I was delighted to learn, this morning, of Czech “enfant terrible” artist David Cerny, who was profiled in the New York Times. I guess I had seen the pink tank at some point, but this was the first I heard of his caricature of the Czech president encased in a giant, fiberglass anus, not to mention his installation featuring “two bronze sculptures of naked, urinating men, which proceed to swivel their hips and move their protruding penises to trace his four-letter words into a pond shaped like a map of the Czech Republic.”
The article goes on to explain how Cerny became a “folk hero” when he staged an elaborate prank when the Czech Republic had the rotating six-month presidency of the EU last year. Apparently some (no doubt officious) Czech dignitaries hired him to oversee a project where artists from each country in the Union would create a work that would “proudly display the unique traits of [their] country.” Instead, Cerny did all of them himself, savagely lampooning each country (“Bulgaria as a Turkish toilet, Catholic Poland as a group of priests raising a gay flag and Germany as a network of motorways eerily resembling a swastika”), and then made up fictional artists and fake biographies for each one, complete with absurd narratives about the pieces.
That has got to be one of the best abuses of cultural cachet I’ve ever heard of. The article quotes a Czech museum director who says that his art is “destined for the amusement park,” but then reveals that Cerny also placed that guy in the fiberglass anus, feeding slop to the Czech President to the tune of “We Are the Champions.” If ever anybody earned his reputation as an artistic “bad boy,” it would have to be him, right? How do you beat naked sculptures peeing swear words onto a map of your home country, or using your status to embark on personal vendettas against museum directors in the form of elaborate installations making fun of them?
The article, which is a little bit fawning (it says he looks like Mick Jagger, and also breathlessly reports how he “considered” getting fake boobs and walking around Prague with them. Maybe it’s just me, but he’d have to go ahead and actually do that before I’d call it newsworthy), quotes him talking about the difference between the U.S., where Americans are “taught to be proud and as visible as possible,” and the Czech Republic, where “we are taught to be silent and invisible.” I am fascinated with the idea that this sort of behavior made him a “folk hero,” as it is all too easy to imagine the opposite reaction were some American artist to make a statue of somebody peeing on the American flag or what have you. Perhaps Dan or one of our Czech readers can further elucidate this cultural distinction. (I’m also hoping that this post will inspire Dan to tell us about some other famous Czech pranks that I learned a little about when I visited last year.)
EDIT: Dan reminds me that Cerny also made the creepy babies that adorn the Zizkov TelevisionTower, as described in a recent post. They seemed sort of crazy when I first saw them, but they are clearly on the tamer end of the Cerny spectrum.