Searching for Černy, Prague's Most Controversial Artist

Babies | © Jess Buchan
Babies | © Jess Buchan
Photo of Jess Buchan
14 February 2018

Beneath Prague’s mystical bridges, castles and gingerbread houses lies a dark political history that is often forgotten. Nothing better encapsulates Prague’s troubled past than Czech artist David Černy’s scattered artworks. Each piece is not only aesthetically appealing, but will also have you questioning your own understanding and beliefs of how politics shapes society.

Who is David Černy?

Černy is one of the Czech Republic’s most controversial contemporary artists. He first made headlines in 1991 when he painted a Soviet tank in central Prague bright pink, intending it to serve as his own war memorial. As the tank was already a national monument for the Soviet Tank Crews, Černy’s act of civil disobedience was immediately deemed ‘hooliganism’ and led to his arrest. This didn’t stop Černy, and he continued to create thought-provoking works of art throughout Prague. Searching for the pieces of Černy’s political jigsaw puzzle isn’t an easy task, so we’ve listed his major pieces below to help start your treasure hunt for Prague’s most outspoken artist.

Proudy

The hilariously salacious Proudy always guarantees a giggle for viewers. Two bronze men stand opposite each other ‘urinating’ into a shallow pool. What might appear to be just a vulgar piece of art actually has a clever backstory. The hips of these statues, which move as they urinate, are spelling out quotes from famous Czech literary figures. And it’s not just a shallow pool they are peeing into: it’s the outline of the Czech Republic, so essentially they are urinating on the country itself.

Proudy | © Jess Buchan

Babies

You can spot these larger-than-life babies in two locations around Prague: at the Zizkov Tower and in Kampa Park. These creepy-looking babies are a symbol of the Communist era and how the totalitarian rule stifled their ability to reach adulthood.

Babies | © Jess Buchan

Dead Horse

Located inside Palác Lucerna in Wenceslas Square is a huge sculpture of a dead horse, hanging upside down from the roof, with Saint Wenceslas sitting astride it. This work of art is apparently a parody of the large statue of Saint Wenceslas at the top of Wenceslas Square. It is said that Saint Wenceslas would come and rescue the Czech people if they were ever in need, but he has not done so to this date – the dead horse could be why.

Dead Horse | © Jess Buchan

Hanging Man

Dangling high above eye level in Prague’s Old Town is a sight that will make you look twice. A sculpture of Sigmund Freud hanging from a metal rod over the street below is said to be Černy’s answer to the role of intellectuals in the 20th century. Freud appears to be about to fall to his death, which illustrates Černy’s uncertainty about the survival of intellectualism in the future.

Embryo

Hard to spot and perhaps hard to interpret, the gooey-looking Embryo is Černy’s metaphor for the difficulties of creating art in a narrow-minded world. This piece is illuminated at night, making the unusual sculpture even weirder.

Embryo | © Jess Buchan

Brown-Nosers

Crude and sassy but absolutely hilarious is the best way to describe this sculpture, where Černy packs a serious punch to the egos of Czech politicians. This larger-than-life sculpture depicts two humans bending over with ladders leaning against their backsides. If you climb a ladder, you can poke your head inside and see the former Czech president and former head of the National Gallery spoon-feeding each other to Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’. It’s a supposed metaphor for Czech politics, but could certainly be applicable worldwide.

Brown-Nosers | © schnappi / Flickr