Prague's disappearing public art - police puzzled by thefts


In recent weeks, two high-profile cases of art theft have caused headlines in the Czech Republic. Both local talent Jiri David and the Zimbabwean artist Gladios Mohumba have fallen victim to some sculpture thieves. They both had art works disappear while on public display. So what's the future for outdoor sculpture displays?

Prague's Wenceslas Square, is looking a little barer today than it has been in recent months. This is where one of the Czech Republic's leading sculptors, Jiri David, was exhibiting his sculpture - Hul pro nevidome, or Blind Man's Cane, before it went missing three weeks ago. Jiri David was philosophical about it, but still, I think it's fair to say, he was none too pleased. Here is what he had to say:

"I can only speculate what happened, but I think that someone stole the statue on request. Because the statue, we can tell it wasn't torn to shreds, and it doesn't look like an act of vandalism either. Instead, it was dismantled with some expertise. I hope that one day I will see the police video footage of the theft, because I'll see what really happened. Of course we won't be able to use it to identify anyone, they will just be shadows on the screen, but anyway. I think that someone has it in their house, or their garden somewhere."

In the same week that Mr. David's Blind Man's Cane was stolen, another sculpture disappeared across town, this time at the city's Botanic Gardens. The Gardens' spokesperson, Marcela Uhlikova, described the work in question:

"The sculpture which has vanished was part of an exhibition of Zimbabwean art, which contains around 150 pieces. It was created by a young, up-and-coming, artist called Gladios Mohumba. It is really difficult to judge how much the piece would be worth, but if it went up for sale, we think it would cost in the region of 80,000 CZK (4,000 USD)."

Like Mr. David, she thinks that the sculpture could have been stolen on request:

"Either someone loved the sculpture so much, and couldn't afford it, and so they stole it, or it was stolen to order. The police have been investigating the incident since it happened during the last week of August."

The police investigation, however, is yet to bear any fruit. In the meantime, those in the industry agree that art-theft in this country is a big concern.

But Jiri David says that despite the theft, he doesn't regret exhibiting his sculpture in such an open public space, and that he'd do the same again. He just hopes that somewhere down the line, Blind Man's Cane might resurface:

"This 'collector', in inverted commas, can never show this work to anyone, but maybe he is happy with that. Or maybe someone was just having a laugh and threw the thing into the Vltava - I don't know. But I hope that someone has it somewhere so that, maybe in 50 years time, it might be rediscovered by someone else. I really hope so."