Prague Quadrennial

Published May 18, 2023

PQ – largest international event of its kind and unique platform for communication among various scenic art professions. In this article, we’ll delve into history of the event.

The Prague Quadrennial is the largest international event of its kind in the world, showcasing contemporary trends in stage design and theatre architecture. The festival serves as a unique platform for communication among various scenic art professions. Every year, thousands of visitors from dozens of countries attend the festival, which has been recognized for its innovative approaches – in 2015, it was awarded the prestigious EFFE Award. This series of articles will delve into the history of the event, offer insights into the preparations, and provide reflections on the festival.


Czech stage design in the world

Czechoslovak stage design gained recognition in the art world at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et des Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris, where František Tröster, a stage designer, received a gold medal for his designs. Subsequently, international collaboration emerged through the Brazilian São Paulo Art Biennial. Czechoslovak stage and costume design exhibitions achieved great success, resulting in four consecutive gold medal victories – František Tröster secured another medal in 1959, followed by Josef Svoboda in 1961, Jiří Trnka, who continued the Czechoslovak winning streak, in 1963, and Ladislav Vychodil in 1965. The triumph of the exhibitions, showcasing the development of Czech and Slovak stage design, prompted the international community to propose the establishment of a Czech show of scenic art in Prague.


The Beginnings of the Prague Quadrennial

The inaugural edition of the Prague Quadrennial (PQ) took place in 1967, establishing its four-year interval and inspiring its name. Initially, the editions exhibited primarily showcased artifacts from theatrical performances such as models, drawings, objects, and photographs, providing insight into the artists’ creative thinking and process. While the exhibition was shaped during a period of liberalization in the communist regime, the subsequent years saw the emergence of the repressive regime of so-called normalization, which stifled artistic freedom after 1968. The four-year gap between the editions perhaps allowed for sufficient distance and adaptation to the state’s restrictions, enabling the PQ to continue its activities. Another challenge, albeit a more positive one, emerged with the transformation of the Czech economy and society following the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

Over the years, the Prague Quadrennial progressively embraced other artistic professions, expanding from stage design to include costume, lighting and sound design, incorporating performance and live action elements into the exhibition. The interplay between these disciplines naturally fostered a vibrant dialogue that shaped the future direction of the exhibition’s development. “The true essence of stage design, including the audience, can only be experienced in live events, performances, or curated environments where stage design is either recreated or specially designed for the exhibition’s purpose.”


Stage design in live action

The 15th edition of the Prague Quadrennial, taking place this year, introduces changes in its approach by officially transitioning from an exhibition format to a festival setting. This shift is a result of the long-term development of the event and the desire to present stage design in a live and immersive context. Within the festival, the theatre space is re-animated, actively engaging viewers and drawing them into the action.

The customary four-year gap between editions, particularly accentuated by the pre-pandemic discourse, emphasizes the aim of enhancing the overall experience through the theatrical performances, interactive elements, and audience involvement – the festival concept encompasses a multisensory approach, stimulating visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory senses. In response to the absence of live culture in previous years, the festival’s artistic direction emphasizes the importance of human connection and face-to-face encounters.

As PQ 2023 endeavors to support the flourishing of creative thinking and the arts industry, it offers a rare, unique, and unfiltered experience, centered around this year’s theme: RARE.

The program is divided into two main exhibitions – the Exhibition of Countries and Regions and the Student Exhibition. In addition, the program works with eight program sections: Fragments II, Theatre Space Exhibition, PQ Performance, PQ Studio, Best Publication Award, PQ Talks, 36Q°+H40 and PQ for Children.

Find out more about the offerings of each section and explore the challenges faced by the organizing, creative, and production team in planning a festival featuring three hundred works from over a hundred countries in the following interview with artistic director Markéta Fantová and general manager Michaela Buriánková.