David Černý: Artistic Rebellion

By Freya Thomas, English Literature First Year.

You can’t escape David Černý in Prague. Described by The Guardian as ‘a rebellious mix of Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst’, his artwork offers humorous if often disturbing political satires and social commentaries, earning him notoriety as one of Prague’s most famous artists. His sculptures loom large and unfiltered in public spaces: hanging from apartment rooftops, drawing crowds in city squares, and catching the eye in riverside parks.

Photo by Freya Thomas.

Born in December 1967, David Černý is a Czech sculptor who studied in Prague and New York, and who went on to create a number of confrontational works, inspiring praise and criticism from both public and political spheres.

Černý first gained notoriety in 1991, when he painted pink an army tank in Prague commemorating the soviet troops of World War II. At the time, the tank was still a national monument, and Černý’s act of artistic rebellion led to a momentary arrest. Černý went on to attract further political controversy and criticism for his “Shark” sculpture, a satire of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which showed Saddam Hussein floating in a tank of formaldehyde, and was banned in Belgium and Poland due to fears of offending Muslims.

Entropa. Used under fair use. Original image.

Yet perhaps the most controversial of Černý’s pieces is Entropa, a work commissioned by the Czech Republic with the intention of being a collaboration between artists from the twenty-seven EU nations. Instead, in an elaborate hoax, Černý and his accomplices created fake profiles for EU artists, and displayed a tongue-in-cheek sculpture mocking each of the nations. France is shown as a ‘STRIKE!’ banner; Germany is formed of autobahns connected into a swastika shape; and the United Kingdom is an empty to space to represent its Euroscepticism and geographical isolation from the rest of Europe. The unveiling of the sculpture sparked immediate backlash, further exacerbated by the discovery that it was not in fact formed in international collaboration, leading to the covering of Bulgaria’s squat toilet section and, ultimately, Entropa’s removal from the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels.

Černý’s work is spread across Prague city today. Tourists and locals are constantly walking past or beneath his work. Just off Wenceslas Square, a popular tourist spot noted for its statue of Saint Wenceslas astride a horse, is Černý’s suspended sculpture: hanging from the ceiling of Lucerna Pasaz, Wenceslas sits astride the under-belly of his dead steed. Another monument to a famous Czech, Černý’s The Head of Franz Kafka (or Metalmorphosis)is a monumental installation of the novelist’s head, formed of forty-two rotating shining metallic layers.

Photo by Freya Thomas.

Closer to the Old Town Square on Na Perstyne is the Hanging Man, a figure of Sigmund Freud swinging from a rafter jutting out from a rooftop, thought to be ‘Černý’s ambiguous response to the question of what role the intellectual would play in the new millennium’. The piece is easy to miss for the passers-by below.

Perhaps more disturbing is Miminka (Mummy), Černý’s giant metal babies by the riverside near Charles Bridge, whose bulbous heads are faceless save wrinkling, USB port-like features. Some have suggested that ‘the installation is intended as a commentary on our overdependence on media for sustenance’ (Pocket Prague, Lonely Planet). Equally controversial is Černý’s creation in Prague’s Lesser Quarter; two male figures of bronze in a small courtyard, urinating into a pool shaped like the Czech Republic.

Photo by Freya Thomas.

Černý’s work is as bizarre as it is comic, and holds sharp political meaning even as tourists wander past in troves, or as young children clamber over them in public parks. In one interview Černý was questioned on the meaning of his art, to which he responded:

I think that the question of whether a work makes sense or not, or whether it needs explaining or not, is answered over time. If it emerges that it makes no sense and isn’t even aesthetically interesting then it might as well be thrown into the trash. I may have certain opinions, which I use to create a certain sculpture. And I’m not obliged to explain those opinions or that statue. What I am obliged to do is explain it to myself.

Černý. Read the full article here.

Perhaps it is impossible, or at least unnecessary, to try to fully explain or understand Černý’s bizarre and innovative work. Instead, we can appreciate them for what they are: humorous and often disconcerting artistic commentaries, scattered across the heart of the Czech capital.

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