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Walk through Letná park. All the major routes converge at the Metronome.
Here you can swing your feet to the rhythm of the metronome – if it’s working – and watch skateboarders skate on quality granite. You can also watch steamboats on the Vltava River and relax, talk or perhaps ponder on the words of US philosopher Elaine Scarry who argues that the symmetry of beauty calls for symmetry in society and a balanced distribution of wealth. The elegant metronome with the red pendulum was named by its creator, sculptor Vratislav K. Novák (1942-2014), “Stroj času” (Time Machine), and was a significant symbol of Prague in the period after November 1989.
Although the metronome was created as a temporary construction for the 1991 Czechoslovak General Exhibition, it seems that no one is planning to pull it down any time soon. With the statue of modern history’s greatest murderer– J.V. Jughashvili alias Stalin (“the man of steel”) – it was, however, quite another story. That was built to last forever and at the time was the largest monument in Europe: the button on Stalin’s neck was 60 cm (24 inches) in diameter and the sculpture was carved of the finest granite. Avant-garde futurism inspired the monument and Stalin was accompanied by four Soviets on the left and four Czechoslovaks on the right. The statue was said to have been nicknamed the “Meat Line” by Prague citizens.
The designer, sculptor Otakar Švec (1892-1955), committed suicide before the massive sculpture was unveiled on May 1, 1955 and by February 1956 Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev was already attacking his predecessor’s personality cult. Eventually, at great expense, the Prague Stalin monument was blown up in November 1962. (The sculpture reappeared briefly in 2017, reproduced for the movie Monstrum [Monster, 2017], about Švec’s tragic fate).
The enormous space beneath the monument was originally designed as a Stalin museum, but these plans soon fell through and the underground area was then used for storing potatoes. The space got a new lease of life after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 when Radio Stalin – later renamed Radio 1 – broadcast from there. Now the vast space under the monument is a ruin, and its future uncertain.
But let’s return to the Time Machine, the existence of which also cannot be taken for granted. In 2016 a nonviolent protest to preserve it as an autonomous artwork was organized. During the latest repairs, Pražská Správa Nemovitostí (Prague Real Estate Management Ltd.) the current owner of the metronome, repainted it green, the company’s color, and also added a bar with neon lights. Czech Television reported that, allegedly, it matched better with the surrounding landscape. The BOLT 958 group responded with an act of non-violent resistance, stating: “We repainted the pendulum red. We do not agree with corporate organizations misusing any artwork for their own benefit. As an expression of our opposition to the painting of Karel Vratislav Novák’s Time Machine statue in the firm’s corporate color and the addition of diode strips, we repainted the artwork in the original color on the night of Wednesday August 24 to Thursday August 25, 2016.”
What color is the metronome now?
- Elaine Scarry: On Beauty and Being Just. Princeton, Princeton University Press 2001.
- Lecture by Elaine Scarry “Beauty and Social Justice” at Harvard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhIOwhIxSEw
- Information about the sculptor V.K. Novák http://www.artlist.cz/en/vratislav-karel-novak-100875/
Prague and the Vltava on your right, until you reach Kostelní or a parallel road in Letenské sady, which will pass the Expo pavilion 58. Continue towards Františka Křížka, where Františka Plamínková’s former school is located.