New art guide to Prague reveals lesser known cultural hotspots

'Dálky', photo: Kurátor / Vavřinec Menšl

A new guide to Prague, called Curator, attempts to show the city to locals and tourists in a different light. A group of three art historians have handpicked the best of Prague galleries, contemporary spaces, paintings and sculptures, art cafés and art in the streets and interviewed people who have something to say about them. Instead of the traditional sights and overpriced tourists traps, Curator invites its users to discover interesting, and lesser-known places lying off the beaten tourist track.

St Wenceslas Church,  photo: Kurátor / Vavřinec Menšl

When I met with Valérie Dvořáková, one of the authors of the new Art Guide to Prague, I first asked her to tell me where the idea for the guide originated.

“It started some two or three years ago, when art collector Oldřich Uttendorfský started wondering why Prague didn’t have a Michelin guide to galleries. We picked up the idea and decided to put the guide together.

Zdeněk Sýkora,  photo: Kurátor / Vavřinec Menšl
“At the beginning, we thought it would really be something like a Michelin guide, that is, a list of galleries. But we kept adding more and more chapters and ended up having not only galleries and public institutions, but also interviews and art in public spaces. So that is how it all started.”

Why did you give it the name Curator?

“Because it is curated: It is us, the authors, who chose the galleries, the artists and even the people who we interviewed. We wanted to stress that our point of view is subjective and that there were other opinions, other galleries and other artists.

“Also, we simply liked the word. We were looking for a title, which is always very complicated, and I think this one works quite well.”

What kind of art does your guide present?

“Basically, every kind. There are large public institutions, big and small private and public galleries, but there is also a chapter dedicated to architecture, art in public spaces, street art and art in metro. So we tried to show Prague in its diversity and beauty.

“Prague is a medieval city and we have wonderful medieval art, which is unique even in the European context. At the same time we have amazing young painters and artists, so we wanted to show the full scale of art that can be found in Prague.”

According to what key did you select the galleries and objects?

Ján Gajdušek,  Valérie Dvořáková,  Štěpánka Veselská,  photo: Kurátor / Vavřinec Menšl
“There were three of us, so we always had to agree on what to add to the guidebook. We also discussed its content with many people. It took us almost two years to put it together. We discussed our choices with gallerists, artists and collectors, and we included their point of view in the book.

“So we didn’t really have any special key. We were just trying to put together opinions of different people involved in the art scene. We tried to be as objective as possible but with the subjectivity which is inherent to a topic like this one.”

Were there places or objects that you simply had to leave out because of a lack of space?

“Yes, many of them. We started with something that was supposed to be just a leaflet but it kept growing and growing. We wanted to have a book that you can carry around with you all the time, have it in your pocket or handbag, so we had to stick with the small scale. Obviously we had to leave out some chapters.

“At the beginning we wanted to have a chapter with plans on what you can do on a rainy days or Mondays, when galleries are closed in Prague. But it had so many pages that we had to leave it for another book.”

So are you planning to publish another book in the future?

Lamp by Krištof Kintera,  photo: Kurátor / Vavřinec Menšl
“We hope so. We will definitely have to update the book. The art scene is very much alive and galleries keep closing and opening. So in the future, we might publish an updated version and add some extra chapters or interviews. That is the idea.”

Do you think your guide will still be relevant in let us say, ten years’ time?

“This is something we discussed a lot. We even thought about an online app to make it more up-to-date. But at the launch of the book, Jiří Fajt, the director of the National Gallery, said that in 10 or 20 years, Kurator will be a witness to the cultural scene in Prague in 2018.

“Even when the Czech version was sold out and we had to publish an additional issue, we had to change some information because it was outdated. But it is actually nice to see what was interesting at a certain point in time. So I think it will be relevant in a different way.”

Part of the book focuses on places that are often neglected by tourists. Do you regard Curator as an alternative guide for tourists which is supposed to take them off the beaten track?

Epos 257: 'Retroreflexe',  photo: Kurátor / Vavřinec Menšl
“We always had in mind that most people have a smartphone these days and they can google most of the information themselves. Obviously the first thing you want to see when you come to Prague as a tourist is Charles Bridge and other famous monuments.

“We wanted to offer them more things to see and more places to visit to discover the real atmosphere of the city. These places are usually on the outskirts, where local people live.”

But the guide is not intended only for tourists?

“It turned out that we have discovered a niche in the book market. Apparently, this is something people missed, even the locals.

'Dálky',  photo: Kurátor / Vavřinec Menšl
“Basically anyone can find something interesting in our guide, even people who are part of the art scene, but who like to have all the information in one place. That’s why we focused on the visual side of the book as well, so that people will want to have it on their bookshelves.

“But it is also for people who are not from Prague and for those who are not interested in art itself, but who are looking for a different perspective of the city. And of course it is for international tourists. That’s why we also published an English version of the book.”

Did you yourself discover something new while putting together the guide?

“We were three authors, it must be said, and each of us made some personal discovery. For me it is an amazing sculpture by Jiří Novák called Dálky. It is really far away from the city centre and it might be the only reason for visiting that part of the city.

“It’s a beautiful sculpture from the 1960 s and even on the photo it looks amazing. I think it is our most favourite photo from the book, and we didn’t even know about the sculpture in the beginning.”