegance, of logic and emotion.

Entitled OCH! The Logic of Emotion, the temporary exhibition currently occupying the ground floor of the Museum of Applied Arts in Husova 14 is the most extensive presentation yet mounted of the designers’ work and presents a retrospective of their contribution to Czech design over the past 25 years.

Curated by art historian, Lada Hubatová-Vacková, in close collaboration with the two designers and Rostislav Koryčánek, the cleverly designed exhibition is based on themes rather than a time-line, and has excellent bi-lingual signage. The exhibition is complemented by a program of workshops and other activities.

OCH! marks the end of the Museum’s Year of Design and will occupy the ground floor galleries until 16 April, but exploring the permanent collection of the Museum of Applied Arts is rewarding at any time and well worth the cost of admission (approximately 100 CZK).

Founded in 1873, the Museum became part of the Moravian Gallery when it was established just over 50 years ago. Now beautifully refurbished, its spacious galleries are accessible by lift or via the elegant stairs, and the well-designed displays are supported by informative signage in both Czech and English. And don’t forget to look up – the ceilings are beautiful.

The collection ranges from magnificent examples of the work of mediaeval artisans to pieces created in the instantly recognisable Art Deco style of the early 20th century. Although the collection runs the full gamut from vast wardrobes and Faience stoves to jewellery and delicate glass, it has been superbly curated and gives the visitor a painless and unforgettable lesson in the history of design and the decorative arts in Europe.

The Museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but has very ‘visitor friendly’ hours Wednesday to Sunday (10.00 – 18.00) and on Thursdays (10.00 – 19.00 pm). It offers over 30 exhibitions a year as well as workshops and other programs for children, adults, teachers, seniors and the disabled, including a special collection of works for the blind.

Events to watch for in the near future are Brno Museum Night in May, Night in the Gallery in September – and there’s the 28th International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno to look forward to next year.

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Judith Anderson is the former Manager of Queensland Ballet in Australia and currently a speech-writer for the Queensland Governor.

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