Famous for outraging everybody from the Soviets to the upper echelons of the EU with his artistic antics, David Cerny has always believed that a message should stand out in his art: “That’s why it’s called art and not “design” – it must have something behind it”. Here, we let Prague’s foremost artist speak for himself about some of the feelings behind his powerful public sculptures, as well as his take on his hometown.
Quo Vadis is one of your most famous sculptures. Can you tell us about its background and meaning?
I based that piece on the reunion of Germany. It symbolised the movement’s beginning. Prague played a major role in the collapse of Communism in the so called ‘Velvet’ Revolution.
Do you have any projects on the go at the moment?
So many. Perhaps five right now. But that’s nothing compared to the dozen more I have on post-it notes stuck all over my computer screen.
Can you give us any details?
I have, rather surprisingly perhaps, four building designs in the process as I’m working on establishing an architectural studio. That’s alongside a few international and local sculpture inquiries I’m dealing with.
Are there any particular works that you’re especially proud of?
Well, of course, but I can’t point the good ones out because that’ll show you the bad ones!
What’s your favourite medium to work with?
I like outdoor materials because they are idiot-proof. Not just conceptually, but because people who attempt to destroy them usually fail.
Speaking of cathedrals, St. Nicholas Cathedral is among the most famous Baroque structures in the city. Situated on Malá Strana and visible from the Charles Bridge (the iconic green Baroque dome makes it easy to spot), make sure to venture inside the cathedral to see the beautiful frescoes on the ceiling by Viennese artist Jan Lukas Kracker – as well as the organ, which Mozart himself played in the 18th century.
All the rage in the 19th century, Historicism was a concept liberally applied to architecture in Prague. Channeling the architectural styles of bygone eras, the National Theatre building and the National Museum are quintessential examples of this period in building, both being highly decorated, grand Neo-Renaissance structures designed to evoke the Italianate designs of the Renaissance. Similarly, the State Opera building is another homage to history, but this time of the beautiful Neo-Classical persuasion – don’t miss the mythological figures in the triangular frieze on the outside of the building.
For a touch of ornamental Art Nouveau on your architecture tour of Prague – and to take us swinging into the 20th century – make sure to stop off at the Municipal House to take in its colourful, opulent façade. And, for something a bit different, check out the concrete Cubist Lamp Post (think: Picasso made 3D), just around the corner from Wenceslas Square – the only such structure in existence.
The Villa Müller, a house designed by Adolf Loos in the late 1920s, best typifies Functionalist architecture in Prague – the design of function and utility, not fancy – with its clean lines and bold, “modern” aesthetic. And, for a dose of Communist Prague, few buildings exemplify this era quite so vividly as the solid, unsentimental Former Parliament Building at the top of Wenceslas Square, which is now home to a wing of the National Museum.
To conclude our tour of architecture in Prague, we move into the 1980s and ‘90s. Built in the “high-tech” architectural style, the TV Tower is now one of Prague’s “thousand towers”, albeit it is a strikingly modern, metallic one – perhaps best known for its sinister crawling babies.
Also well worth a look is the award-winning mid-90s Dancing House, designed by Vlado Milunič and architect-extraordinaire Frank Gehry. This dynamic building is so named for its curved shape and sense of movement. Book a table at restaurant Ginger & Fred (get it?) for fine French fare and views over the Vltava River.