Life and a question on a busy Prague plaza

Czech Position

More than a short cut; the gray space behind the National Theater in Prague is coming to life with a sculpture of a naked green man

The plaza between the glass-encased New Stage (Nová Scéna) and the National Theater is perhaps best known as a pedestrian short cut — but that is changing. Marcela Straková, who is responsible for the New Stage’s fundraising, international cooperation and visual arts projects, says they don’t just want action happening inside the theater, but all around it as well, and the small gray square is prime target.

“We want to bring life to the square; many people pass through on their way to somewhere else,” she told Czech Position. “We want the art to co-exist with the weather. … Now people can enjoy this statue while walking by. In summer, we prefer projects that allow them to spend some time in the square and enjoy it.”

If you cut through the plaza now, you won’t be able to miss “Co víme” (What We Know) by sculptor Jirí Streda. Visitors stop and stand next to the statue of an aqua-green, life-size, anatomically correct naked man to see what he is pointing at. He looks as if he was walking across the square when something caught his eye.

Is he pointing at the sky? The roof of the National Theater? Giving thanks to God, like a victorious athlete? Or is there something fleeting there only seen by him? His lips are slightly parted, as if saying, “Look!” His face holds a slightly puzzled expression, but it doesn’t seem to be because he has just discovered he’s standing naked in the middle of Prague.

“Co víme” follows the principles of constructing statues and follows the regulations and rules of sculptures, art historian Dušan Brozman said at the installation’s opening. But it also brings humor and lightness to a theme that connects with the art form, which is usually used to express the serious, permanent and eternal values of humanity, he added.

Bronze and color

Straková said they were looking for something a bit different when choosing this piece. “We wanted to have a change; usually we create things that come from the space, we ask artists to design something for this square,” she explained. “This time, we wanted to show variety so that people can see a classic sculpture, and we also wanted a mid-generation artist as we usually work with younger artists.”

“Co víme” was created in 2001 and has been displayed in two other locations in the Czech Republic. The installation was done in cooperation with the BonArt Association, whom Straková said has a long working relationship with Streda. The New Stage originally applied for a grant from the City of Prague to do the installation, but it was rejected. The New Stage decided to go ahead with the project anyway because, as Straková said, “we thought people would appreciate it.”

The piece was first cast in clay and then in plaster, which allowed Streda to work with it. Eventually he designed it in bronze to get the color he wanted.

“This is the third [version] of the same statue. The first two pieces were also greenish, but not as much and I wanted a greener version, which this is,” Streda told Czech Position. “When I first saw it I thought maybe it was too much, but after a couple of minutes I realized it was exactly what I wanted.”

Streda explained that he is interested in society and people, and trying to express what people’s imaginations could be. “It’s a long-term process — thinking about what people may think,” he added.

Public art continues

The New Stage has been installing a variety of projects on the square since the National Theater took over operation of the building in January 2010. You may remember discarded Christmas trees set up in the space in January; a grassy green “picnic” platform planted last summer or the intriguing light displays on the building’s façade. Straková said two upcoming projects will be created in conjunction with the Street for Art festival in May and the Prague Quadrennial in June.

She’s pleased with “Co víme” but does have one wish. “I think it fits really well, but I would prefer it to be alone,” she said. Currently the square also has a photo history of black light theater and a second permanent sculpture. “Then there is more of a message. But if it can’t have the space alone, it must co-exist and I like the dialogue — a bright fresh statue is here.”

Streda agrees that the statue fits the space and is happy with the result. “In my statues, I try to create something objective, not a particular person but an ideal,” he said. “I’m trying to use the most minimal form; it’s obvious it is a figure, but a simplified one, an abstraction.”