David Černý’s Upside-down Horse, Prague

Statue of  Saint Václav, commonly known in English as King Wenceslas, of Christmas Carol fame, in front of the Czech National Museum, Prague

The traditional 19th c. heroic statue of King Wenceslas by Josef Václav Myslbek dominates the top end of Wenceslas Square, a notable boulevard in Prague. Astride his steed, young King Wenceslas is a revered figure of the Czech people.

Enter Czech sculptor David Černý.

Saint Wenceslas by David Černý

Černý is known for his provocative sculptures, and, this one, inside the Lucerna Palace gallery not far from the traditional statue, demands similar attention. Sometimes considered a parody of the 19th c. statue, what deeper critique about the contemporary Czech republic lies here? Černý doesn’t comment on his work–and I imagine rarely needs to, since it is far from subtle–but this piece is generally considered an attack on Czech President Václav Klaus. There is an implicit contrast between the sainted Vaclav, who is legendary for being a pious and good leader, and the current president, and of course, riding a dead horse, strung upside down, hardly puts him in an effective position.

At the risk of accusing Černý of reverence for anything, one might say he too falls into the hero-worship of the distant past. Or perhaps the infant terrible merely thought it would be shocking to desecrate an iconic image. Saint Wenceslas is an incredibly effective installation, capturing the eye and provoking questions if not outrage. On my itinerary for my next trip to Prague, hopefully soon, is this great walking tour of Černý’s sculptures in Prague.

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