Spitfire Butterflies

Spitfire Butterflies

On August 20th 1940 when Winston Churchill said “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” he was of course referring to all of those pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain the same year. Strange how, 84 years later, I stood outside a Prague shopping centre and remembered the line because in possibly the largest outpouring of artistic sentiment I’ve known since the Dancing House opened in 1995, the chattering classes have been consumed by a piece of open-air art called the Spitfire Butterflies.

prague spitfire butterflies sculpture on the maj shopping centre
Spitfire Butterflies cover 3 floors of the Maj Shopping Centre

The Idea for the Spitfire Butterflies

In these times of conflict in Ukraine and during many conflicts over the years, thoughts turn to the fight for freedom so what better icon for a fight for freedom than a Spitfire or to be accurate a copy of the fuselage of a Spitfire aircraft. Freedom is a delicate thing so what could be more delicate than the wings of a butterfly. Combine them together and you have two Spitfire Butterflies. These are big. A 9 metre long Spitfire fuselage with two 10 metre long wings overlaps 3 floors of the building, if you laid it in the adjacent roads it would reach both sides.

In his own words, the creator David Černý describes the Spitfire Butterflies as being in honour of Czech pilots who fought in the British RAF and Army Air Corp. The sculptures also include the wheels and there’s a pilot in the cockpit. It may be accidental but the main street where the Spitfire Butterflies are located just happens to be the site of the student protest which triggered the Velvet Revolution and the end of communist rule and contains the city memorial for the “Fight for Freedom and Against Tyranny”.

The Discussion

close-up of the prague spitfire butterflies sculpture on the maj shopping centre
A close-up of one of the Spitfire Butterflies

The National Monuments Institute (NPU) was not in favour of it. The City Gallery was not in favour of it. But the Department of Historic Preservation of the City of Prague approved it. In fact, the NPU could have made a formal objection to the Ministry of Culture but that would have required a detailed explanation of why it should not be here. They did not register any formal objection but plenty of people have had their say in the media. A recent National Television program broadcast a discussion about the project and ended with a representative of the City Gallery (the curator of open-air art and sculpture), who had questioned David Černý’s inability to follow city rules, telling David Černý to “Go F*ck yourself” on a “hot mike” as the credits were rolling. Some people just don’t like to follow the rules, you are in Bohemia afterall!

My Thoughts

I’m a fan of his work and as I’m English it rings a bell with my history. Spitfire Butterflies is an investment. It will aim to draw the crowds and the crowds will come so it will increase the trade in the newly-opened Maj Shopping Centre and general footfall in the area. For me I love the inspiration behind the project, the difficulty in getting it delivered and just the sheer enjoyment I get just looking up at these giant butterflies. And the final surprise…..the Spitfire Butterflies actually flap their wings!

Something Related or a Few Minutes Away

Art/Culture – Modern Art of David Černý

Art/Culture – Entropa

Art/Culture – Trifot

Attraction – Platyz Palace Courtyard

Attraction – Church of ST Martin in the Wall

Services – Quadrio Shopping Centre

Streets – Narodni

Cafes – Cafe Louvre

Book Review – Franci’s War

History – The Jewish Garden

Memorial – The Winged Lion (WW2 Czech/Slovak air crew)