For quite some time the Czechs have had a history of being innovators in the art world, from Alphonse Mucha, a key figure in the development of Art Nouveau to the breathtaking antiquity of Gothic and neoclassical. Throughout history the Prague art sphere has had a strong connection with the avant garde, at the forefront of artistic movements. This has attracted many artistic circles to the city, both domestic and international. And right now the Czech capital is bursting with bizarre, thought-provoking and striking contemporary art – you just have to look in the right places.
The city is home to some of the best contemporary art galleries in the country, and indeed the world. DOX Centre for Contemporary Art is one of the best known, situated in the charming neighbourhood of Holešovice it is a hub of all things creative. After opening in 2008, the gallery has shown over 100 exhibitions that never fail to display forward-thinking. The space also frequently has shows, panel discussions, education programmes and lectures.
Currently, an exhibition called Art-Brut-All is attracting a lot of attention. It features an exploration into the metal rock subculture and the principles in which it operates, developing a commentary into the broader social trends. Another exhibition features the work of architect Eva Jiřičná, on the occasion of her 80th birthday, celebrating a life of success in a male-dominated industry. These exhibitions finish in October and December respectively, so make sure to have a look if you’re in the city.
Alongside DOX are many other galleries at the forefront of the Czech contemporary scene, dotted around Prague. Leica Gallery, situated in the bustling new town is famous for its vast selection of national and international photographic work, while Dvorak Sec focuses on giving a platform to new and emerging artists.
Meet Factory is another place of notable mention – a contemporary art centre that aims to bridge the gap that so often comes with the art world by making it accessible and fun for the public to enjoy. The gallery is comprised of three different spaces that aim to establish a dialogue between various genres, including street art and a live music venue. Meet Factory is also one of the only spaces with an international artist-in-residence programme, being sure to bring the creative sphere to the capital.
We can’t talk of the Prague contemporary art scene without of course talking about the weird and wonderful sculptures that decorate the city. Many tourists will note the stone men holding onto their umbrellas along a power line, or the giant faceless babies that crawl up and down the TV tower in Žižkov. Dotted around the old cobblestoned streets is a diverse display of contemporary sculpture, much of which can be attributed to Prague-born, international artist David Černý.
Černý has been much of the controversial figure in the art world. His work often features political satire and social commentary that is slightly bent with absurdity. Černý’s sculpture can be seen all around Prague as the city embraces the mentally refreshing, quirky and bizarre. A notable example of his work is his statue of St Wenceslas that appears to be riding a dead, upside-down horse. This is a parody of the Czech patron saint, appearing all too proud and victorious while sitting on something so obviously wrong.
Perhaps Černý’s most famous work is Entropa, a piece commissioned by the Czech Republic to celebrate its presidency of the Council of the European Union. The work was supposed to be a collaboration with 26 other artists, however, Černý merely forged the other artist’s names and with three assistants, created satirical and stereotypical embodiments of each member state. This included Polish priests erecting an LGBT flag, Portugal as three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies (Brazil, Angola and Mozambique) and leaving the UK as an empty space on the board, citing its euroscepticism. While causing outrage at the time, it was displayed in Brussels and Prague and is seen as the epitome of Černý’s political commentary.
Prague is also home to some striking modern architecture that instantly juxtaposes with the beautiful old cathedrals and halls. The most notable of these is the Dancing House, a design that has become rather emblematic of the city, and quite hard to miss. The piece was designed by Czech-Croatian artist Vlado Milunić in collaboration with Canadian-American Frank Gehry and is a must-see for anyone visiting the city.
In brief, Prague is developing as a bustling art capital, willing to embrace the quirky and controversial: not something to miss out on.
Photo: Meet Factory official Facebook page