David Černý (pronounced chair-knee) is a Czech sculptor who has been known to stir up a bit of a scandal. His work, largely social-commentary pieces, is international but you can find his sculptures lurking all around Prague. Make a day of it and go for a Černý hunt!
Černý was born in 1967 in Prague. He became famous in the early ‘90s when he painted a Soviet Tank pink. The tank was located in the center of town and considered a cultural monument at that time, a memorial to Soviet tank crews. His act was considered hooliganism and he was briefly arrested for civil disobedience. He’s now one of the best contemporary Czech artists known for his provocative pieces that are banned in some European cities. But Czechs (mostly) love him; he was awarded a studio in the center of Prague where he continues making his controversial creations.
Works in Prague
Finding Černý pieces in Prague is a bit like embarking on an adults-only Easter Egg hunt. Most works are unmarked, leaving out-of-the-know tourists pointing and wondering, “what in the world?! What a weird and quirky city!”
A great example is his “Embryo” piece, hanging on a drainpipe on the façade of the Divadlo Na Zábradlí. The first time I noticed it, I had no idea what it was. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was a fetus. A Google search later revealed the sculpture as one of Černý’s public works installed to mark the theater’s 50th anniversary.
Another of Černý’s public pieces in the center of Prague is a statue of a man hanging from a rooftop, looking like he might be contemplating suicide.
The small figure is Sigmund Freud and is said to reflect Černý’s thoughts about the role the intellectual would plan in the new millennium. You can find him on Husova Street near Bethlehem Square (Betlémské náměstí).
Another of Černý’s hanging sculptures can be found in the Lucerna passage off of Wenceslas Square. One of his most well known pieces, Horse depicts a parody of Myselbek’s St. Wenceslas statue found at the top of Wenceslas Square. In Černý’s version, the horse that St. Wenceslas rides is dead. Some say this sculpture is a joke – it was said that St. Wenceslas would rescue the people of the Czech lands should they ever need it, but alas he never came (even though they could have used him several times). Perhaps, Černý’s guess as to why he never came.
Check these babies out! (See what I did there?) Černý was commissioned in 2000 to create an installation for the Zizkov TV Tower, the highest tower in the country built during the communist era, and thus the Babies were born. Nine of them crawl up and down the tower and you can watch them do so with your kids during your walk round Vinohrady in the experience called Make Your Own Prague Mug. Few more can be found crawling by the museum Kampa in Kampa park. You can climb up on their back and take some crazy pictures during the top Prague walk The Streets Behind the Castle.
Located in the courtyard of the Franz Kafka museum is one of Černý’s more hilarious creations aptly named “Piss”. The piece features two mechanical men urinating on the Czech Republic. You can even text a personal message to the number shown next to the exhibit and the men will pee it for you. Something you never knew you wanted to see.
Last, but certainly not least, is a piece located in the garden at the Galeria Futura in Smichov. The sculpture depicts two huge lower body halves with ladders you can climb. Once at the top, the viewer stares into the sculpture’s, um, butt, to watch a video of former Czech president Vaclav Klaus (Černý’s so called nemesis) and Milan Knížák, former director of the National Gallery, spoon feeding one another to the song “We are the champions”.
If you are in Prague, make it a point to see some of his public work! It makes for an excellent slightly off-center city tour and gives you a real insight into Czech humor!