David Černý’s joke in Brussels

Entropa is a satirical sculpture created by Czech artist David Černý and commissioned by the government of the Czech Republic to mark the occasion of its presidency of the Council of the European Union. It was supposedly created jointly by 27 artists and artist groups from all member countries of the EU; it soon came to light, however, that it was made only by Černý and three assistants.

The piece was unveiled on 12 January 2009. Moving and multimedia components were activated on the formal „launch date” of 15 January 2009.

Entropa is an unassembled model kit containing pieces in the shapes of the 27 member states of the EU. Each piece has a distinctive theme that portrays the stereotypes which the artist perceived to be the most associated with that country. Most countries are portrayed in a particularly provocative manner:

  • Bulgaria: a series of connected „Turkish” squat toilets
  • Italy: a football pitch with several players who, according to some, appear to be masturbating
  • Lithuania: a series of dressed Manneken Pis-style figures urinating on its eastern neighbours
  • The Netherlands has disappeared under the sea with only a several minarets still visible
  • Poland: a potato field, where priests (might be from Torun, the seat of ultra-catholic Radio Maryja) erect the rainbow flag of the Gay rights movement, in the style of the U.S. soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima.
  • Portugal: a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique

When the cotroversy raised, Czech Deputy Prime Minister for EU Affairs Alexandr Vondra defended “Entropa”:

Art is freedom. Freedom of expression is a founding principle of democracy. Art knows no boundaries. The Czech Presidency motto is a Europe without Barriers. (…)
Entropa is just art – nothing more, nothing less. In the last two days it has raised rather positive reactions. People react as they usually do when they attend an art exhibition: they watch, they analyse, discussing not only their own country but also the others. The project depicts mainly stereotypes and clichés as barriers to integration and cooperation in Europe. By realising that these barriers are there, we can start removing them. Realisation of prejudice is a sine-qua-non condition for its elimination. (…)This piece of art has never been meant as the Czech Presidency vision of the EU or its Member States, and no matter how shocking the latest discovery might be, it does not change anything in this regard: this is not how the Czech Government or Presidency views the EU or any Member State. (…)Entropa is a provocation of a kind. I understand that some could feel offended and I would like to apologise to them. This does not just concern Bulgaria but any other member state. (…)

We gave opportunity to free expression and it is the artist’s responsibility how he will approach this free space. We consider Entropa to be a piece of art. Nothing more, nothing less. I hope we can agree on this with the rest of the European family. We hope we will be able to laugh with you – not at you. (…)

But regardless of Vondra’s statement and apology, Bulgaria demand the removal of ‘their’ part of the sculpture. Bulgaria’s ambassador to the EU sent a formal protest note to the Czech government.

Černý originally stated that he meant for the sculpture to be amusing, saying, „Irony is about making fun. It is not meant to offend anybody” and later issuing an official statement saying, „We wanted to see if Europe is able to laugh at itself.” On January 15, Černý reflected on the hostile reception of Entropa:

I certainly don’t feel like a winner. That’s how I’d feel if there were a few shocked Brussels bureaucrats walking around the piece, shaking their heads, thinking about what those Czechs have done here. We expected this to be treated as a joke, a happening, a nice installation, nothing else. That we are already discussing the removal of some parts doesn’t seem like a tremendous success to me. I’d be much happier if it remained whole.

Indeks 73 Initiative Comment

The case of Entropa forces us to ask the questions about the freedom of art in the EU. It is guaranteed in the Art. 27 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the most national constitutions in the EU countries (e.g. in Poland in Art. 73, in Bulgaria as Art. 23).

Will Bulgaria’s demands be accepted or will we really see that “in today´s Europe there is no place for censorship” (like Czech Deputy Prime Minister claimed on 12 January)?

This case reveals also a lot of hidden mechanisms in the contemporary art practice and art distribution. Most of the media and newspapers in the 27 countries were using  PR materials (produced as an hoax by David Černý), without verifying them. Gazeta Wyborcza even stated that they asked their journalists in its cultural desk, to make immediately an interview with the not existing artist Leszek Hirszenberg. Wasn’t it too easy for David Černý to make us believe that these 26 artists really exist?


Entropa in Wikipedia
Entropa: Stereotypes are Barriers to be Demolished
Speech of Alexandr Vondra, Deputy Prime Minister for EU Affairs

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