Prague plans art gallery for Stalin

The former Stalin statue’s base is now likely to be part of the National Gallery

Prague City Hall plans to turn the space under where the statue of Stalin stood in Letná into a center for contemporary art as part of the National Gallery. City Hall will soon publish details for a public contract for planning work for developing the space. The Prague 7 Town Hall opposes the idea.

The space inside the former statue plinth is currently in poor repair and the large bronze doors leading to it are called the “doors to nowhere.”

The National Galley hopes the space can be opened to the public within five years, which ironically echoes the famous five-year plans of the Stalinist era.

“It would be a shame to let this space continue to deteriorate as it has been for the past 20 years,” Prague Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO) said, according to daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD).

The city looked at 19 places to showcase contemporary art before selecting the site at Letná, which is commonly called simply Stalin.

Krnáčová said the site could be reinvigorated with new meaning, and that the National Gallery agrees with the decision.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) said he would like to see architect Frank Gehry involved in the renovation of the space. Gehry is known in Prague for his work on the Dancing House.

National Gallery director Jiří Fajt said he was glad the city approved the idea. “There won’t be just contemporary art. The building will also be used as a cultural and educational center. This place has a huge symbolic value,” Fajt told MfD.

He added that aside from showing works from young and contemporary artists, including street artists, the space will document the history of the Stalin monument and totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia. Fajt said the space’s history must not be forgotten.

Once the study by National Gallery is finished, the preparations for executing the project will begin.

Fajt said the National Gallery will work with Prague 7, the Prague Institute of Planning and Development (IPR) and conservationists. Previous plans made in 2012 for renovation will also be consulted.

Prague 7 Deputy Mayor Ondřej Mirovský (Greens) criticized the process for selecting the site, saying there was no architectural competition, no consultation with environmental authorities and no agreement with the Prague 7 district.

Prague 7 Mayor Jan Čižinský (Praha sobě) said that the ANO party was building a monument to Prague Mayor Krnáčová.

Krnáčová dismissed the criticism and asked Prague 7’s leaders to be open-minded.

There have been many plans over the years to renovate the space under the former Stalin statue. Two years ago, it was looked at as a site to house Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic, but now it seems those paintings will go to the Lapidarium at Výstaviště.

Plans in the past also included making a museum about totalitarianism that would have been operated by the civic group Memory of Nations (Paměť národa). Before that, it was considered as a site for an aquarium.

In 2016 a mock-up of the statue of Stalin was put back on top of the base for a film production.

The original statue of Stalin weighed 17,000 tons and was made of 235 granite blocks. It was the largest Stalin monument in the world.

Work on the statue began in 1950. Stalin died in 1953, and by the time the statue was finished, the cult around him was already falling apart. The monument and was finished in 1955 was a source of some embarrassment until it was destroyed in 1962.

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