Sunday, January 18, 2009

A $500,000 Art Hoax?

Entropa... art, hoax, or both?

David Cerny was commissioned to create an installation for the Czech government with the intention of it being used to mark the governments first turn at being the head of the European Union. The plan for the installation was ambitious-- it was to involve one artist from each country that is represented in the European Union. The Czech Government provided Cerny with just over $500,000 in funding. The money was supposed to cover materials, travel, and living expenses for 27 artists assembled by Cerny.
Cerny and his fellow artists were to create a positive installation that reflected the combined strength of the European Union. Unfortunately, the art installation, titled ‘Entropa’, was created and unveiled to scathing criticism due to the controversial depictions of some of the countries-- some involved mini-urinals while others hinted at negative stereotypes. Cerny and his fellow artists had betrayed the intention of the commission-- they had created a mockery instead of a symbol of solidarity within the European Union. However, there was more going on behind the scene than just slap-stick criticism of the EU.

The controversy forced the Czech government to question David Cerny’s intentions and to examine what exactly had taken place during the creation of the installation. It was at that time that Cerny admitted that his proposal was a hoax. He never contacted 27 emerging artists for involvement in the project. Instead he and his assistants created the sculptures. Cerny came up with 27 white lies-- the scheme involved creating fake names for the participants.

There are many questions that have yet to be answered concerning David Cerny and his hoax-- the main one being, what happened to the money? The Czech government has made it clear that Cerny will bear full responsibility for not fulfilling his assignment and promise. I don’t know where David Cerny is currently located, but I bet he can think of 500,000 reasons (or less if you go by EU currency) not to return to the Czech Republic. Apparently the money has not been returned yet.
David Cerny and his team released the following statement on his website concerning the hoax:
"Europe is unified by its history, culture and, in recent years, also by a jointly created political structure. More orless diverse countries are intertwined by a network of multi-dimensional relationships that, in effect, results in an intricate whole. From within, we tend to focus on the differences between the individual European countries. These differences include thousands of important and unimportant things ranging from geographical situation to gastronomy and everyday habits.
The EU puzzle is both a metaphor and a celebration of this diversity. It comprises the building blocks of the political, economic and cultural relationships with which we 'toy'but which will be passed on to our children. The task of today is to create building blocks with the best possible characteristics.
Self-reflection, critical thinking and the capacity to perceive oneself as well as the outside world with a sense of imny are the hallmarks of European thinking. This art project that originated on the occasion of Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union attempts to present Europe as a whole from the perspectives of 27artists from the individual EU Member States. Their projects share the playful analysis of national stereotypes as well as original characteristics of the individual cultural identities.
That much is stated in an official booklet of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However Entropa is not a real pan-European work by artists-provocateurs, but a mystification. At first glance, it looks like a project to decorate official space, which has degenerated to an unhindered display of national traumas and complexes. Individual states in the European Union puzzle are presented by non-existent artists. They have their names, artificially created identities, and some have their own Web sites. Each of them is the author of a text explaining their motivation to take part in the common project. That all was created by David Cerny, Kristof Kintera and Tomas Pospiszyl, with the help of a large team of colleagues from the Czech Republic and abroad.
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 beginning stood the question: What do we really know about Europe? We have information about some states, we only know various tourist clich├ęs about others. We know basically nothing about several of them. The art works, by artificially constructed artists from the 27 EU countries, show how difficult and fragmented Europe as a whole can seem from the perspective of the Czech Republic. We do not want to insult anybody, just point at the difficulty of communication without having the ability of being ironic.
Grotesque hyperbole and mystification belongs among the trademarks of Czech culture and creating false identities is one of the strategies of contemporary art. The images of individual parts of Entropa use artistic techniques often characterised by provocation. The piece thus also lampoons the socially activist art that balances on the verge between would-be controversial attacks on national character and undisturbing decoration of an official space. We believe that the environment of Brussels is capable of ironic self-reflection, we believe in the sense of humour of European nations and their representatives."
What are your thoughts concerning this installation and the hoax?

Links of Interest:

Czech Sculptor's $500,000 EU Art Uncovered as a Hoax

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange

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