Aliens and Herons Now!

On display in the exhibition are cases representative of the current state of monumental art works from the Normalization era located in Prague's public space. The cultural legacy of the 1970s and 1980s is often simplistically identified with the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet army during that time. As a result, these art works have not yet been subject to objective architectural evaluation. Therefore, in many cases they are thoughtlessly removed or suffer from vandalism or the vulgar colonization of public space by capitalism. The exhibition points out typical examples of such treatment and can be understood as a comparative study of the impacts of cultural politics in public space before and after 1989.
After the change of the regime, the authorities destroyed more than 300 quite innocent art works only in Prague as these objects were considered to be mere “relics from communism”. However, the reasons for the removal of Normalization statues are not only those politically-​motivated; this situation also results from poor treatment of these objects that are often not officially registered and are therefore not cared for. The sculpture must either make way for a commercial project or the owners are simply too lazy to care for it. It is important to realize, however, that more than 30 percent of the urban population live in prefabricated houses and, therefore, we should not dismiss the good aspects of prefabricated housing estates where many of these sculptures are located.
The project Aliens and Herons (Vetřelci a volavky) was found in order to protect art works from the Normalization era. An accessible archive was established at the website www.vetrelciavolavky.cz. The archive includes the documentation of 400 art objects just from Prague. Pavel Karous, the author of the project, and his changing co-​operative team of Aliens and Herons do not focus on the documentation only. At the web site, one can download a documentary film Aliens and Herons, a report for the cultural weekly Artmix, or an episode of the Retro Sculptures show about sculptures under socialism. To promote the problem in the media, the team of Aliens and Herons have organized lectures and guided tours, put together an exhibition in the prestigious exhibition space DOX, and published a map of Prague with the marked locations of the different sculptures. The printed map also in its English version is available at the gallery.
Archeology of Normalization

After the great experiments in the free-​thinking era of the 1960s, during the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet army, monumental art suffered a creative crisis under the transformed and newly established state control. On the other hand, never in the history of our state were there so many sculpture competitions and never were public art projects so much in demand. The great number of commissions was guaranteed by a law which stated that every state building project (it was a building boom at the time) must secure one to four percent from the overall budget for “decoration”. However, this law was not an invention and an exclusive instrument of the dictatorship. In fact, it is in force in most of North American and West European cities. 
Due to this law of the former regime the “four percent” art included aesthetic landmarks in public space around rising prefabs, health clinics, business centers, production factories, or administration and management buildings. The state thus secured lucrative work for academic sculptors, who in return were asked for loyalty to the regime and propaganda. Unlike in our times of numerous clients whose taste (or the lack of taste) the artist must follow, at that time, unfortunately, there was only a single commissioning client: the state, which controlled the expert selection committees. In spite of it, apart from the stereotypical and silly statues, the 1970s and 1980s saw the creation of great many very good sculptures that are today disappearing in hundreds! 
Curated by: Pavel Karous