Undisciplinary is the personal wiki of Martin Zemlicka.

Karel Císař - Public Sculpture

30.05.2015, Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague

This was quite a casual daytime presentation given for a specific audience, as it took place in Dominik Lang’s sculpture studio and hence seemed to be tailored towards the students present. It was also rather exhaustive on the information side, while also being fragmentary, a choice which makes sense considering most of the audience composed (unlike me) lives the context.

The notes below are a very limited extract of the thoughts that Císař covered, not least because, honestly, I’m not familiar with many of his examples so spent more time enjoying looking than writing.


  1. Rosalin Krauss’s famed article Sculpture the expanded field
    1. For Císař, the most interesting thought of the essay was that not always is everything possible.
    2. Not always are all forms possible.
    3. In Krauss’s essay: “Because it was ideologically prohibited, the complex had remained excluded from what might be called the closure of post- Renaissance art. Our culture had not before been able to think the complex, although other cultures have thought this term with great ease.”
  2. (This thought about some things just not being possible to do any more is at the heart of Císař’s lecture. He argues that there are certain forms, styles or notions of sculpture that are dead, illogical and actually impossible to do in contemporary contexts. For example, nobody believes that it is possible to make a grand unified truthful statement, which nullifies monuments as a possibility, killed with the end of the modern project).
  3. Public space is a relatively new topic of conversation
    1. Only with Hannah Ardent and Jürgen Habermas did public space become a topic in philosophy.
    2. Jürgen Habermas: public space is only created somewhere in the 16/17th centuries. Public space is not that what is outside, but a place where transactions/exchange happen.
  4. We can generalise contemporary art is, to an extent, temporary. It does not think that it is capable of being eternal, instead it reacts to situations.
    1. Currently, the logic of monuments is unacceptable.
  5. Císař briefly goes over the history of Kust fur Bau in Germany (something like the 1% for art rule in New York).
    1. States that in it resulted in huge quantities of works being produced, naturally the most during the Nazi reign, where it was used for propagandistic pieces, but also after the war.
    2. It came under heavy attack in the 60s and beyond, mainly the quality of the output. If you thin about it, it makes sense, one cant’ expect every little village to assemble a good jury to call froth designs.
    3. Since, the trend has been more towards supporting pubic exhibitions instead of commissioning public artworks.
  6. The current wave of sentimentality for normalisation-era1 public works2 is naive, sine the critique of 50s era public works in Germany in the 60s is valid in this case too.
    1. We should realise that if the artists could, they would not have made the work which is being showered with sentiment. They made that work because they had no other means of livelihood or expression. The works are predominantly aesthetic decorations, and not much more.
  7. Skulptur Projeke Münster
    1. Lots said about many of the years, many names and many interesting projects. Nos sense in repeating it here. With one exception.
    2. Michael Escher’s Caravan, repeated in every incarnation of the project since the first one in 77.
      1. It is not the object that is important, but the system. The moving of the caravan is a part of the piece, and the system surrounding the work is from it.
      2. Císař believes that it is almost insurmountable in the way that it shows what public space is by negative means.
  8. While putting together these slides Císař noticed one aspect that all the work seemed to share. It does not attempt to make new forms. All the public sculptures and interventions work with existing, recognisable, anatomies.
  9. My notes end here, below are some post-faktum notes about the general gist of the main point that Císař was making.
    1. The big idea was that there are some things that were possible to do earlier, but are impossible to do now. Monuments exemplify what Císař sees as impossible, for no longer do we believe that eternal gestures are valid.
    2. Contemporary public sculpture tends to not only respond to context, but also not make the assumption that it will be there forever. See, for example, the various biennales and temporary shows.
    3. This creates an interesting tension about how to deal with past monuments. What to do with busts of Lenin, socialist realism, etc.
  1. In the Czech Republic, normalisation refers to the period between 1968 and 1989 during which the reforms introduced by the Prague Spring were undone and socialism was “noramalised”. See [wikipedia] 

  2. Císař is clearly referring to [Vetřelci a Volavky], a portal/book/community that maps and creates support for normalisation era public works that is currently quite popular.