Wednesday, 26 October 2016

David Cerny - Prague's Rebel Artist

Piss (2004)

David Cerny

Chech sculptor David Cerny is a master of productive disquietude and controversy. His sculptures are provocative, defiant and certainly intriguing. They are quirky, amusing and revolutionary. Born in December 15, 1967 in Prague, Cerny gained notoriety in 1991 by painting a Soviet tank pink that served as a war memorial in central Prague. As the Monument to Soviet tank crews was still a national cultural monument at that time, his act of civil disobedience was considered “hooliganism” and he was briefly arrested [1].  

 The power of Art

Cerny's parents were artists themselves. But as he recalls, he hated being dragged to official exhibition openings. He studied design and graphic design but he knew from the beginning  that he was too much of a rebel and provocator to find happiness and fullfilment in designing furniture and other utalitarian items. Initially, his works were dismissed as too brash  and garish.  All galleries kept turning his creations down. A single protest action in September 1991 catapulted him into the limelight overnight - in the literal sense of the word overnight - as the Pink Tank was created overnight. Cerny and his accomplices painted a Russian tank pink and erected a large finger suggesting an obscene gesture on its turret, signing the work "David Černý and the Neostunners". It was an extremely daring and risky thing to do in those times. The tank - an important monument commemorating liberation of Prague by the Red Army in 1945, turned into a symbol of Stalinist oppression over the next four decades. But once it was painted pink, the tank has assumed a totally different meaning - a joyous act of freedom and liberation, non-violent protest, a breath of fresh air of uninhibited, individual expression and creativity. Pink Tank became a metaphor for the Velvet Revolution - a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. The period of upheaval and transition took place from November 17 to December 29, 1989. After an official protest by the Russian government, the tank was re-painted green. Interestingly, the tank was painted back to pink a second time by members of parliament in protest of Cerny's arrest. The national monument status was abolished, Cerný was released, and the tank was eventually removed after being repeatedly being painted green, then pink again, a few more times. The tank is now located at Military Museum Lešany near Týnec nad Sázavou (source: Soviet Tank Crews).

The symbiosis of art and urban architecture

Significant part of David Cerny visibility and popularity factor is that the majority of his sculptures can be found in public spaces. Cerny proves that art and urban architecture can walk hand in hand and co-exist in a relative harmony. Tucked into corners, dangerously swinging from an iron beam above cobbled streets or curiously climbing up a tower - his works make us stop and ponder. When you head right along the Vlatva's edge to Kampa Island you are bound to bump into three giant babies that guard the entrance to Museum Kampa. These massive crawling, Lynchian creatures, are part of Cerny's "Babies" Zizkov TV Tower project.

I suppose that having read the brief introduction above, you keep wondering what Cerny's "Babies" Zizkov TV Tower Project was all about and how did the shameless monster cherubs get to Kampa Island. I was equally puzzled when I stumbled upon these three black giant babies, their mouths stapled shut, nonchalantly crawling outside the entrance to the Kampa Museum. I was not only puzzled but also amused! It turns out that the three monster babies guarding the entrance to Kampa Museum are twin brothers of Miminkas - eight black babies who are permament residents of Zizkov Television Tower!

Zizkov Television Tower is  216 meters (709 feet) high, and it is the highest tower in the Czech Republic. In the year 2000 Prague was the Cultural Capital of Europe and at the time Cerny was living here. He was commissioned to create a temporary project to honur the occasion. Cerny came up with the original idea of installing eight monster fiberglass babies on the Zizkov Television Twoer. His “Tower Babies” became his most prominent work in Prague.  Due to the public’s appreciation of the babies, it was decided that they would remain permanently on the Tower. To see them up close, go to Kampa Museum where they crawl in a corner next to the entrance (source: David Cerny: Art in Public Spaces).

It is important to note however, that Cerny's Babies  were first presented in 1994 at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art, followed by appearances in various other cities including London. The tower project came about in 2000 – the year Prague was a Cultural Capital of Europe. (source: David Cerny: Art in Public Spaces)

Brownnosing is another provocative and outrageous work by Cerny. Located in the garden of the Futura Centre for Contemporary Art in Smíchov, two headless, five metre high rear ends lean provocatively against a white wall. 

Image credit: (
Shocking, entertaining, provoking, funny and brave. His sculptures make us thinking.

You can climb a ladder and stick your head in the sculpture’s fiberglass anus to see a video of two Czech politicians feeding each other slop to a soundtrack of “We are the Champions." Crude, unsubtle, comical, it is yet another example of Cerny's displeasure with post-revolution democracy; the fates of the Czech people, he feels, rest uneasily in the dictatorial, money-grabbing hands of inept politicians [3].

Year: 2003 | material : mixed media | height 5.2 m (17.06 ft) | address: Hole kova 49, Prague 5, Czech Republic

Man Hanging out (1996)

Image credits: (Civic Arts Project)

"This unique sculpture in Old Town Prague depicts psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud hanging by a hand and pondering whether to hold on or let go. It is an unexpected and eye-catching-if not disturbing-image in an otherwise sublime urban area.

Sigmund Freud was born in Frieburg which is now part of the Czech Republic.  Even during the most prolific times of his career, Frued suffered from a number of phobias including the fear of his own death.  Suffering from mouth cancer when he was 83, Freud had his close friend and doctor help him to commit suicide through administering morphine.

Artist David Cerny depicts Freud in this way to signify his constant struggle with fear of death.  Other interpretations suggest that the artist was personally challenging the status quo.

The sculpture became so popular that it was exhibited in other cities including London, Berlin, Rotterdam, Chicago, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Often mistaken as a suicide attempt, the sculpture has initiated calls to fire and police. Man Hanging Out is in the ‘Stare Mesto’, or Old Town, section of Prague and is surrounded by richly detailed buildings, narrow streets, and cobbled plazas.  The sculpture is close to Old Town Square and other popular areas in Old Town" (5).

(Source: Civic Arts Project)

Piss (2004)

Located just outside Kafka Museum, Cerny's "Piss" features two bronze figures urinating on a map of the Chech Republic. "Text a personal message to the number next to the exhibit and these chaps will happily waggle their bronze penises around to spell it out for you"(6).

The sculptures I presented in my blog consist only small fraction of the total number of fantabulous creations by Cerny in Prague. If you are in the capital of  Bohemia, make it a point to see some of his public work! It makes for an excellent slightly off-beat city tour and gives you a real insight into Czech sense of humor!

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