The Art of Prague
My first and last experience of Prague before this year was as a 13 year old on a youth orchestra tour in 1994 and while I can vaguely remember the Old Town, that is where my memory of the city ends. I am currently on a mission to revisit the tour cities of my youth now that I am old enough to truly appreciate what I am seeing and Prague was one of the first on my list. I was particularly interested to see what the music scene was like today of course, and I expected to be amazed by the local history and architecture, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of art available around the city at every turn.
This post is only going to cover just a fraction of what can be found around the streets of Prague. Art has a place in almost every city in the world and it wasn’t until I found myself happening upon some interesting and sometimes wacky pieces of street art that I thought about finding out what more Prague had to offer. It was a journey that led me to one of the greatest art exhibitions that I have ever seen; a journey that I feel compelled to share with you.
One sight that I had planned to see was the John Lennon Wall. I mentioned this collaborative mural dedicated to love and peace in my article ‘Prague - 5 Tourist Traps to Avoid and 5 to Embrace’ and it certainly deserves a mention here too. Originally an outlet for disgruntled youths who felt defiance with the world and with the political situation in the Czech Republic, the John Lennon Wall is now an ever changing piece of art with offerings from locals and international visitors alike who feel the need to share a message with the world.
John Lennon's Portrait
You could spend hours upon hours here reading and deciphering the many messages against war and discord and for world peace, there are hundreds of them, possibly thousands hidden under the new layers of paint. Some are new and vivid and some are old and partially covered, but one thing they have in common is the idea of an international community of people sharing the idea of peace. The messages are moving, the quotes are emotional and strangely, so is the atmosphere around the wall. You can’t help but feel lost in the moment and and optimistic about the world.
Moving Messages for Peace
The mixture of colours is overwhelming and they paint a picture of hope and happiness. It is also a work of art that you can feel connected to in so many ways. You recognise the desperation in the words shared and you feel a part of their fight. You can even buy a pot of paint and add to the creation yourself. Perhaps most wonderfully, it is a piece of art that will forever change. It will be different, yet current and relevant each and every time you see it.
People of the World Share Their Thoughts
Aside from the John Lennon Wall, I hadn’t considered chasing art as an activity in Prague, but sometimes these things are meant to be. You cannot walk anywhere in Prague without coming across one or two of the city’s sculptures. They are everywhere! From the replica statues on the Charles Bridge to the weird and wacky creations of local artist David Cerny, sculptures can be found in the most unexpected of places. These are just some of what I came across while on my feet and best of all, they were all free to admire!
Prague's Franz kafka Statue
The Statue of Franz Kafka, an author born in Prague and now regarded as one of the major figures of 20th century literature, can be found on Vezenska in the Jewish Quarter of Prague. His works are known to fuse elements of realism with the fantastic, they have a sense of surrealism and absurdity, ideas that have certainly been explored through the many works of art inspired by him. The Statue of Kafka by artist Jaroslav Rona has certainly drawn on his style. The sculpture is based on a scene from Kafka’s first novel, ‘Amerika’, in which a political candidate is help on the shoulders of giant man during a campaign rally and is carried through the streets.
Josef Klimes' "Wild Girls", Franciscan Garden, Prague
Lost behind Wenceslas Square is the stunning baroque oasis, the Franciscan Garden. It is well worth the time and effort to hunt down this space for its attractiveness and people watching opportunities alone, but you will also find some wonderful sculptures on display here. The centre piece is a work by artists Josef Klimes. At first I thought the artist was projecting the idea of fallen angels and to be honest it took some effort to find out anything about these hallowed beings. It turns out that the work is simply called ‘Divozenky’, which means ‘Wild Girls’.
The Faces of the "Wild Girls", Franciscan Garden, Prague
Another addition to the Franciscan Garden are these odd looking sculptures of hollow men, covered in what I assume are bullet holes. Another work I can find no information about, my interpretation is that it represents the many victims of communism. If any of my readers have any information about this work, please feel free to share!
Men with Bullet Holes?
The official Memorial to the Victims of Communism is located at the base of Petrin Hill in the Lesser Town area. The work of Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek shows seven bronze figures descending a flight of stairs, each one appearing more decayed the further away they are from you. Some are without limbs, some with parts of their bodies broken away. There is also a bronze strip running along the centre of the work showing the numbers of those affected by communism.
Memorial to the Victims of Communism
The plaque nearby reads, “The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed, but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism”. 205,468 were arrested, 170,938 were forced into exile, 4,500 died in prison, 327 were shot trying to escape and 248 were executed.
The Decaying Bodies of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism
Don Giovanni, an opera by Mozart which depicts the ego and confidence of a young man who thinks he is invincible. While attempting to seduce a young woman, Don Giovanni becomes embroiled in a duel with her father, the Commendatore. Giovanni kills the man and goes on with his flirtatious and egotistical ways. Later in the opera, he comes across the statue at the grave of the Commendatore marked “Here am I waiting for revenge against the scoundrel who killed me”. The statue warns that Giovanni’s laughter would not last beyond sunrise and the statue is invited to dinner. When Giovanni rejects the statue at his house, demons descend upon him and pull him to his fate in hell.
Don Giovanni Statue, Estate Theatre, Prague
Outside the Estate Theatre in Prague (where Mozart debuted this opera) stands the statue of the Commendatore by Czech artist Anna Chromy.
As soon as I had been impressed by the amount of interesting works of art scattered across the streets of Prague, I decided to research if there was anything that I should be specifically looking for and as soon as you google ‘art in Prague’, the name David Cerny fills your screen. In hindsight, the works of this man should have been firmly on my radar and he should be on yours too. You could spend an entire day walking around the city in search of his art installations, but you are also likely to come across one or two by accident. His art encapsulates a sense of the city’s history and strangely his art doesn’t feel out of place, despite its risqué connotations.
David Cerny's Peeing Statues at the Franz Kafka Museum
The controversial artist has become something of a national hero to the Czech Republic over the years and he continues to produce works that are shocking and incredibly symbolic of the state of the world today. He first came to prominence in 1991 when he painted a Soviet tank pink, creating a war memorial in central Prague. The Monument to Soviet tank crews was a national cultural monument at the time and his artwork was considered to be an act of civil disobedience and he was arrested. The monument was then painted pink once again by members of parliament in protest of his arrest. Since then, a huge number of his notorious sculptures have appeared on he streets of Prague and trying to find them all has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
David Cerny's Work Can be Found all Over Prague
His installation ‘Pistole NY’ displayed four gigantic guns laid out across a street in the shape of a cross. The guns shoot out the sounds of slamming doors, flushing toilets and brakes, possibly a metaphor for domestic violence killing more than actual bullets do. ‘Shark’ was a monument of Sadam Hussein floating in a tank of formaldehyde, created a year before his execution. It was meant to poke fun at Damien Hirts’s ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ and was banned in Poland and Brussels. Two giant statues installed next to each other with ladders leading up to their behinds was named ‘Brown Nosers’, with videos inside the bottoms showing footage of Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the head of the National Gallery, Milan Knizak spoon feeding each other. The inspiration behind the work is a metaphor of Czech politics, but also makes fun of the many citizens who complain about the politics without taking action against it.
The Peeing Statues Write Messages in the Water