David Černý is a controversial Czech sculptor whose works can be found scattered across Prague. Černý cemented his status as artist-provocateur in 1991 when, as an art student, he painted a Soviet tank bright pink. I wrote about the infamous Pink Tank on my blog last year:
In 1991, Czech artist David Černý and his art school friends painted a Soviet tank (a memorial to the 1945 liberation of Czechoslovakia) a flamboyant shade of pink and mounted a giant middle finger on its turret roof. This was two years after the Velvet Revolution, and the tank was an unpleasant reminder of the 1968 Soviet invasion. The stunt landed Černý in jail and the pink was covered up with a layer of olive green paint. In protest of Černý’s arrest, a group of members of parliament re-painted the tank pink. Černý was eventually released from jail, the tank’s status as a national monument was abolished…
Černý pulled another prank in 2009, when the Czech Republic ascended to the presidency of the European Union. Commissioned to create a sculpture in collaboration with other European artists as a symbol of unified Europe, Černý instead unveiled Entropa: a giant installation he made with two friends that portrayed the most embarrasing stereotypes of each EU members state. (For example: France is a banner emblazoned with the declaration Grève!–Strike!–and Italy is represented by masturbating football players).
Černý’s work combines absurdist, self-deprecating humor with a highly skeptical, irreverent attitude toward power and authority. In an interview with the New York Times, he suggests that this attitude (which can be found throughout Czech art and literature) has its roots in the country’s history of authoritarian rule, invasion, and occupation:
The Czech attitude is not to be proud of being Czech…It is a positive thing for me, but it also has a dark side, which is that we never won any war. In America, people are taught to be proud and as visible as possible. Here in this country, we are taught to be silent and invisible.
Speaking of self-deprecating humor, Černý’s sculpture Piss–located outside the Kafka museum on Kampa Island–shows two men urinating into a pool shaped like the Czech Republic. Visitors can send an SMS to a number posted near the statue, and the two men will “write” the message with their streams of water.
The giant equestrian status of Saint Wenceslas in Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square) is a symbol of Czech national identity, depicting the patron saint of Bohemia. But if you wander off the square into the nearby Lucerna pasáž, you’ll find another Černý project: a massive sculpture of Saint Wenceslas riding a dead, upside-down horse suspended from the ceiling.
Žižkov Television Tower
The Žižkov TV tower is the tallest structure in Prague, at 216 meters. It was built between 1985 and 1992, and was reputedly used by the Communists to jam Radio Free Europe’s radio transmissions. In 2000, Černý’s crawling babies were attached to the tower and now remain as a permanent installation.
In 1989, before the revolution, East Germans fled en masse to West Germany through Prague. Thousands of refugees climbed the fence of the German Embassy, abandoning their cars in the streets of Prague. David Černý commemorated this exodus with the statue Quo Vadis, which depicts a golden Trabant (the cars driven by Eastern Germans) with legs. It is on display in the gardens of the German Embassy in Prague.
It’s easy to miss this installation if you’re not looking for it–an embryo on a drainpipe in Prague’s Old Town that glows eerily at night.
Miminka (Babies) on Kampa
More David Černý babies, this time outside the Museum Kampa.
Man Hanging Out
Another one that’s easy to overlook–Sigmund Freud suspended from a beam in Old Town. Černý reportedly created this piece “in response to the question of what role the intellectual would play in the new millennium.”
Klaus and Knizak
Not everyone loves David Černý; he has earned the very public ire of Milan Knizak, director of Prague’s National Gallery. In Černý’s 2003 installation “Brown Nosers,” visitors climb a ladder to reach a giant rear end, inside which plays a video of Knizak and Czech president Václav Klaus (played by impersonators, of course) feeding each other slop to the song “We Are the Champions.”
Černý’s installation “Guns” hangs in the entryway to the Artbanka Museum of Young Art.
Meet Factory is an art space designed and founded by David Černý. Located in an abandoned factory, it is a combination artists’ residence, exhibition space, and performance venue.
David Černý’s public art installations make a great, quirky walking tour of Prague. Click on the image below for my Google Map of Černý sculptures around the city.