David Černý in Prague
See the city through the unique eyes of the famous sculptor
Controversial, quirky, stimulating and defiant are the words that come to mind when thinking about the Czech sculptor David Černý. Born in 1967 and a young adult during the Velvet Revolution, Černý is known for using his art to make political statements.
Prague is lucky enough to be home to many of his sculptures, which can be seen in public. Černý’s often-shocking pieces adorn Prague, fostering a sense of mystery and curiosity in its visitors. Although you may not realize that you have seen one of Černý’s sculptures while roaming the city, it is very likely that you have.
He rose to fame with his Pink Tank in 1991. He painted a Soviet-built World War II-era tank pink and placed a giant middle finger on it. This unauthorized modification of a state monument briefly led to his arrest for hooliganism. The tank is occasionally shown in Prague but is not a permanent installation. Most of the time it is in the Lešany Military Museum.
Some critics call Černý “the Czech Banksy,” referring to the British street artist. Černý likes to point out that he came first, which makes Banksy the British Černý, and not the other way around.
Below is a list of Černý’s sculptures that can be seen throughout Prague.
Location: Dlouhá třída, Prague 1–Old Town
This six-meter tall sculpture of a nude pregnant woman made of stainless steel has the boxy look of a computer-generated image. The woman is on her knees with her hands behind her head, displaying a rather pregnant belly.
It has been on the traffic island a short walk from Old Town Square since 2013.
Location: outside the Franz Kafka Museum, Cihelná 635/2b, Prague 1–Malá Strana
Two bronze mechanical figures with rotating hips urintate on a map of the Czech Republic. The two men write out quotes from famous Czechs into the pool. To the side of the map there is a phone number, text this number and watch the men spell out your message. In 2009 Černý told the New York Times in an interview that the figures “are an apt commentary on the self-deprecating Czechs who … have gritted their teeth through centuries of invasion and occupation, barely resisting and seldom winning at anything.”
Man Hanging Out
Location: intersection of Husova and Skořepka streets, Prague 1–Old Town
A 220-centimeter sculpture of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud hangs from a high beam by his right arm, while his left arm sits in his pocket. The sculpture shows Černý’s beliefs about the role of the intellectual in the new millennium. Ever since its installation people have called the authorities to report a possible suicide in progress. A bit of trivia—while Freud is usually considered to be from Vienna he was actually born in the town of Příbor in northern Moravia.
Location: Pasáž Lucerna, Štěpánská 61, Prague 1–New Town
St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, sits on the underbelly of a dead upside-down horse, satirizing the heroic statue of St. Wenceslas on horseback at the top of Wenceslas Square. It is said that this sculpture could be Černý stating that the modern world should no longer depend on legends as a symbol of their national identity; or, that the Czechs should no longer respect their historical past. Some people see the sculpture as criticism of former president Václav Klaus. The name Wenceslas is Václav in Czech.
Location: Žižkov TV Tower, Mahlerovy sady, Prague 3–Žižkov
By far the most visible Černý work in Prague is a group of 10 fiberglass babies crawling up the Žižkov TV Tower. Originally, the babies were placed on the tower temporarily in an attempt to make it more aesthetically pleasing, as it was considered one of the ugliest buildings in the world. They were so popular that people wanted them to remain permanently.
It is said that the babies serve as a symbol of the communist era, with the babies’ growth suppressed by totalitarian rule. If you want to see the babies up close there are three next to Museum Kampa in Malá Strana.
Location: Futura Gallery, Holečkova 49, Prague 5–Smíchov
Although not technically in a public space, Brownnosers is a must-see Černý sculpture. It depicts the lower bodies of two men bending over, and has a ladder leading up to the two men's rear ends. Once there, you can watch a video of former Czech president Václav Klaus and Czech artist and former National Gallery director Milan Knížák while listening to “We are the Champions.” Černý depicts two of his least-favorite public figures with this work.
Location: the garden of the German Embassy, Vlašská 19, Prague 1–Malá Strana
A copy of a Trabant car is walking on four legs. It was the most common East German car during totalitarian rule, and became a symbol of the fall of the Berlin Wall as many of them were abandoned by the side of the road when people fled to the West. The piece is said to represent the many East Germans who sought refuge through the West German Embassy in Prague during the communist era. The sculpture is visible through the fence behind the embassy.
K on Sun
Location: Quadrio, Spálená 22, Prague 1–New Town
A rotating statue of Franz Kafka’s head weighs 39 tons, sits 11 meters tall and is made up of 42 constantly moving layers. In an interview with Business Insider, Černý states that it was built to remind you of Kafka when you are “totally frustrated by the incompetence of state employees.” The statue, behind a shopping center, faces a Prague administrative building.
Location: Divadlo Na zábradlí, Anenské nám. 5, Prague 1–Old Town
Located three-quarters of the way up a drainpipe on the corner of Divadlo Na zábradlí, Černý’s Embryo looks like a pink blob during the day, while at night it glows and looks like a human embryo. It is made of metal, foam and LED lights.
Fast Tuned Skull
Location: DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Poupětova 1, Prague 7–Holešovice
A metallic red skull hanging at the end of a horizontal metal crane rotates atop the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art. The message behind this piece is a bit obscure.
Location: MeetFactory, Ke Sklárně 15, Prague 5–Smíchov
David Černý also has a multifunctional gallery in Prague called the MeetFactory, a non-profit international center for visual arts, theater, music and other interdisciplinary platforms.
Resting on the exterior of the factory are two red cars resembling bloody carcasses hanging on hooks — another Černý sculpture called Meat. The original MeetFactory was located in a former slaughterhouse.
For more about David Černý visit his web page at www.davidcerny.cz
Video on YouTube
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