Saving the statues of the National Theatre, and a pot-smoking pontiff comes to Prague

In the arts this week, we report on a public drive to raise funds for the restoration of the statues of the National Theatre. We also take a look at The Pope Smoked Dope, a retrospective of sixties counter-culture, which is being held in Prague.

In many ways the Czech National Theatre embodies the will of the Czech nation for national independence. It was built in the 1800s using funds that were raised from a public collection as Czech people rallied round to generate the money needed to construct a building that became a symbol of Czech identity during the national revival.

Now another collection is underway to help preserve an important feature of this revered neo-Renaissance building on the banks of the Vltava River, namely the fine sculptures that adorn its exterior. Irena Bartosova is director of the Civic Forum Foundation, which is organising the collection:

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "Our National Theatre building in Prague is something we are very proud of. It has a very rich history. We have known for some time that the condition of the statues on this historical building were in a very bad condition, because the climate in Prague is so dirty with pollution. We just decided that the statues are now in such a bad condition that we had to do something about it immediately."

Many of the statues on the National Theatre are major works of art in their own right. They include allegorical representations of Music, Dance, History and Poetry by important Czech sculptor Antonín Wágner and artistic depictions of classical muses by the equally renowned Bohuslav Schnirch.

Although some of the statues have already been restored thanks to money from sponsors, there is not enough in the coffers to finish the job, hence the need for a public collection. Irena Bartosova is hopeful that the patriotic zeal that galvanized the nation during the theatre's construction a hundred years ago can be reignited to raise the money needed to save the remaining statues.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK "This year when we started to repair the statues from the side of the Vltava River, we had no money so we started to collect the money from the people. We made use of a very nice sign which is hanging in the National Theatre, which says 'Narod sobe' or 'The Nation for Itself.' This relates to an incident from the National Theatre's very rich history. Shortly after it was first built it burnt to the ground in a fire. But people rallied round and collected money to build the theatre again, which is when they first used the slogan 'Narod sobe.' We are now using it again to make a public collection for the restoration of the statues."

The restoration work on the statues is both painstaking and expensive, and much skill and ingenuity will be needed to restore them to their former glory after more than a century of neglect.

Once restored, the statues will still have to be regularly maintained, as they shall continue to suffer from the effects of busy traffic on the streets surrounding the theatre. Despite this, Irena Bartosova is reluctant to consider replacing the original statues with replicas like the ones that now stand on Charles Bridge:

"I think that would be a pity. We are proud that the original statues are there. I hope that cleaning the statues will save them. I think the whole building is a source of pride for Czech people. We are proud that it still has its original statues and not some copies."

The Narod Sobe or Nation for Itself collection is running until the end of this year and donations can be sent in the form of a text message. Anyone wishing to contribute can simply send the message DMS SOCHYND to the number 87777. For further details on the restoration project go to archiv.radio.cz/nadace-of/statues.htm

 

Meanwhile, sixties counterculture is the order of the day at the Prague City Gallery, which is playing host to a citywide happening entitled The Pope Smoked Dope, an event which aims to celebrate the rock music and alternative visual culture of the 1960s.

In addition to displaying classic album covers from this era, the exhibition is also showing the work of pioneering poster designers such as Wes Wilson and Rick Griffin. There are also plenty of old magazine articles on show, which help capture the preoccupations of that tumultuous era such as the anti-war movement and the sexual revolution.

It's a somewhat leftfield venture for the Prague City Gallery, which normally focuses on more conventional exhibitions, but curator Hana Lavrova says that it has proven popular with people of all ages:

"There is a lot of interest in the exhibition, not just among the younger generation and teenagers, but also among middle-aged and older people, particularly among those who lived through those times and who remember the sixties from their own experience and the rock era that the exhibition covers."

Besides the exhibition, there have been accompanying rock concerts featuring sixties' icons like Eric Burdon of The Animals. The Pope Smoked Dope also comprises a series of film screenings showing groundbreaking movies from this era such as Yellow Submarine and Midnight Cowboy.

Limonadový JoeLimonadový Joe Classic Czech films from the same period are being shown as well. It is hoped that zany comedies such as Limonadový Joe or Lemonade Joe should illustrate how the Czech cultural milieu was not immune to the artistic revolution that was taking place in the West.

The exhibition also displays many Czech-produced artifacts, which were heavily influenced by the American and British rock culture that held sway at the time. Hana Lavrova says that the social and political upheaval of the sixties and the radical artistic movements it produced also made their presence felt in places as culturally isolated as communist Czechoslovakia.

"Even though in this country we lived in a space that was notorious for its isolation, there was huge amount of interest in events to the west of our borders, particularly among the younger generation. As a result, people always found a way to obtain information on what was happening. This involved exchanges of records, or secretly selling posters and importing various books and publications. Of course, there were also samizdat or underground magazines being published. We always found a way to get these materials and resources."

A lot of these Czech items are included in the exhibition. One particularly interesting artifact is a page of poetry from a very youthful looking Vaclav Havel in an underground magazine. Hana Lavrova says the presence of so many Czech exhibits illustrates the far-reaching effects of the sixties era, which weren't just confined to the West but inspired a global movement.

"I think the perception of that era was absolutely the same. The only thing is that in the West it was perhaps experienced more directly. We only partially experienced what was going on and got a secondhand version of things. That's the only difference. Otherwise, the sense of what was happening and the atmosphere that emanates from the 1960s and the things that were going on in America and the West are exactly the same."

The Pope Smoked Dope is running until 18 September and you can get further information at www.popesmokeddope.cz