Activists pour blood-red substance in Vltava to protest alleged ‘misuse’ of Mánes art gallery

Photo: CTK

The Vltava River at Prague’s Mánes exhibition hall turned blood-red on Monday afternoon, after activists from an art group calling themselves Bolt958 poured an unknown substance into the water. The group charged that the famous art gallery “was bleeding”. The protest was over how the space, in their view, is being misused.

Photo: CTK
The Mánes Exhibition Hall is one of Prague’s best-known art galleries, with a history dating back to the 1920s. In past years, the hall, run by the Mánes Union of Fine Arts, featured well-known artists such as Petr Nikl or Milan Knížák. The river around gallery also regularly features floating installations as part of the annual Sculpture Line, which is the case even now – a sculpture of a giant octopus by artist Paluš Viktor.

But it was something different that was floating on the surface of the Vltava on Monday, after activists from a group calling itself Bolt958 criticized the management of the gallery for often leasing the space for commercial presentations and non-artistic purposes. They charged on Monday that “Mánes is bleeding” and to prove it poured buckets of blood-red liquid into the water. Soon, red water stretched all the way from Mánes to the nearby National Theatre.

For the most of the afternoon, tourists and many passers-by stopped to take videos or pictures, some of them paddling through the fake blood in row boats close to the octopus installation nearby. The police were called in to investigate while fire fighters checked the liquid. Martin Kavka is the spokesman for Prague’s fire brigade.

Photo: CTK
“We were able to determine that the substance was not on the list of dangerous substances. In all likelihood, an inorganic pigment used in paints.”

Mr Kavka added that the substance would not negatively impact the environment. The police found that the group, meanwhile, had committed no crime; the red colour splattered on the site was washed off, and no charges, iDnes reported, were being filed.

Mánes organisers have fielded criticism before: critics charge they failed to communicate with the art community, or that the administrative board dealt in a non-transparent manner. Bolt958 claimed that Mánes - now having 'bled out' - was now “beginning to smell” and made clear the protest move was to provoke debate. The head of the administrative board, Petr Kuthan, summed up the situation and responded by saying he had no problem talking to the group.

Photo: CTK
“The building was not damaged. The caretaker we have reacted quickly and whitewashed areas splashed with the red colour. I have spoken with members of the group before but they never got in touch since. If they want to contact me, I have no problem with that.”

It should be noted that, public protests by artists or art groups have something of a tradition in the Czech Republic: two years ago members of the group Ztohoven made international headlines when they replaced a flag above Prague Castle with giant red underpants; artist David Černý also got attention when he floated a giant middle finger on the Vltava River two years earlier. That, and the underpants, were both criticism of the current Czech president.