David Černy and the weird, wonderful ways of public art

As far as strange, post-modern sculptures go, David Černy ranks at the top of weird shit I’ve seen. (And I grew up in LA and went to college in Berkeley, so, you know.) Černy’s sculptures are often larger-than-life, and seem to deconstruct ordinary images, questioning ideas we normally hold to be sacrosanct. Why do we venerate a statue of a supposedly important man on a horse? What constitutes a modern nation-state, and is that nation-state simply a political body or something more sacred? What does technology tell us about our progress as a species, or is it just turning us into blind, unthinking monsters?

I’m a huge fan of any and all types of public art–whether it’s just psuedo-profound scribbles, or beautiful paintings, or aesthetically pleasing patterns. I recognize that there is room in the world for all of it, and I fully support the idea of using a public space as a canvas and as a legitimate way to have a dialogue with the public.

“Selfies make my life complete” –> a good tagline for me and Ezra Koenig

But let’s face it. Some public art has more thought and meaning behind it than others. While the John Lennon Wall in Prague is nice–it’s bright and colorful, and people have left many an inspiring (or sometimes cliche) message there. It’s cool that anyone can paint something there, and it’s even legal! It makes a great backdrop for your next Facebook profile picture. But the John Lennon Wall doesn’t make you think. There is very little room for interpretation of the messages posted there, and most of the messages aren’t very complicated to begin with. Most of them are just lyrics from Beatles songs.

David Černy’s work is actually trying to grapple with something. What that something is might not always be clear without context, but if you take a tour of the city of Prague (something I highly recommend; this is a good company) that context becomes more clear, and the bizarre and non-sensical statues start to make sense.

The Zizkov television tower, with weird babies crawling up and down. The babies have weird butt-like faces.
King Wenceslas on top of an upside-down, dead horse in Pasaz Lucerna. A parody of the statue a few blocks away in Wenceslas Square.
I knew about this sculpture but found it by accident once when I started wandering around after my friends canceled dinner plans on me. This sculpture actually moves, and it makes more sense when it does. Each layer rotates at different speeds and eventually they all come together to form a human face.
Two men (and my friend Morgan) peeing into a fountain in the shape of the Czech Republic. You can actually text a message to a special number and they will pee it out.
A giant, mirrored pregnant woman, naked and kneeling. The guy in the picture was this hilarious Irishman we met at our hostel who dragged us out for a drink around noon. They have since moved this sculpture and I have no idea where it went.
So there was actually a hole, where you could climb into the sculpture, hang out for a bit, then exit, thus being “reborn”. The Irish guys we met were really into having the whole rebirth experience.

Of course, Černy’s sculptures are weird enough that everyone can have their own interpretation–but with modern/post-modern art, and especially public art, the dialogue created as people find their own meanings is kinda the point. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and the thoughts and experiences we bring when looking at a piece of art are just as important as the person who created it.

So, what do you see when you look at Černy’s work?

6 Replies to “David Černy and the weird, wonderful ways of public art”

  1. I absolutely love this post! Especially the last picture lol. it is all about interaction nowadays. I am pretty interested in street art and have been looking for a Banksy work but haven’t bumped into any yet. 🙂


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