David Cerny: Detente Czech Style

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Pranksters

Update: This article, Europe Gets a Taste of Czech Art Hoax and Self-mockery from DW-World.de, is particularly interesting on the prank aspect of Czech culture and Czech art.

Czech-EU Artwork Raises Hackles In Brussels
by Luke Allnutt
Radio Free Europe
January 14, 2009

David Cerny's Entropa

The enfant terrible of Czech art is kicking up a storm in Brussels. David Cerny — whose works include painting a tank pink and giant babies climbing up a television tower — has a new exhibition in Brussels to mark the Czech Republic’s six-month presidency of the EU.

The giant installation depicts all the 27 member states as snap-off-able pieces, like you’d find in a modeling kit.

Originally, the idea was that artists from each member state would provide the “pieces”: you might have expected tasteful depictions of windmills, a plate of dumplings, or a man sitting in a sauna.

Instead, Bulgaria was represented by a group of toilets, Germany by highways arranged in the vague shape of a swastika, and France as a nation of strikers. The United Kingdom wasn’t even there. (See pictures of Cerny’s work.)

Cerny apparently acted alone, and never commissioned the pieces from the artists, begging the question of where the $500,000 commission ended up. It seems the embarrassed Czechs were none the wiser about the whole scam.

The reactions have been mixed. A harmless prank poking fun at Europeans’ ingrained stereotypes and misperceptions? Or unabashed racism with no place in Europe?

Cerny defends the project on his website as playful and deliberately provocative:

What do we really know about Europe? We have information about some states, we only know various tourist cliches about others. We know basically nothing about several of them. The art works, by artificially constructed artists from the 27 EU countries, show how difficult and fragmented Europe as a whole can seem from the perspective of the Czech Republic. We do not want to insult anybody, just point at the difficulty of communication without having the ability of being ironic…

We believe that the environment of Brussels is capable of ironic self-reflection, we believe in the sense of humor of European nations and their representatives.

The Bulgarians, however, aren’t seeing the funny side and have summoned the Czech ambassador to Sofia.

The real question is what did the Czech presidency really expect? Cerny is known as a subversive prankster. One of his previous works has two bronze men urinating into a Czechoslovakia-shaped pool. Did they expect Ode To Joy?

Unless of course, in the best tradition of their subversive fictional hero Svejk, the Czechs knew exactly what they were doing.

thanks Don

Related Articles:

  • Czech sculptor David Cerny admits £350,000 EU art hoax, TImes Online, January 14, 2009
  • Artist apologizes after EU artwork sparks diplomatic row, CNN.com, January 14, 2009
  • Czechs embarrassed by EU art installation, International Herald Tribune, January 13, 2009