Grand sculptures take root on Wenceslas Square

Richard Ketko and his sculpture 'Mission completed', photo: CTK

Prague's busy Wenceslas Square is now host to the international festival "Sculpture Grande 2004", which opened this week under the very loose theme of European integration. Brian Kenety went along to the vernissage at the Gallery Art Factory and has this report.

Richard Ketko and his sculpture 'Mission completed',  photo: CTK
You are listening to the sound of sculpture.

Actually, it's an endless loop recording of a Mercedes A160 rapidly accelerating, possibly on the autobahn, and presumably driven by the German artist who conceived the piece.

What you've just heard is part of an ongoing outdoor artistic installation on Wenceslas Square in downtown Prague.

Welcome to Sculpture Grande 2004.

Until the end of June, some 26 installations — sculpture is perhaps too rigid a word to describe what's on offer— will be on display here, including that Mercedes. Some of the more striking pieces include a Slovak work depicting a giant set of shapely legs with a pair of knickers slid halfway down, under the title "Mission Accomplished".

Most are conceptual pieces not easily described.

'Public table' by Milan Knizak,  photo: CTK
On the opening night of the exhibit, I spoke with Zora Carrier, one of owners of Gallery Art Factory, and a curator responsible for the Sculpture Grande exhibition. She says that while the previous year's exhibition focused on Czech artists, this year it was open to artists from all over the European Union, who were asked to somehow interpret the new European identity and the Czech place in new Europe.

"Even if in the first second you don't feel the connection, the connection is here!"

Are the sculptures explained to the public or are they left open to interpretation?

"You know, there are things in art which you have to feel and if you try to explain them in words then you can never get the right picture. So you can't really describe visual art. You have to come see it and try to feel it."

Are most of the artists young unknowns? Was there any other unifying theme behind the exhibition?

'Standing Shadow' by Bertsch Sulpicius,  photo: CTK
"We didn't focus on the well known or young 'starving' artists. The criterion was the quality of work and if they have something to say — and we can feel it — then we definitely want to give them space."

I personally didn't try to feel any of the art but I did want to talk to some of the artists about their work. The sole artist representing the host country, the Czech Republic, was Professor Milan Knizak, the director of the National Gallery of Art. His contribution is a minimalist sculpture, a giant concrete table with four place settings and no guests.

"I'm maybe sceptical about the European Union, but I see the future of the whole world in one global village because that is the only possible future."

"For the same reason, I made my piece called 'Spread out table' because a table for me is a symbol of meeting, a symbol of home, a symbol of discussion. And these for me are symbols of being together, living together. You know, having one home."

And is it also a symbol of Slavic culture, or Czech culture in particular, rather than personal?

"You know, I am Czech, I am Slavic, and therefore all I do is a symbol of Slavic existence. But for me a table and soup — and soup is a kind of food which is very typical for a Czech ... we have an old saying: 'Polivka je grunt, maso spunt'. It's very difficult to translate but soup... is the content of the bottle and meat — it means the food after — it's the cork. 'Polivka je grunt, maso spunt'".

Do you think that message has to be present visually?

"Of course not. Every art piece is a code. Everybody has to decode the piece for himself, or herself. And the message is clear. But nobody knows what's the message. It's only clear."

Well, among the installations with a clear message about European integration was a conceptual piece by a group of Dutch artists, composed of a ring of 25 iron poles — representing the expanded EU — encircling a chaotic pile of 25 others.

The title of the installation is "From Amsterdam with a Truck" a play on the James Bond classic "From Russia with Love". In fact, replicas of the little barriers, known locally as 'Amsterdammertjes', are often sold as kitschy souvenirs. They are quite despised by the Dutch.

"I'm Caspar van Gemund"

"Harry Hejink"

"Constant Dullaart"

Caspar: "We decided to make a conceptual art piece, ready made, of Dutch 'street furniture'; special poles which are used in Amsterdam to make a border between the pedestrians and the streets. So, to keep the cars away from the place they're not allowed to be. We used this symbol also to make a clear illustration of Europe."

Constant: "And they're being removed from the city centre of Amsterdam. They become a metaphor for the disappearing borders of Europe. And we decided to put one circle of 25 poles with the chaos of another 25 poles in the middle. So they stand for 'Fortress Europe', which has closed borders from the outside, but the inside becomes a chaos of lost borders."

Harry: "I heard today that people are thinking ours is the most conceptual work in this show. And I think it is. What Constant just said is a quite important thing; that you try to use the technique of a metaphor to make a question. Because art is making questions, and actually making a little bit problems."