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Prague, the city of weird statues

What’s the best known place with weird statues and art? Probably the Vigeland park in Norway or the Denver airport. In Eastern Europe, Prague offers a lot of diverse weird statues, all thanks to one man, David Černý.

This is not to say that there are no other weird Eastern European statues. There is a sandworm in Croatia, robot statues to remind us of the prisoners of the Gulag or the history of Bulgaria. Perhaps the weirdest of them all, however, is not even in Eastern Europe. It’s in the Antarctica. The Southern Pole of inaccessibility is the place on Antarctica that is the most distant from the ocean, so one of the most remote and most difficult to reach places on Earth. A team in 2007 set out to get there without modern means of transport: only by manhauling and kite skiing and they succeeded. They knew their destination was near when they spotted something in the distance. The Soviets were the first to reach the southern pole of inaccessibility in the 50s and they even established a research station (although they abandoned it shortly after). But what the explorers in 2007 spotted was not one of the buildings. It was this:

Southern_Pole_of_Inaccessibility

A bust of Lenin facing Moscow atop of a building covered in snow.
Photo by Cookson69

Literally in the middle of nowhere is a Soviet Lenin statue. Are you interested in weird statues but you don’t feel like going to the most distant place on Earth to see just one? Well, you should visit Prague then, because there are lots of them.

For all of these below, one man is responsible: David Černý. His first stunt was painting a tank pink – this tank was installed by the Soviets as a memorial to the liberation of Czechoslovakia. This happened in 1991, nevertheless Černý was put behind bars for a short while and the monument was restored. But the artist got famous and went on to create more shocking and bizarre statues. Some of his work seem innocent enough at first sight though.

450px-Quo_vadis_2

Wow, a Trabant with legs…
Photo by VitVit

Freud statue

Oh my God, there’s a guy hanging from the top of that building…oh, it’s just a statue of Sigmund Freud.
Photo by Polyparadigm

Baby crawling

A baby is crawling to the top of that tower! How cute!
Photo by Prazak

David Černý - Prague - Kampa_Museum

Then upon closer inspection you realize these babies are like some Giger nightmare.
Photo by Heinz-Josef Lücking

And then there are Černý’s Czech Republic related works. If you’ve been to Prague, you have probably seen the Wencelas Square with the statue of Saint Wencelas. It’s Prague’s perhaps most well-known statue, a national symbol that the Czech are very proud of.

wencelas_statues

On the left is the original, on the right is Černý’s version.

Needless to say, it caused a huge outrage, but it is still there in the Lucerna Arcade, not far from the original statue.

Another one is outside the Franz Kafka museum:

800px-CernýPeeingStatues

Yes, it’s two statues pissing on the Czech Republic. But there’s more! If you send a text message to the given phone number, then the statues will obediently pee your message into the water.

But his biggest stunt so far is when he managed to infuriate several EU member states with one of his works. In 2009 the Presidency of the EU Council was in the Czech Republic. For the occasion, the country commissioned a piece of art to show the diversity, the unity and the greatness of the European Union. The chosen way to ensure this is to get 27 artists, one from each member state and make a mosaic. The only problem was that the artist chosen to be the leader of this project was David Černý. He simply made up all the other artists and created a mosaic of national stereotypes called Entropa:

448px-Entropa-rectangular

Photo by Marek Blahuš

Just google the country name and entropa and you’ll find better pictures for each. Denmark is made of Lego bricks, Italy is a football pitch, Romania is a Dracula theme park, Sweden is an IKEA-box and Hungary has the Atomium made of salami, watermelons and paprika, while the UK is not even included (because of its Euroscepticism). And then is gets ruder. In Poland priests erect the gay rainbow flag, the Netherlands is underwater with only some minarets visible, Slovakia is a sausage with a string of the Hungarian tricolor around it, Germany has a swastika-shaped autobahn on it and Greece is a scorched wasteland. The most controversial, however, was the depiction of Bulgaria as a number of squat toilets. The Bulgarian government complained immediately and demanded the removal of Entropa. Eventually, the Bulgarian piece was covered with black fabric.

While I don’t understand what Sigmund Freud hanging from buildings or the alien babies stand for, the EU sculpture is a bit easier to interpret. It’s called Entropa with the subtitle “Stereotypes are barriers to be demolished”. Entropa is a wordplay on Europa (Europe) and entropy, the “measure of the disorder of a system”, while the subtitle reflects on the motto of the Czech European Union Presidency: “Europe without barriers”. There is disorder in the EU, due to the differences between the member states. Just think about the possible secession of Scotland or Catalonia – and they are thinking of seceding from something they have been a part of for a very-very long time. The cultural ties between the ever-growing EU member states are very weak, if existent at all and this is especially important because of the not too bright economic situation in many member states. In my interpretation, Černý says that stereotypes and national identities are barriers of the EU spirit/values/unity, but forcing the EU spirit/values/unity thing and the commission of works like this one is futile because the entropy of “Entropa” will never decrease (c.f. second law of thermodynamics).

There are many other Černý works not included in this post, so you can find more if you like. Or do you have some other favorite weird art in Eastern Europe? Let us know!

See what else I have to say on statues in my Bloody Monuments piece.

About the author

János Gömöri

János lives in Budapest. He is interested in music, history, coding and linguistics.

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