Public Art of Prague

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Traditional public art of Prague: Wenceslas Monument above Saint Wenceslas Square (photo courtesy of pinterest.com)

Victims of Communism

By: Emma Livingston, Staff Writer

Amidst the old buildings and prominent statues of men on horses that dominate the streets of Prague, there are hidden gems of public sculptures, sometimes playful, sometimes disturbing, that give the city a modern, often sardonic twist. Here are some examples:

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Monument to Franz Kafka (photo courtesy of Emma Livingston)

This monument to famous Czech author, Franz Kafka, by sculptor Jaroslav Rona sits near the Spanish Synagogue in Prague’s Jewish quarter. The sculpture is inspired by one of Kafka’s earliest works, the short story “Description of a Struggle.” In this story, the narrator describes riding on the back of a new acquaintance through the streets of Prague. Tourists have taken to rubbing the giant’s crotch for good luck.

The Memorial to the Victims of Communism is a quite disturbing series of statues located at the base of the Petrin hill (famous for Prague’s version of the Eiffel Tower perched at the top). This sculpture was designed by Czech artist Olbram Zoubek along with the architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel. The statues show the figure of a human man disintegrating more and more at each subsequent level of stairs until he is nothing but a pair of legs and a sliver of torso by the top stair. A bronze ribbon runs along the ground in front of the memorial, listing the victims of Communism: 205,486 arrested, 4500 died in prison, etc. The statue was very controversial when it was unveiled in 2002, and was itself the victim of a bomb blast that damaged one of the figures in 2003. The perpetrators of this crime were never found.

Victims of Communism
Memorial to the Victims of Communism (photo courtesy of Sarunyu Thepbunchonchai)

No discussion of the Prague’s public art scene would be complete without mentioning Prague’s most controversial, irreverent and ubiquitous sculptor, David Černý. I first came upon the work of this artist during a walking tour of Prague’s Old Town. In the middle of a traffic circle, a 6-meter high pregnant woman flaunts her stainless steel body in a pose reminiscent of a pin-up model from the 1950s.

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Reporter Emma Livingston with the Cersky statue “In Utero” (photo courtesy of Sarunyu Thepbunchonchai)

David Černý, a sculptor born in Prague, first made a name for himself in 1991 when he painted a Soviet tank war memorial pink as an act of civil disobedience. His work tends to be provocative and controversial, such as this fountain, called “Piss” outside the Kafka museum in Prague. The fountain, which depicts two men peeing onto a map of the Czech Republic, is at once vulgar and playful. The men’s hips swivel and their bronze penises spell out words visitors text to a number listed on the plaque in front of the statue.

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Another playfully irreverent sculpture is “Brown nosers” at the Futura contemporary free art space. To see the art installation, visitors have to climb the ladder leading up a pair of giant legs and look into the fiberglass anus. This leads to some very interesting photo opportunities:

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“Brown-nosers” (photo courtesy of gatsten.wordpress.com)

Finally, Černý’s most beloved artwork must be “Babies” the ten enormous fiberglass sculptures of babies with bar codes for faces that climb up the ugly Zizkov TV Tower. These babies were removed from the tower in 2001, but the public was so outraged that they were reinstated soon after.

Babies on the Tower
david-cerny-hanging-babies “Babies” climb the Žižkov Television Tower (Photos courtesy of Emma Livingston and www.private-prague-guide.com)

These works of public art bring a touch of modernity and playfulness to this old and stately city and are yet another reason to come wander the streets of Prague.