EU Artwork Flap Served Useful Purpose

David Cerny's art installation shows Bulgaria as a nation of squat toilets. i i

hide captionA closeup of David Cerny's art installation, Entropa, showing Bulgaria as a nation of squat toilets.

John Thys/AFP/Getty Images
David Cerny's art installation shows Bulgaria as a nation of squat toilets.

A closeup of David Cerny's art installation, Entropa, showing Bulgaria as a nation of squat toilets.

John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

There was Luxembourg depicted as a tiny lump of gold marked by a "for sale" sign, Bulgaria as a series of holes-in-the-floor toilets, Romania as a Dracula theme park, and England missing entirely.

The artwork was intended to signify the wonder of uniting the marvelous individual riches of each member state.

Bulgaria immediately withdrew its ambassador from Prague, and the Czechs are probably wondering how long it will take Germany, represented in the mosaic by intersecting highways that look a bit like a swastika, to reach Prague.

The 1983 sculpture Shoot-Out by Red Grooms, commissioned by the Denver Museum of Art, was quickly hidden by that institution in a back alley because its cartoon version of Western history, showing a cowboy and an American Indian shooting at each other, outraged institutional sensibilities.

In the next few decades, artists continued to enrage the state with various media: Karen Finley with words in chocolate, Robert Mapplethorpe with photos of naked men, Andres Serrano with a blasphemous construction.

When Western countries, including the U.S., seemed to calm down somewhat, mostly by withdrawing funding from controversial artists, the rest of the world got into the act. The Ayatollah Khomeini condemned Salman Rushdie to death for being unflattering to the Prophet; Dutch Islamists killed a documentary filmmaker; and rioting crowds in Pakistan, protesting writing on the bottom of some U.S.-made sneakers, trampled to death some of their own. All those things seem to have occurred a long time ago now, so it was about time that art struck back.

Thank you, David Cerny, from the country of Good Soldier Svejk, and Franz Kafka, for keeping European states, united or not, from blowing too much hot symbolic air.

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