Massive new David Černý sculpture holds up a Prague apartment building

The 24-meter metallic woman is two-and-a-half times as tall as the equestrian statue of Jan Žižka on Vítkov hill.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 03.10.2022 13:56:00 (updated on 03.10.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

A giant figure now looms over Prague’s Karlín district. David Černý’s “Lilit,” which stands 24 meters tall and weighs 35 tons, embraces the side of the Fragment housing development, which is still under construction.

Due to its size, “Lilit” was delivered to the construction site in pieces, resembling a model kit, and was assembled with the help of a crane on the weekend of Oct. 1–2. The head was the last part to go on, and it took about two hours to lift it from the ground and finally attach it to the torso. All of the pieces were made in the Czech Republic.

David Černý's 'Lilit.' Photo: Raymond Johnston.
David Černý's 'Lilit.' Photo: Raymond Johnston.

“Lilit” is one of the largest in the city. For comparison, the statue is about two-and-a-half times as tall as that of Czech general Jan Žižka on Vítkov hill, not counting the stone base. The latter bronze statue is only nine meters tall and weighs 16.5 tons.

Though not a figurative piece, the Metronome in Letná Park is a bit taller -- 25 meters tall, to be precise. The Metronome replaced a granite statue of Stalin that was destroyed in 1962, which stood 15.5 meters not counting the base.

The head is moved into place by a crane. Photo: Raymond Johnston.
The head is moved into place by a crane. Photo: Raymond Johnston.

"Lilit" picks up on some of Černý’s previous themes. The sculpture's head will rotate 180 degrees every day at midnight. Several of the sculptor’s previous works such as “Head of Franz Kafka,” “Piss,” “Beetle,” and “Pegasus” are also kinetic. He has explored shiny human figures before with “In Utero” and “Speederman” as well as “Kafka.” 

The artist remains best-known though for his “Babies” on the Žižkov TV Tower, “Quo Vadis” walking Trabant car usually at the German Embassy, and various iterations of Soviet tanks.

“Lilit” is one of three Černý pieces that will decorate the Fragment housing development. There is also a giant metal hand and metal leg holding up the center of the building, which were installed in September. All three sculptures have the same basic framework design. The hand and leg together weigh 25 tons.

From above, Fragment is supposed to resemble a reclining figure. That idea was inspired by the former military hospital Invalidovna across the street. The house with statues also symbolizes sociability and community, according to developer Trigema. "Lilit" stands for the support of others that anybody needs to live.

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Černý’s was brought into the project, which was originally called Nová Invalidovna, to work with the architects on the interior design of the common spaces. It was his idea to add the sculptures to the building. The concept sketches released in 2019 look substantially different than the finished sculptures.

“The small sculptures are composed of small elements that represent the cells of the human body. Just like in life, cells make up the body, and the small parts are put together to support the bigger ones,” Černý said in a press release.

He told Czech Radio that the small sculptures were inspired by fragments of Baroque statues that can be found in Invalidovna. He also said that Lilit (Lilith in English) was the first woman in Eden, the Biblical paradise, although the detail was left out of later versions of the creation story.

Hand supporting the entrance to the building. Photo: Raymond Johnston.
Hand supporting the entrance to the building. Photo: Raymond Johnston.

He added that the hand sculpture was Archangel Gabriel and the foot sculpture was Adam, who was kicked out of Eden. Another hand sculpture, representing Lucifer, will be added later, he said.

Černý, though, is known for making provocative statements and also telling different people different things about the meaning of his art, so this Biblical spin should be taken with a grain of salt for now. The name “Lilit” for the main sculpture did not appear anywhere before his radio interview. The Trigema website for Fragment makes no mention of that name or of a fourth sculpture.

The sculptures are made of chrome-nickel stainless steel with a mirror-polished surface. Preparation started in 2020 and production began in January 2021. The first parts were delivered to the Fragment site on July 18, 2022.

“From the beginning, our ambition was to connect high-quality architecture and modern art with everyday life through the Fragment project and to bring the metropolis back to the forefront of modern architecture,” Marcel Soural, chairman of the board of directors of the Trigema group, said.

Original 2019 concert for the sculptures. Image: Qwarta architects.
Original 2019 concert for the sculptures. Image: Qwarta architects.

“We want to make original, functional, and useful buildings that will leave a message for future generations, and maybe also provoke a little. Provocation in architecture is needed, and the exceptional location of Rohanské nábřeží called for a unique project,” he added.

The cost of the sculptures was not disclosed, but the total investment of the project is about CZK 1.4 billion. The building should be completed in the first quarter of 2023.

An even larger Černý sculpture might be created in the future. In 2019 developer Trigema announced plans for a highrise residential building at in Prague’s Nové Butovice district. It will include a massive replica of a crashed cargo ship.

Another plan for the future is to make a locomotive-shaped walkway between two buildings in Prague 9. It is inspired by the famous photo 1895 Montparnasse derailment, with a train protruding out of a station building.

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