Prague Commemorates Franz Kafka Centenary

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague. Photo: Jan Slavík, ©DOX 

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague has prepared an extensive exhibition KAFKAesque, featuring the work of more than 30 contemporary artists including American director David Lynch, the Chapman brothers, and Chinese dissident Liu Xia. The exhibition, which will be on view until September 2024, aims not to illustrate the work of the famous writer, but to show that the existential angst and personal anguish contained in his texts are highly relevant in our time. The exhibition is being held in Prague, hometown of Franz Kafka, on the centenary of his death.

The KAFKAesque exhibition, which is being held in Franz Kafka’s hometown, Prague, on the occasion of the centenary of his death, has been planned by DOX curators for several years. Visitors to DOX can wonder through the Kafkaesque reflections of three dozen local and international artists in the extensive exhibition presented on two floors of the DOX Centre, the largest contemporary art venue in the Czech Republic.


According to Otto M. Urban, one of the curators of the exhibition, the selection of artists was a challenge: “The number of artists who have dealt with Kafka in some way is enormous. We have primarily selected artists whose work has featured Kafka more indirectly, but all the more intensely. We were not interested in illustration, but in reflection. The exhibition is not meant to comprehensively map all the influences Kafka had and still has on contemporary art, but it is a certain slice, one of many possible perspectives.”

View into the exhibition. Photo: Jan Slavík ©DOX

Prague-born Franz Kafka (1883-1924) is one of the most important authors of the 20th-century cultural world. His German-language novels, stories, and correspondence have been translated into dozens of languages, and his work and life have been the subject of numerous monographs and scholarly studies.

During his lifetime, Franz Kafka, a law student and then a long-time accident insurance clerk, published only a few works that did not meet with much acclaim. Although his work was already known to intellectual and artistic circles in the 1920s and 1930s, it was not until after the Second World War that he began to receive worldwide acclaim.

Over the following decades, Kafka’s work gradually achieved cult status. His influence began to extend far beyond literary and academic circles and found resonance not only in all areas of cultural production, from the visual arts to film, music, and theatre, but also outside the art world.


Gabriel García Márquez, Vladimir Nabokov, William Burroughs, Albert Camus, and Milan Kundera have all written about or analysed the work and life of Franz Kafka. He has been an inspiration for visual artists such as Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, and Louise Bourgeois, filmmakers such as Orson Welles and David Lynch, and music and theatre artists such as Philip Glass, David Bowie, Nick Cave, and the Rolling Stones. The philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, and Theodor W. Adorno have all given their thoughts on Kafka. Over time, Kafka has made his way into comics, video games, and even virtual reality.

KAFKAesque, Volker März – Kafka Is Sold (2009), ©DOX 

“The interest in Kafka’s work has given rise to the term ‘Kafkaesque’, which attempts to capture the essential features of Kafka’s texts: the omnipresent influence of unknown authorities and apparatuses of power, and the futile efforts of those who are trapped in their arbitrary labyrinths. The incomprehensibility, bizarreness, and illogic of the situations in which the protagonists find themselves. In the words of Hannah Arendt, it is a ‘tyranny without a tyrant’ with obscure laws, confusing procedures, absurd logic, but also humour. All this is conceived outside of a specific time and space,” adds Michaela Šilpochová, co-curator of the exhibition and artistic director of DOX.

For decades, attempts to understand Kafka’s literary work and his life have presented an intellectual and often emotional challenge to scholars and readers alike and have been the subject of much interpretation. Every age has had a need to comment on Franz Kafka and his work, and today is no different. Everyone has their Kafka.


“There is a category of professional ‘kafkologists’. There is a category of amateur kafkologists. And there is a category of astonished readers who prefer a personal touch. This is the criterion of our exhibition. The interest in the personal relationship of contemporary artists to Kafka and his world”, says DOX director and co-curator of the exhibition Leoš Válka.

The KAFKAesque exhibition does not offer a historical view of Franz Kafka’s work but presents its own “Kafkaesque” conception of the contemporary world through the works of selected artists.

KAFKAesque, Mat Collishaw – Insilico (2023), ©DOX 

The exhibition opens with a sinister animatronic sculpture of a deer, which moves according to an algorithm that evaluates hateful posts on the X network (formerly Twitter). In the Insilico object created by British artist Mat Collishaw the life-size skeleton of a deer slips, buckles and falls in response to the intensity of the abuse on the networks in real time. According to Collishaw, the work, originally created as a reflection on human behaviour on social media, thus resonates with Kafkaesque themes such as emotional alienation, overload of absurd bureaucracy and pervasive social surveillance.

The entrance to the exhibition is flanked by black screens with rapidly appearing and disappearing quotations from Kafka´s texts while at the front, artistic videointerpretation of Orson Welles’ 1962 black-and-white film The Trial flash by.

Just beyond the entrance, the visitor encounters Kafka family portraits by Czech artist Siegfried Herz. A looming portrait of Franz Kafka´s Father is placed here right next to an enigmatic Self-portrait of Franz Kafka as a Tree.


Belgian artist Johan Tahon´s sculpture Double Kafka or Father also refers to Kafka´s problematic relationship with his father while exploring the more universal themes of loneliness, authority, and search for an autonomous identity. A monumental site-specific mural by the Czech artist Josef Bolf in the same room echoes similar motives.

The prominent sound of Pavel Büchler’s large-scale installation made of dozens of megaphones can be heard from afar. Voice and fanfare fill the space as the dehumanized robotic voice quote fragments of Kafka’s The Castle. Kafka’s theme of dehumanization is further addressed in a series of sculptures by Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Jake & Dinos Chapman, Installation (2007), ©DOX 

Film director David Lynch once said in an interview that Franz Kafka was his spiritual brother. A series of graphics which are on display in the exhibition attest to Lynch´s interest in Kafka´s existential themes but also humour and irony, which is to be found also in sculptures by yet another film director – Czech film legend Jan Švankmajer.

Five subtle reliefs paraphrasing Kafka´s own drawings, dozens of which were discovered only very recently, are the works of the Chinese dissident artist Liu Xia, the widow of the late Nobel Peace Prize winning poet Liu Xiaobo.

The exhibition also offers highly topical moments. Kafka’s work in the exhibition resonates, among other things, in the context of the current developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. German artist Volker März fictionalizes Franz Kafka´s fate in Israel in his books, paintings, and photographs while sisters Nil and Karin Romano offer a more personal reflection of Kafka´s poetics in their vivid paintings. Moldovian artist Alexander Tinei offers a painterly interpretation of Kafka in the context of the current war in Ukraine.


All the artists’ works are accompanied by their own texts, which cast light on their relationship with Kafka. Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein observes, “I finally got it. Kafka is the ultimate realist. It has taken me a lifetime to understand that Kafka’s The Trial and The Castle are just down-to-earth honest and factual accounts of the world I live in.” Czech painter and sculptor Jaroslav Róna recalls being “neighbours” with Kafka in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague, where Franz Kafka is buried and where Róna has his studio. Josef Bolf recalls his encounter with the machine similar to the one in Kafka´s short story In the Penal Colony while Jan Švankmajer remarks that the description of the same “punishing machine” haunts him to this day.

“We have asked each artist to write a few paragraphs or select quotes and paragraphs from Kafka´s work that elucidate their connection with the writer. After all, we are in an exhibition that is based on a literary work, so we thought it was important that language is at least partially represented here”, says Otto M. Urban, one of the curators of the exhibition.

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague. Photo: Jan Slavík, ©DOX 

9th February 2024 – 22nd September 2024
DOX Centre for Contemporary Art
Poupětova 1, Prague 7

Exhibiting artists: Josef Bolf, Brothers Quay, Pavel Büchler, Mat Collishaw, Vladimír Doležal, Rowynn Dumont, Martin Gerboc, Douglas Gordon, Matouš Háša, Gottfried Helnwein, Siegfried Herz, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Magdalena Jetelová, David Lynch, Volker März, Stefan Milkov, Jan van Oost, Wolfgang Pavlik, Viktor Pivovarov, Nil and Karin Romano, Jaroslav Róna, Nicola Samori, Marek Schovánek, Liou Sia, Jakub Špaňhel, Jan Švankmajer, Johan Tahon, Mark Ther, Alexander Tinei, Maciej Toporowicz

Curators: Otto M. Urban, Leoš Válka, Michaela Šilpochová

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of events, including literary readings, film screenings and concerts.A special publication will be published to accompany the exhibition.

The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art is the largest independent institution dedicated to contemporary art in the Czech Republic. Thanks to a private initiative, the Centre opened to the public in 2008. The former factory in Prague’s Holešovice district was transformed through a challenging reconstruction into a building that is now an example of cutting-edge contemporary architecture. The Centre offers exhibition spaces, a multifunctional hall, the Gulliver airship, a design shop, a bookstore, and the Art Archive. Programmatically, the DOX Centre transcends the genres of art, literature, theatre, and music and has become a space for critical public discussion of fundamental and topical issues.

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