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Monday, May 30, 2011

When Art Irritates

Entropa exhibit.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Two years ago a controversial art piece was unveiled that still has tongues wagging.  Entropa: Stereotypes are barriers to be demolished was created by artist David Černý for a commission by the European Union to commemorate the Czech Republic's presidency of the Council of the EU.

Romania depicted as a Dracula theme park.  Image courtesy of the BBC.

Every six months a different country covers the presidency of the Council.  Prior to the Czech Republic, France held the position.  It is customary for the presiding country to erect an exhibit in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels.  France offered a large balloon in the national colors of France.

Belgium as a half-eaten box of praline chocolates that have been bitten into.
Image courtesy of Tomáš Pirkl.

Černý chose to create a work that displayed negative stereotypes of all 27 EU member countries.  Each country is shaped like its real borders.  The depictions of each country range from harmless fun to rather risque innuendos.  

Poland with priests erecting a rainbow flag of the gay rights movement
on a field of potatoes, ala U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima.  Image courtesy of Pirkl.

The entire work measures 54' x 54', and weighs 8 tons.  Made of glass-reinforced plastic with joints made of steel, the entire work resembles an unassembled model kit with snap-out parts.  Černý claims that the Monty Python brand of humor influenced him.

Slovakia depicted as a wrapped Hungarian sausage.  Image courtesy of CT24.

The work was unveiled on January 12, 2009.  The next day Bulgaria's ambassador to the EU registered a protest on behalf of his country with the European Commission, and sent a formal protest to the Czech government demanding that the sculpture be taken down immediately.  The Bulgarian part of the piece was covered with black fabric on January 20th.

Bulgaria is shown to be composed of Turkish toilets.
The Bulgarian sculpture after it was covered up.
Both images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Czech officials defended the exhibit and stated that they wanted to avoid censorship as an expression of freedom.  Given the controversy they expected complaints from other countries, but few were forthcoming.

Malta with a dwarf elephant and a magnifying glass.  Image courtesy of Pirkl.

The Czech officials had a change of heart, however, when the evening of the unveiling Černý announced that he and two friends created the entire piece.  When the proposal was made to the Czech government, Černý had said that an artist from each country would create the piece for their respective countries.  They had even published a booklet listing each country's artist with résumés for the artists.  These ended up to be fake.  Černý stated that they had originally planned to contact artists but limited time and financing prevented it.  Once that fact was revealed, the Czech prime minister remarked that had they known that it would not have been authorized.

Portugal as a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat shaped
like former colonies Angola, Brazil, and Mozambique.  Image courtesy of Pirkl.

Černý was accused of misappropriation of funds.  He claimed that since they knew they would be deviating from the proposal, the funds would be returned.  He also stated that the deception was part of the art.  In the end, it was decided to let the piece remain on exhibit, as it was "art, nothing more and nothing else".

Hungary as the Atomium, a monument in Brussels built for the 1958 World's Fair,
made of watermelons and sausages on a floor of peppers.  Image courtesy of antaldaniel.

No one seems to have denied that the stereotypes were true.  Blaming the art for the stereotypes doesn't cut it.  Since art reflects life, it is the way people think that is offensive, not an inanimate object.  Bravo for artists who dare to reflect shame and ugliness!

For more of Černý's work click on his website.
Since last September, Entopa is part of the Pilsner
Science Center, Techmania.

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