This week Czech schools break for winter holiday, a period of uncertainty for parents who have absolutely zero interest in skiing. If you’re a fan of Czech puppetry and animation, you can’t go wrong with a day trip from Prague to Kutná Hora to catch the GASK exhibit Jiří Trnka: In the Garden of the Imagination before it ends next month.
For those unfamiliar with the Pilsen-born artist, often referred to as the “Walt Disney of the East,” Trnka was an animated film director whose work, though focused primarily on illustration and stop-motion animation, tackled weighty themes of artistic freedom in totalitarian society.
With contemporaries Eduard Hofman and Jiří Brdečka, Trnka founded the pioneering Czech animation studio Bratři v triku in 1945. In 1968 he won the Hans Christian Andersen Prize for his lasting contribution to children’s literature.
To call Trnka Disneyesque may be a bit misguided as some of his major artistic achievements, including stop-motion versions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Good Soldier Švejk,” were intended for adult audiences.
Trnka’s masterwork, however, was indeed children’s material: Zahrada (in English “Through the Magic Gate”), published in 1962, ranks among the treasures of Czech children’s literature. Trnka both wrote and illustrated the book, a tale of five boys who discover a secret gate—and misadventures—on their way to school.
While the fruits of Trnka’s exceptionally vivid imagination have been on display in Prague before, including the interactive “Trnka’s Garden 2” exhibit, GASK mounted its large-scale retrospective, a visual feast for children and adults alike, last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death.
The first part of the exhibit is devoted to Trnka as an artist and “serious” creator and features sculptures and paintings displayed in a capitvating scenographic style.
The exhibit begins with a series of images glimpsed through an arched window–a typical Trnka tableau of animated garden statues and seasonal magic. Kids are encouraged to pull up a bean bag chair to watch the short clip. The view is based on Trnka’s Baroque villa in the Prague neighborhood of Košíře.
Visitors then walk through galleries adorned with his artworks and puppets, each room anchored by looped projections of the animator’s films, screened inside of enormous picture frames and retro-style entertainment consoles stacked with hard copies of his books.
The second part of the exhibition is the traveling imaginarium Trnka’s Garden 2, created by the artist’s grandson, and spread out across the spacious GASK attic.
It features a Dwarfescope and Barkphone—an interactive musical instrument that lets you sample doggie sounds—as well as projections of elephants riding skateboards, a tricycle track featuring a mischievous tom cat, a giant shape sorter with pillow shapes, and a large touch-screen animated scene from the book which kids are encouraged to throw balls at.
The city of Kutná Hora itself is well worth a visit (or revisit for those of us who’ve been there multiple times), home to the renowned Sedlec Ossuary and the Gothic St. Barbara’s church (GASK is mere steps from this UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Even if you don’t make it to the exhibit, GASK’s education center has plenty to keep kids occupied anytime you plan a visit. The museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art is housed in an extensive Baroque Jesuit college. A discount ticket can be purchased to see a number of the city’s top attractions, including GASK.
Note to stroller-pushers: if you’re coming in on the train from Prague and want to see the Ossuary you have to get off before the city center. Even if you head straight to the center, GASK is a good uphill hike from the main station.
But for a last-minute educational trip — one that doesn’t involve winter sports (unless of course chasing naughty cats on a tricycle or throwing balls at whales qualify as such) — GASK promises to tick all the right boxes.
The exhibit runs through March 22, 2020.
Jiří Trnka: In the Garden of the Imagination
Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region (GASK)
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-18:00