From the Firehose

The thing about Prague is that, at last, they've got real art here. Vienna had good art, but it was the art of empire -- all stolen or commissioned. Budapest and Bratislava had art, sure, but most of it was second-rate genre pictures. Whereas Prague has more good art than it knows what to do with. A sampling of names I liked, reconstructed from my sketchy notes on the back of a hostel reservation fax:

Josef Koudelka's photographs of the 1968 Soviet invasion were so potentially inflammatory he had to publish them anonymously for fear of reprisals, even though he was already in exile by then. The most stunning is of a deserted Wenceslas Square -- a hand with a watch sticks into the frame from the left, as though to emphasize the unnatural quiet.

Karel Pokorny's "Fraternization," ostensibly a monument to the Soviet liberation at the end of World War II, must be seen to be believed: this sculpture of two soldiers embracing can only be described as Socialist Realist gay soft-porn.

Josef Svoboda's stage designs are simple and arresting. Romeo and Juliet gets a colonnade, suspended ten feet in the air, with a single off-center staircase leading up to one of its arches. For a Wagner production, he put static electrical charges on the water droplets in his fog, so the haze would spread out in the way he wanted.

Antonin Prochazka's Cubist paintings use rich color to achieve a sense of balance and calm -- a proof by counterexample that Cubism need not be agitated and kinetic.

Karel Malich's wireframe scultupres are enigmatic and amusing. My favorite might be an eye, or a blob speaking through a trumpet, or maybe a submarine, or lines of magnetic force.

Josef Sudek's photographs through and of rain-streaked windows are considered something close to national treasures.

Karel Nepras makes vaguely human scultures from wires stretched taut like muscle tendons and cones that serve as ambiguous apertures: gaping mouths and screaming ears.