In November 1885, a whale washed up on the shores of southern Norway. A local whaling company
immediately began to look for a way of turning this stroke of good luck into money, and so it set to
cutting up the animal: the meat and fat were processed, and the cleaned four-ton skeleton was
offered to various leading European museums for 2,500 gulden. When Dr. Antonín Frič, the director
of the zoological and paleontological collections at the National Museum in Prague, heard about the
offer, he knew that it was precisely the kind of thing that would attract added attention to the
museum’s planned new building. It would be a dignified addition to the museum’s exhibition. Since
there wasn’t enough money to buy the whale, Frič turned to his brother Václav, who along with such
notable people as Vojtěch Náprstek was a member of the patriotic “Jour Fixe” association. The group
held a fundraising drive that was so successful that, in mid-1887, the skeleton could be taken apart
and readied for the trip to Prague. It was first presented to the public on 28 November 1888 at
today’s Náprstek Museum, and was moved to the National Museum in 1892. Originally installed on a
massive steel structure, it remained there for several decades. During a general overhaul of the
zoological exposition in the 1960s, it was hung from the ceiling using ten steel rods attached to a
crossbeam. For this purpose, it had to be shortened by several tail vertebrae because its entire
length did not fit into the room. Also at that time, the remaining whale fat was removed from the
bones – it had been slowly dripping off the skeleton for all those previous years. Today, the skeleton
is an inherent part of the building. It is practically one with the building, and because its disassembly
would have been too costly and risky, it is the only exhibit to have remained inside during the
museum’s current renovation. In the empty and cavernous building, with no visitors and no other
exhibits, the whale feels like a forgotten resident of a building slated for demolition – the last
eyewitness of ancient times. Just as the whale skeleton gradually became an organic part of the museum building, the modified
skeleton installed in the gallery grows out of the structural reality of the exhibition space. With its
arches reminiscent of a tunnel or cave, the long gallery space can be seen as the skeleton’s
repository or storage space – or even as its surface, a slightly detached skin. In this way, the skeleton
can act as a bizarre support structure that holds the entire space together like a variant of the Late
Gothic rib vault. As with another of Lang’s works – Expanded Anxiety at the Vienna Secession, where the viewer
walked through the inside of an enlarged figural sculpture by Otto Gutfreund – visitors are given a
view from the inside and outside all at the same time. It isn’t clear whether we are walking through
the inside of a whale or looking at its internal composition from the outside. The whale skeleton also possesses features reminiscent of the kind of sculptural skeleton used as a
framework when modelling a sculpture. It uses neither the gallery’s walls nor its floors, but hangs in
space in a half-finished state or in a kind of interrupted phase of preparation. As a result, it isn’t clear whether continued work on the sculpture will result in a replica of the original skeleton or whether
the final artwork will significantly differ from it. The skeleton also fulfills one more function: It acts as a backdrop and set for a staged lunch whose
participants take a seat at a table that has been carved out underneath the whale’s body. During the
meal, they find various sculptural tools hidden in their food (baked or otherwise trapped inside):
spatulas, trimming tools, chisels, etc. The table guests thus have the chance to be archeologists
without needing to engage in any special search effort. At the same time, the participants also
reconstruct the lunches organized by the charitable organizations at which the idea to give the Czech
nation its very own whale was probably born.
The diners’ archeological finds offer new and different version of the whale’s story. It is the story of a
monster that during its long life swallowed many bizarre objects, including sculptural tools; and also
the story of a sculptor living inside a whale like the Biblical prophet.
The art of Dominik Lang often exposes the logic and models of behavior found in the art world and in
exhibiting activities. It explores how things are organized, how they work, and how they are
perceived. Lang has created a site-specific installation that incorporates the gallery space and live
performance with the art object and its story. His aim is to create a context, composition or situation
that can combine all these elements in order to demonstrate the spatial, historical and institutional
conditionality of what we see and of what we create ourselves. Bone Collectors is a multi-layered
work that explores the relationship between the exhibition space, the work of art inside it, and the
patrons who have contributed to its creation.
Kryštof Ambrůz, Filip Dvořák, Jakub Geltner, Katarína Hládeková, Ondřej Homola, Martin Kohout, Martin Kolarov, Adéla Korbičková, David Krňanský, Ladislav Kyllar, Martin Lukáč, Kristýna Lutzová, Black Media, Andrea Mikysková, Richard Nikl, Olbram Pavlíček, Julius Reichel, The Rodina, Lucie Rosenfeldová, Barbora Švehláková, Ladislav Tejml, Nik Timková
This exhibition, which takes place in the spirit of journeys to the stars, records an encounter between two absolutely different worlds – that of native culture and contemporary civilization. It is the continuation of a project of more that 15 years by sculptor Lukáš Rittstein and photographer Barbora Šlapetová, who worked with the last Papuan tribe, the Yali Mek and in recent years also with two NASA astronauts.
The skills and experiences of Papuan cannibal tribes have been documented by anthropologists, missionaries, and geological explorers, but never through the eyes of artists. Starting in 1997, Barbora Šlapetová and Lukáš Rittstein undertook several expeditions to remote areas of western Guinea and Papua-New Guinea, where they investigated local native tribes and their culture.
Papuans believe that the eyes of living things that sleep at night travel to theHeavens and observe their sleeping bodies. This is why the stars shine. Some members of local tribes also have the ability to travel by smoke to the upper reaches of the world, to the Heavens. Astronauts symbolically manifest the natives’ notions – they were in the Heavens and their eyes watched them from there. In 2012 and 2013, both artists arranged a meeting between several members of the Yali Mek tribe and two NASA astronauts, Leroy Chiao andKoichi Wakata.
Vlastimil Košvanec is considered to be a refined painter and portraitist popular mainly because of his painting technique and inimitable style. He represented a certain artistic view, introduced new fashion and he inspired and tempted wealthy members of the society as well as Prague intellectuals. Košvanec portrayed aristocracy, businessmen and intellectuals. His paintings bear witness about the exciting times in which he lived, moreover they reflect present times.
The exhibition is organized in cooperation with the Museum Martinengo at Villagana, the Italian Culture Institute, the National Museum in Prague and the Czech Centre Prague and Milan. It will include more than 20 paintings from the collections of the Museum Martinengo supplemented by images from the collections of the National Museum in Prague.