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Czech, Please!

          Just as the news on the international scene was beginning to look likely to drone on forever in an impossibly grim and boring list of stupidly violent and senseless acts of political prurience, relief is in sight. And in the shape of a bright pink Soviet Era tank, no less! I was really beginning to despair, since there was no possibility of unraveling the Gordian knot that is political and pecuniary relations between Gazprom, Naftogaz, Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Puti-Poot and both Medvedevs in any gainful way. And then the North Koreans, usually a good source of material, have been spending all their time photoshopping the ever-colorful and creative Kim Jong Il into photos since he’s either too coy (hah!) or ill to step up to the tragic-comedic plate anymore. Sigh. I was starting to feel like I could really understand what today’s political cartoonists are facing, with the exit of The Shrub. The future seems an unrelieved desert of dolorously wresting water from a stone. Blood from a turnip. Irony from a cherub.

          Not so! Enter David Cerny, the Czech artist who made his name by sneaking through the inky shadows into the central square of Prague one night, and painting the tank set there to commemorate repulsing the Soviets  -or perhaps it was for repulsing the Hapsburgs, or maybe it was the Beatles, I’m not really sure, and really don’t care – pink. Two days later the army painted it green again, and then ten days after that the Deputies of the Federal Assembly (Parliament!) got together and re-painted it pink. Now that’s democracy in action. Vaclav Klaus, the current President of the Czech Republic and ardent free-marketeer who not only publicly disdains the European Union but also holds the presidency thereof for the next six months must certainly be…. proud. I mean, the market of art appreciation used it’s (not so) invisible hand to veto the army and vote pink. Or maybe pink-o? The multiplicity of ironies here is positively staggering, and I’ve always been fond of that sort of thing, haven’t you?

          Even so, Klaus isn’t, shall we say, in the pink. See, he commissioned none other than David Cerny to create a piece of art to commemorate the Czech six-month hold on EU ceremonialism, to the tune of 50k euros. And Cerny said yes, sure, he’d come up with something, collaborating with 27 artists (one for each EU country). I’m no expert or anything, but I think Klaus and his government were not perfectly prepared to do this sort of thing, since it seems there was no follow-up after that. It appears no one actually checked to see what sort of art was being perpetrated in the name of European unity. Perhaps they were overwhelmed by Mr. Cerny’s renown, and, like most of us, a little intimidated by all that pretentious art-talk about ‘visualizing the inner realm in the authentic terms of post-modernism’ and what not. Because when the sculpture called Entropa (wait for it to sink in…) was unveiled this morning in front of the EU headquarters in Brussels, it surprised everyone.

          According to Cerny’s website (http://www.davidcerny.cz/startEN.html) the project just got ahead of him, and he didn’t have time to herd 27 fractious artists around and besides, its 2009, people: can’t you laugh at yourself a little? He says:” We do not want to insult anybody, just point at the difficulty of communication without having the ability of being ironic.” ‘Insult anybody’, you ask? What does he mean by that?  Well, in the final work, Bulgaria was depicted as a collection of crude, hole-n-the-ground toilets, while the Netherlands appeared as mostly under water, with only a few minarets sticking up, and Luxembourg was represented by a tiny hunk of gold with a for sale sign on it. France? On strike.  Cerny and his cohorts did seem to have the time to come up with fictitious artists to attribute each work to, complete with a website here and there, and plenty of pulchritude in the artists’ statements about “their” work, like “It appears to be an autoerotic system of sensational spectacle with no climax in sight” next to the piece for Italy – a huge soccer field with tiny little players.

          If this is what the Czech presidency of the EU is all about, I want more. Art is important, and everyone seems to keep forgetting that, what with their wars and oil all over the place. I remember the stunned admiration I felt when I learned that in the Czech Republic the university hires poets to just be poets. They don’t have to teach, they don’t have to publish or perish, they don’t have to march around on the lecture circuit: they can just loll about poeticizing and, you know, being artsy. What is so wrong with that, I ask the dried-up, greedy, puritanical old imperialists? I have no idea how much public dross Cerny sopped up while he polished his artistic skills at biting the hand that fed him, but I hope it was a lot . I’d rather support fifteen lazy, shirking, clueless sycophantic pretenders plus one real poet or one real Einstein than none of the above.

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