Europe’s greatest test: David Cerny’s sense of humour

Posted by Ian on Jan 15, 2009 in blog | No Comments

Entropa displayed in the atrium of the European Council headquarters in Brussels. The work was commissioned by the Czech Republic to mark the start of its EU presidency.

In the atrium of the European Council headquarters in Brussels you can now find an oversized ‘plastic’ model kit titled ‘Entropa’ to build your own EU. Countries (characterised by national stereotypes) can be punched out of the ‘plastic’ holder and assembled as you see fit. Kit includes (see pictures below):
Italy – a soccer pitch
Germany – a bunch of motorways
France – on strike!
Spain – a construction site
The Netherlands – flooded and covered by minarets
Romania – a Dracula theme park
UK – not even included
These are just a selection of the national stereotypes that are on display as part of the biggest art hoax of the early 21st century. Just unveiled, the sculpture was commissioned by the Czech government to mark the beginning of the Czech Republic’s 6 month tenure of the EU Presidency (their first time holding the office).
The commission was intended by the Czech deputy prime minister Alexandr Vandra t0 represent a ‘Europe without borders’. Vandra argued that ‘sculpture, and art more generally, can speak where words fail. I am confident in Europe’s open mind and capacity to appreciate such a project.’
This was before the work ‘Entropa‘ was installed and unveiled on site in Brussels.
The commission awarded to David Cerny, a famous artistic interventionist, was made on the basis that 27 artists would be involved, contributing to a unique element to the whole. The public leaflet for the project lists each country and names the artist associated with the country and discusses the stereotypes used to represent each country. The only catch is that none of these artists are real. Cerny and two colleagues manufactured the names, careers and, in some cases, websites of the artists as part of a hoax-come-political artwork – awarded a €350,000 commission.
The stereotypes used are, in some cases, humourous and in others verging on the offensive. The Bulgaria government, whose country was represented as a bunch of toilets, has requested an official apology from the Czech government. There have also been tentative calls for the removal of the work before its official unveiling.
Cerny has stated that he had expected that the hoax would be revealed but that he was particularly interested to see whether or not the EU has a sense of humour. From the public leaflet, “Self-reflection, critical thinking and the capacity to perceive oneself as well as the outside world with a sense of irony are the hallmarks of European thinking.”
In this economic climate, I argue, however, that the test facing the EU is whether they can stomach the work as a defence of artistic independence, free thought and liberalism or whether these values will be foresaken for more conservative approaches to public finance and nationalist ideologies.
Whichever the case, Cerny has certainly made the issue of stereotypes within Europe unavoidable, and we can only hope that we do not shrink from engaging in the debate. As a relational art statement, the meaning and value of Cerny’s work/hoax will be in our ability to constructively engage with it and all to which it relates.

Depicted as a country on strike.

France – Depicted as a country on strike.

A group of Catholic monks erecting the rainbow flag of the gay community.

Poland – A group of Catholic monks erecting the rainbow flag of the gay community.


Portrayed as a theme-park-styled Dracula's castle.

Romania – Portrayed as a theme-park-styled Dracula’s castle.


Depicted as a flooded land with minarets poking through the water

The Netherlands – Depicted as a flooded land with minarets poking through the water


Depicted as a building site.

Spain – Depicted as a building site.


A network of motorways somewhat resembling a swastika.

Germany – A network of motorways somewhat resembling a swastika.


A collection of primitive toilets.

Bulgaria – A collection of toilets.


Country shown as a massive football pitch.

Italy – Country shown as a massive football pitch.

A small lump of gold for sale.

Luxembourg – A small lump of gold for sale.

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