That Prague is a city with many historical sites and attractions you have already guessed by now, but what will surprise you is to know that it is also rich in street art. In particular, in recent years you can admire the sculptures of Czech artist David Cerny in various parts of the city. He has become internationally famous for his often provocative, out-of-the-ordinary and difficult to interpret works.
In Prague, his creations can be found both in the Old Town area and on the other side of Moldova and in most cases there is no meaning or explanation expressed by the artist as Cerny always leaves it up to each observer to interpret his works.
Viselec (meaning ‘hanging’) is undoubtedly one of Cerny’s most famous works as it is located in the Old Town district at the intersection of Husova Street and Betlémské Street. Here, looking up, one can see a metal bar sticking out of the roof of a building, from which hangs a statue of Sigmund Freud. Looking at the sculpture, one can see that the psychoanalyst is holding onto the bar with his right hand while his left hand is in his pocket.
Installed around 1997, it seems that the artist wanted to express with this work the combination of feelings that the arrival of the new millennium provoked in him.
In the New Town district, on the other hand, there is a sculpture entitled ‘Kun’, which means horse in Czech and features St Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic and Bohemia. The work depicts Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, sitting on the belly of a dead horse hanging by its legs from the ceiling. Made of expanded polystyrene and epoxy resins in 1999, the statue is 470 cm high and 270 cm long and was installed inside the Lucerne Palace on Wenceslas Square.
Not far from Wenceslas on Horseback is also Kafka’s Head, the work representing the face of the famous Bohemian writer born in Prague in 1883. The sculpture is 10.6 metres high and consists of no less than 42 rotating stainless steel panels. It is considered one of the most famous examples of kinetic art.
In the 2000s during the preparation of ‘Prague – European City of Culture’ David Cerny created the giant statues of these children who seem to crawl along the façade of the building. Originally created as a temporary installation for the event, this work was then a great success and the children remained permanently. Their uniqueness lies not only in their size (length of 350 cm and height of 260 cm) but also in the fact that a barcode was placed instead of a face. Similar bronze sculptures were also installed in front of the museum on the island of Kampa.
This area of the city is also home to the work ‘The Pissing Men‘, which depicts statues of two men urinating on a small pond whose shape is reminiscent of the Czech Republic. The creation is located right in front of the Franz Kafka Museum and was created by Cerny in 2004.
In the Karlin district is Cerny’s work depicting a woman holding up a building. The work symbolises solidarity and the need we have for other people in order to live, and pays homage to the nearby Invalidovna (House of the Disabled), built in 1737 by architect Kilian Dientzenhofer on the model of the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris.
The work consists of three separate statues that weigh a total of 60 tonnes and are made of stainless steel with a mirror-polished surface. The largest statue, Lilith, 24 metres high and weighing 35 tonnes, turns its head 180° after midnight; the other two works are an arm and a leg!
Moving to the other side of the Vltava, one finds several interesting works by Cerny. In particular, on Kinsky Square you can admire a tank that was made in 1991.
The tank body was made by David Černý to commemorate the anniversary of the Soviet occupation of the Czech lands and was supposed to be a temporary installation. Eventually, it was decided to leave the work here permanently to commemorate the years of the communist period.
Another historical work is ‘Quo Vadis’ (from the Latin ‘Where are you going?’), which is on display at the German Embassy Park in Prague in the Malá Strana district. The sculpture depicts a Trabant, a typical car of the time, to which four legs have been added as if the car were fleeing. The work is a tribute to the many Germans who lived in East Germany and fled to the West with only the bare essentials, often leaving their cars behind.
Also in the New Town district is the work entitled Three Women on a House, which depicts sculptures of three women engaged in three different activities. The work was created to decorate the façade of the Deym Palace, an 18th century building that was created from the union of three medieval houses. Major renovations were carried out around 1721 by Count Václav Ignác Deym of Střítěž, after whom the palace was named.
Another work that has long been the focus of controversy is “In Utero“, a large sculpture representing a kneeling pregnant woman holding her head. Made of stainless steel, the work can also be visited inside because the artist wants to give visitors the idea of returning to the mother’s womb. Initially the creation was installed in an area of the Old Town but then due to controversy it was moved out of the city, to the Galerie Golf Hostivař.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
David Černý is a Czech sculptor whose works aim to make the public reflect on various political, philosophical and ethical issues. One of the first works he created was the tank body installed in Prague in the early 1990s to commemorate the Russian invasion of 1968; this was followed by many other creations that have made the artist famous even outside the Czech territory. In particular, in 2005 Černý presented for the Prague Art Biennial a highly controversial work entitled ‘Shark’, which depicted the body of Saddam Hussein submerged in a vat of liquid.
This much-debated episode was followed a few years later by a European one. To inaugurate its presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2009, the Czech government commissioned Černý to create a sculpture. The title of the creation created was ‘Entropa’ and it represented the 27 EU member states of the time in a stereotypical and ironic way.
However, the representation provoked strong reactions from several European states such as Bulgaria and Slovakia who felt offended by the depiction. Therefore Entropa was removed early from the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels where it had been installed and from there the work was moved to the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague.
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