Modern Art – Entropa
I was reading this month that France had just taken over the rotating Presidency of the European Union Council which means Czech will be next and it reminded me of what happened this week in January 2009 when France was handing over to Czech. It’s a tradition that the country taking over the presidency brings a piece of decoration to the council headquarters i.e. the “Justus Lipsius” building in Brussels (France had installed the French Tricolor over the entry to the building for their period). So in February 2008, almost a year before the formal handover, the government of the Czech Republic engaged one of its most well known sculptor/artists David Černy and along with his artistic partners Kristof Kintera and Tomas Pospiszyl they were commissioned to create a decoration. What happened next was called Entropa and became a piece of legendary artistic expression.
David Černy was already known for some of his protest pieces like “Finger” and “Brownnosing” which were both aimed at the Czech President who at that time was former economist and premier, Vaclav Klaus and if you do my Prague City Walking Tour I’ll show you different works by David Černy. You could say that Klaus was disliked by the arts establishment so asking David Černy to be part of a project for the government could have been seen as risky but, they went ahead.
The government stumped up CZK3.1 Million to cover the documentation of the work plus the cost of leasing it to show in Brussels for six months before finally moving it back to Czech to the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art. The artists submitted a plan which would be based around the concept of a model aircraft kit i.e. the one where you have to snap pieces out in order to build the plane. David Černy explained 1) each piece would be an EU Member State (and he provided a plan to show their location), 2) that the 28 member states would all have an artist involved and 3) that each of the 28 states would have something unique to that country. It turned out that only one member state would provide artists, Czech, and details about the other 27 were just invented. As with several other Černy sculptures it would contain multimedia and moving parts. The physical construction was done between May and December 2008.
It took 6 days to construct Entropa over the main entry to the Justus Lipsius building as it weighs 8 tonnes and has an area of over 250 square metres. The formal handover was due to take place on January 15th so it’s fair to say that dignitaries had been forewarned by the 12th for what to expect (Bulgaria complained even before the official unveiling). On January 15th with the respective European representatives seated and handover ceremonies completed, the Czech Republic became the President of the EU Council and unveiled the decoration. I imagine there was a confused silence followed by shock, not a small amount of background laughter followed by a series of diplomatic official disappointment letters and protests. Why? When David Černy said that each country in Entropa would have something “unique” I guess the government thought that would be things like Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Colosseum etc. Read on to see David Černy’s interpretation of unique.
My Favourite Pieces of Entropa
Great Britain – is not actually present. In the original proposal it was to be in the top left of the structure but Černy felt that the unique part of GB was that it did not want to be in Europe so he left it out and shows it with a blank space. How apt post-Brexit.
France – Although he kept the shape of the country he placed a single word “Gréve!” which in French means, STRIKE!
Italy – Italy was one of the countries to have moving parts and at first glance it looks like the country is a huge football pitch. On closer inspection the players either have their head in the ground or are having sex with the balls. The pitch also divides the country north/south.
Lithuania – Taking the iconic Belgian “Mannekin Pis” (the pissing boy), 4 boys go to the toilet on neighbouring Belarus.
Poland – In the style of American troops on Iwo Jima in WW2, Poland was portrayed as a potato field where Catholic priests erect the LGBT rainbow flag.
Should I go on? Why not!
Germany – covered in motorways with moving cars, but look again and is it a broken swastika in the shape of the number 18 (AH)?
Spain – entirely made out of reinforced concrete.
Belgium – a half eaten box of pralines.
Luxembourg – portrayed as a gold nugget with a “for sale” sign.
Portugal – containing three slabs of meat for each of it’s former African colonies.
Denmark – made from lego bricks which appears to have created an image of the prophet Mohammed (the artists say they think it looks like a mountain).
Austria – entirely green except for 4 huge nuclear station cooling towers (the Austrians have always objected to the Czech nuclear power stations).
Bulgaria – covered in Turkish toilets (Bulgaria became the most vocal protestor and their part of Entropa was covered up).
Cyprus – country shape is correct but it’s cut in two.
Slovakia – tied up by cord with the tricolor of the Hungarian flag.
Greece – completely desolate and burned following the financial crash and rioting.
Sweden – David Černy did not even bother keeping the shape of the country as it’s depicted as an Ikea flat-pack box.
Hungary – uses three of the country’s made products i.e. peppers, melons and salami to create another Belgian iconic structure, the Atomium.
Romania – a Dracula theme park.
Netherlands – disappearing under water and all you can see are minarets (and the sound of calling to prayer).
For the other countries well, you get the idea. And let’s not forget the Czech Republic which is an LED screen in the shape of the country which shows quotes from President Vaclav Klaus (which are not complimentary to him).
What Did the Artists Say?
It’s all about stereotypes and our pre-conceived ideas of other nations. David Černy has never commented on the reasoning behind pieces reflecting the individual EU states and by “parodying social activist art” he seeks to invite the viewer to form their own opinion. In response to the embarrassment and anger directed at him from the Czech government about the work and the 27 non-existent artists his response was that “Grotesque exaggeration and mystification belong to the characters of Czech culture, and creating false identities is one of the strategies of contemporary art”.
When the truth came out, in a disclaimer to end all disclaimers, David Černy stated “The original intention was indeed to ask 27 European artists for participation. But it became apparent that this plan cannot be realised, due to time, production, and financial constraints. The team therefore, without the knowledge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, decided to create fictitious artists who would represent various European national and artistic stereotypes. We apologise to Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and their departments that we did not inform them of the true state of affairs and thus misguided them. We did not want them to bear the responsibility for this kind of politically incorrect satire. We knew the truth would come out. But before that we wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself”.
At the end of the project it turned out that Entropa was entirely paid for by wealthy businessman Zdeněk Bakala. Černy agreed that, although he had not broken the original contract, the end result was not what the government had expected and he simply refunded the government their money. A separate contract was agreed for the price of one Czech korun.
Where Is It?
Entropa did not last the full six months in Brussels and was dismantled in May 2009. Between June 2009 and April 2010 it was at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague. Since September 2010 it has been a working exhibit in the Techmania Science Centre in Plzen.