David Černý – a rebel with a cause

A pink tank stands in front of the Red Church at the end of Husova street. It was originally a WWII national memorial located in Prague, painted pink in 1991 by a 23-year old arts student called David Černý and his friends, to mock a national memorial that had come to symbolise Soviet occupation rather than WWII. Seeing this powerful machine transformed into into a pretty, pink, decorative object made me want to know more about David Černý.

Born in Prague in 1967, Černý grew up under communism and was a student during the Velvet Revolution. It’s no wonder therefore that he is called a rebel and that his work has its political denotation.

His first piece, in 1990, was a rendition of a Trabant on legs. The Trabant car was made in East Germany and this work was inspired by the many East Germans who sought refuge in the grounds of the West German Embassy in Prague during 1989, leaving their Trabants littered about the surrounding streets.

His later sculptures are much more shocking and controversial, beginning with the aforementioned pink tank, on the turret of which he constructed an erect middle finger. This tank was painted and repainted many times before being moved to its permanent location in a military museum south of Prague.

It is being displayed in Brno for the first time as part of the TRIBES 90 exhibition project at the Moravian Museum in Husova. The exhibition is not about the 90’s as most expats would remember them, but about the alternative culture of the 90’s in the Czech Republic.

There are many of Černý’s sculptures in Prague. Two of the best known are the creepy, giant babies crawling outside Kampa Park, with smooth bottoms and smashed-in faces, and the nine babies climbing up the Žizkov Television Tower. There are also the two big guys in the Herget Brick Works in Prague’s Malá strana, peeing into a basin in the shape of the Czech Republic. You can text messages to a number near the stature and see your comments in the stream of water! Just what you always wanted to do.

 

One unusual Černý work, because it’s more serious and straightforward than his others, is the massive, rotating Kafka head located near the office building where Kafka worked briefly as an unhappy clerk at an insurance company.  One reviewer wrote that this “enormous mirrored bust brilliantly reveals Kafka’s tortured personality and unrelenting self-doubt”.

The young rebel is now a renowned contemporary Czech sculptor whose work is anti-communist and anti-politician. For me, the works which encapsulate him as an artist are the giant human buttocks at the Futura Gallery in Prague’s Smíchov district. I am told that, if you climb the ladder, inside the hole is a television screen showing a video of two Czech politicians feeding each other slop to a soundtrack of “We are the Champions”. It’s shocking to many people, it’s political, it’s funny.

When interviewed by Prague Compass, Černý said that what inspires him the most is anger but also that he “just enjoys pissing people off’. I think that sums up David Černý.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Brno Expat Centre.

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8 Comments

  1. Vlastimil Veselý

    Kay, I like reading your posts, let me react this time. The readers should be aware the most of Czechs can not stand David Cerny. His reputation is questionable also in the art community where he is often perceived as a kitsch maker and populist (in terms of playing for his societal bubble).

    Of course there is no need everyone has the same cultural taste 🙂 If you really want to pick up a controversial and original Czech artist, I would recommend Frantisek Skala. He has a higher reputation among artists and does not need to attract attention by politics or a disgusting work like the statues peeing on the Czech Republic.

  2. Don Sparling

    Don Sparling

    First, Kay. Thanks for introducing BEC readers to Černý, a prominent figure of the Czech and indeed international art scene. One other piece you might have mentioned is Entropa, a sculptural tableau he designed for the headquarters of the European Council in Brussels in 2009 in which each member country of the European Union was represented by some stereotype associated with it. It was very David Černý, at times witty, at others angry, sometimes vulgar, and highly controversial. It created a scandal. And it was also prophetic: all 27 of the EU member countries at the time were there, with the exception of – Great Britain!

    And second, Vlasta. I can’t imagine any kind of statistic that would enable one to state that “most” Czechs cannot stand Černý, or that he is “questionable” in the art community. (A lot of artists are certainly jealous of him.) Or even why this is relevant. The same was said of the Impressionists in the nineteenth century, the Dadaists in the 1920s and so on. Controversial artists make enemies (especially if they set out to do so, as Černý clearly does).

    And why the ranking of artists? Skala is certainly an amazing artist, very original and innovative (though it would never occur to me to call him “controversial”) – but so is Černý: his Kafka head, for example, is one of the most fascinating pieces of sculpture erected in Prague in the past twenty-five years. Two very different artists, two very different styles and messages. Long live diversity!

  3. Vlastimil Veselý

    As I wrote before it is refreshing not everyone has the same cultural taste 🙂 And you are right, Don, diversity is great, especially when opinions can be exchanged in a free society.

    If we were discussing a selection of 10 or 20 Czech fine artists, I would not need to comment on David Cerny, his track deserved to be there. But if we pick just him as the first example for our foreign readers, they should be aware of the fact most Czechs are not proud of him and he is rather the one who divides the society while inflaming a lot of negative emotions and criticism. For example with Entropa – there was also a financial fraud connected and he had to give the money back.

    Cerny’s art is mostly built on political provocations. He knows well to find applause from his fans by kicking their political rivals and as a populist he passionately cultivates his group. And as a significant group of artists dislikes mixing politics with art, here you have another camp of disapproval. That is why I guess he can’t be comparable with impressionists of the past because our grandchildren will lack the political context.

    Luckily the world is not black and white and I like some of his pieces – gold Trabant, Babies and especially Kafka head. On the other hand his statues peeing on the country are a similar level art as the outcome of “artists” who defecated in the National gallery.

  4. Jan Kopkáš

    Vlasta,

    I would like to see any account “of the fact most Czechs are not proud of him”.

    ???

    JK

  5. Don Sparling

    Briefly – just to (I hope) bring this interchange to a close.

    Let’s go back a bit. Kay wrote about David Černý because his pink tank suddenly appeared in the streets of Brno. It’s a highly striking and, for those who know nothing about it – for example, expats – a puzzling object. Kay, as a commentator on the arts scene, naturally thought this was something worthy of comment, something she might write about since it could interest our readers. Which she did, also giving a few details about some of Černý’s other works, not omitting to mention that they tend to be “shocking and controversial”.

    So the article is about one specific important contemporary Czech artist and his work. Kay doesn’t discuss the Czech art scene as a whole, is not concerned with making comparisons with other artists, is not interested in “rankings”, makes no dubious comments as to whether “most Czechs” are disgusted by him or proud of him or whatever. In short, she gives her readers basic information about him, introduces them to some of his works, mentions some of her reactions to him and his work – and then leaves them to explore further on their own if they wish and to make up their own minds as to what they think of him. Just what a serious arts critic should do.

  6. Vlastimil Veselý

    Guys, my point was not to blame Kay. I like reading her posts and this one is certainly interesting for getting an insight into the Czech art scene. The only thing I found necessary to add for our foreign readers was that Cerny is a very controversial person and a lot of Czechs including artists, do not take some of his works with respect (if you do not remember, take a look into public debates around Entropa etc. and make a picture oneself). Full point.

    Relax, this is just a blog where people are supposed to exchange their ideas and opinions. Moreover the topic is art where everybody has a different taste – and especially when talking about David Cerny and his controversial works dividing all the lovers of art 🙂

  7. Jan Kopkáš

    Ok, so there is no evidence “of the fact most Czechs are not proud of him”. And your “only thing necessary to add” was that Cerny is controversial and not everybody likes his art.
    It is like Kay didn’t write in her post that Cerny is “a rebel”, “shocking and controversial”.

    Your only point was to say that you don’t like him. That’s fine. But don’t speak for others and “most”.

  8. Don Sparling

    And with that, I think we really can bring this series of exchanges to a close.

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