Best Outsider Art in Prague: The “Magical Cavern”
Petrin Hillside Park in central Prague, just west of the river, has a beautiful view of the city from above. It’s is a lovely place to go for a walk when the weather is nice — there’s a monastery with brewery and library attached, Petrin Tower and the funicular leading to it, and many scenic pathways throughout. But it is also home to a rather strange building that lies near the top of the grounds. With vines and overgrowth built up around it, the house has creatures jutting out in patinaed busts, and just a general air of poor upkeep that makes one wonder if they’ve found the right location. But within this odd addition to the park is a creation of outsider art that is worth seeing, (and not only for the bizarre story behind its eccentric creator).
Reon Argondian is a Prague native born in 1948. An artist by trade, he’s made his mark on an international scale. The magical cavern was constructed to house a collection of painting depicting a bizarre, very space based, world of unique planets and beings. The “kingdom” as he calls it, is called Argondia, and, as you’d expect from the name, the artist is its king. Part of the appeal of the cave is this sense of walking through someone’s personal fantasy land. There’s a culture and biology to the universe Argondian creates, and most definitely a color scheme and style that quickly becomes familiar as you walk through. But there are other amusing things you pick up about the artist. For example, according to the written records of interviews with the artist, which are made available within the Magical Cavern, he was asked why so many of his female subjects were painted in the nude. In response, he briefly claimed that the weather in Argondia is quite warm and therefore nudity was the only option.
But it’s not just the beautiful surrealist paintings that make this body of work so unique; the inside of the house is a piece of sculptural art in itself, almost a work of theater. Colorful stalactites, stalagmites, and other forms of rocky growth coat the walls of the house inside. Lights twist from the walls, which often take on an almost organic feel due to the odd growths or twisting from them. Rugs, wooden and antique furniture, pottery and floating sculptures of heads all add to the overall vibe of the house.
The paintings often mimic the style of the home itself, undoubtedly an intentional quirk, and just as many of the strange characters in the paintings can be seen drinking whine, there is a free sangria bar set up for visitors that are of age. It’s recommended to plan for at least an hour inside, but one could spend far longer looking at each painting.
The cavern is open from 10:00 AM until 10:00 PM throughout the week, including Sundays, so scheduling a visit should be easy. It’s a good idea to avoid coming at peak times however, as the house is quite close and narrow in some parts, making it an unappealing experience should there be a crowd. As students, the entrance fee should be 50 czech koruna (CZK) which calculates out to be approximately €2.00 or $2.50. Even without the discount though, the price is a mere 70 CZK.