17. 9. 2008 - 19. 10. 2008

Or, What Wenceslas Square Was and What It Could Be

Vilém Kropp - On Wenceslas Square about Wenceslas Square

Photographs from the exhibition

Leica Gallery Prague, in cooperation with Prague 1, has prepared a photography exhibition about the square’s historical face as well as the vision of a “new” Wenceslas Square. The exhibition, held in a gallery tent located on Můstek at the bottom of Wenceslas Square, saw more  then 160.000 visitors.

Wenceslas Square is more than a mere collection of houses, shops, sidewalks and streets; its true content is given to it by the people who live, work, find amusement, sometimes argue and other times love here. Wenceslas Square is also the place where the will of the people is expressed, where they protest, struggle, celebrate victory or together face moments in which time seems to accelerate and the past, with a sudden leap, transforms into the future.

Since 1848, Wenceslas Square has been the scene of fateful moments for the Czech nation. From its origins as the city’s Horse Market, it has gradually become the living heart of the country. It is interesting to look back and view its different forms, changing like masks on the face of history. As we can see in the oldest, now unique, photographs, at first the square had the peaceful feel of a burgher’s idyll, with promenades lined with linden trees, but it later became hectic with traffic and the go-getting business mentality of the approaching 20th century. The daily tempo of life on Wenceslas Square was followed from the 1950s to the 1980s by the newspaper photographer for the daily Práce (Work) William Kropp. His wonderful, sometimes humorous and sometimes nostalgic or poetic observations give us the opportunity to look “behind the scenes” of history, to see ordinary people, absorbed in their own worries and joys — but nonetheless continuously confronted with “great events”. In his photographs we see that the period of Communist totalitarianism was not a time only of ceremonial parades and pathetic slogans, but that boys also also played marbles on Wenceslas Square, lovers had rendezvous here, and old people from the countryside sold bouquets of lily-of-the-valley on street corners. But this is also a period when other major changes began, symbolized by the digging of underpasses and the construction of metro tunnels.

Wenceslas Square has entered into the 21st century, and there is no doubt that now as before its face should match the spirit of the time. What do we know about the ideas of architects for the future of this symbolic heart of Prague and the Czech Republic? The vision of the coming times opens a new space for imagination and dreaming. But above all, a space that will shape the daily lives of future generations.