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What was old is new again

Sculptor Vaclav Frýdecký hails from another era, but his work is still relevant

Posted: February 17, 2010

By Natalia O'Hara - For the Post | Comments (0) | Post comment

What was old is new again

Philip Heijmans

Frýdecký's trademark bronze busts are on display at the gallery along with paintings, sketches and wood carvings.

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In the small exhibition room behind Galerie Scarabeus, the sculptor and painter Václav Frýdecký holds court. A crowd of elderly fans circles his table like shuffling electrons.

"Could you sign the program I made?" one man asks modestly, holding out a crayon drawing of a scarab, the gallery's logo.

"What's this? Oh, alright," says Frýdecký, with a gruff magnanimity Hemingway might have admired.

"Some will dismiss me; some will like me," says the artist, looking severe. "So I don't care."

Václav Frýdecký
Through March 14, noon-6 p.m.
Where: Scarabeus, Jana Zajíce 7, Prague 7
Admission: Free

His table is decorated with a single orchid, a bronze sculpture of a voluptuous girl and a 4-liter pitcher of wine.

"Anybody can shit out art," he says. "It's the result which will decide whether or not he's an artist."

Born in Olomouc in 1931, Frýdecký came to Prague at age 20 to train as a wood-carver at the College of Applied Arts. After graduating, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he later taught for more than a decade. One of his most celebrated works is his bronze Prometheus, which stands in front of the Charles University Mathematics and Physics Faculty. Recently, he worked on the early stages of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial project along with Michal Blažek and Daniel Talavera. Frýdecký's work is exhibited in every major Czech gallery, including the National Gallery and Prague City Gallery.

This exhibition pays homage to the artist's extraordinary versatility, says gallery owner Kateřina Ebelová, sitting in the little gallery coffeehouse, which is filled with antiques and presided over by a stuffed iguana.

"He creates busts of celebrities, monumental sculptures, intimate small sculptures, paintings and sketches, and he is trained in wood carving. That's really something out of the ordinary," she says.

The artist himself disagrees. "It's just normal," he says. "A sculptor has to be able to draw in order to design the sculptures."

"Václav always saw himself as a sculptor," explains photographer Jaroslav Kučera, an old friend of Frýdecký's. "He thought of the paintings as supplementary work and didn't value them much."

Frýdecký began to exhibit his sketches and paintings late in life.

"Friends, including me, started trying to persuade him that his studies were at least as good as his sculptures," explains Kučera. "And, later, he saw that the public liked them too."

All of the paintings in this exhibition, as well as a sizeable proportion of the sculptures, are female nudes. When a young man approaches Frýdecký and asks if he is ever accused of objectifying women in his work, Frýdecký becomes animated.

"Sex is everything!" he says. "Sex is life. A person who doesn't live sex doesn't live." He pauses to think. "Men must be fascinated by women, and women by men," he muses. "There's a logic to that."

"I'm not at all modern," says Frýdecký. "In fact, I'm conservative." His versatile technical skill, forged in another era's art schools, is enough to show this. The sensuality of Frýdecký's work and the Hellenic influences of his sculpture put the matter to bed. Like the iguana from the gallery café, he looks like a creature from pre-history that has wandered into the modern world.

"This is really a special exhibition," says Ebelová. "Václav Frýdecký will be 80 next year, and he has often told me that he is the last of his schoolmates from the academy still alive. He is the only survivor of a generation of artists."

Natalia O'Hara can be reached at

Tags: Frýdecký, Galerie Scarabeus, exhibit, gallery, sculpture.

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