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Czech-EU Artwork Raises Hackles In Brussels

The enfant terrible of Czech art is kicking up a storm in Brussels. David Cerny -- whose works include painting a tank pink and giant babies climbing up a television tower -- has a new exhibition in Brussels to mark the Czech Republic's six-month presidency of the EU.

The giant installation depicts all the 27 member states as snap-off-able pieces, like you'd find in a modeling kit.

Originally, the idea was that artists from each member state would provide the "pieces": you might have expected tasteful depictions of windmills, a plate of dumplings, or a man sitting in a sauna.

Instead, Bulgaria was represented by a group of toilets, Germany by highways arranged in the vague shape of a swastika, and France as a nation of strikers. The United Kingdom wasn't even there. (See pictures of Cerny's work.)

Cerny apparently acted alone, and never commissioned the pieces from the artists, begging the question of where the $500,000 commission ended up. It seems the embarrassed Czechs were none the wiser about the whole scam.

The reactions have been mixed. A harmless prank poking fun at Europeans' ingrained stereotypes and misperceptions? Or unabashed racism with no place in Europe?

Cerny defends the project on his website as playful and deliberately provocative:

What do we really know about Europe? We have information about some states, we only know various tourist cliches 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...

We believe that the environment of Brussels is capable of ironic self-reflection, we believe in the sense of humor of European nations and their representatives.

The Bulgarians, however, aren't seeing the funny side and have summoned the Czech ambassador to Sofia.

The real question is what did the Czech presidency really expect? Cerny is known as a subversive prankster. One of his previous works has two bronze men urinating into a Czechoslovakia-shaped pool. Did they expect Ode To Joy?

Unless of course, in the best tradition of their subversive fictional hero Svejk, the Czechs knew exactly what they were doing.

-- Luke Allnutt

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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