Searching for Cérny

Before jetting off to Prague I did my usual scroll through Pinterest and Instagram in search of something unique and funky to do there. I already had plans on stuffing my face at the Christmas market, losing my mind if it snowed and finally seeing the Dancing House in real life, but I wanted to do something out of the ordinary so that I’d have something fun to write about.

I’d already been to Prague once before, on a whirlwind trip through Europe with Topdeck. It was one of those bus tours where you party every single night and tend to be confused to which country you’re in at the moment. It was a brief 40 or so hours in Prague and I won’t lie, it wasn’t exactly memorable. We were camping about 25 minutes out of the centre of Prague and our highlight was the five-story nightclub that boasted to be the biggest in Europe. I do hazily recall doing a walking tour through the Old Town, crossing the Charles Bridge and hiking up the steps to Prague Castle – but that’s where my memory fades. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic time but for actual details of the city, I needed to visit again to refresh my memory.

On my search through Pinterest, I came across a picture of a statue of a man dangling high over a street. It was a morbid sight but it captivated me so I clicked on the article and discovered the work of Czech artist David Cérny.

Cérny was a badass, no f**k’s-given-sort of bloke who came onto the scene in 1991 when he painted a Soviet tank pink as a war memorial in central Prague. As the tank was already serving as a national cultural monument for the Soviet Tank Crews, this act of civil disobedience immediately was considered as ‘hooliganism’ and he was promptly arrested. Being arrested didn’t stop Cérny and he continued to create thought-provoking and somewhat risque works of art throughout Prague.

Luckily my two friends travelling with me were just as interested in Cérny’s work as I was so we made it our mission to try and find as many of his sculptures as possible. While his work has been around for several years, it was hard to track down a lot of information about locations and details of each piece. With a sketchy outline and a list of sculptures, we set out to see them all.

First off were the easy ones, works of art that have become famous in Prague and often the centrepiece of tourist photos. The Horse, located in Wenceslas Square inside Lucerna Pasaz is a huge sculpture of a dead horse hanging upside down from the roof with St Wenceslas sitting astride the deceased animal. This piece of art is apparently a parody of the large statue of St Wenceslas at the top of Wenceslas Square. It is said that St Wenceslas would come and rescue the Czech people if they ever needed it (and they definitely did) but he never came. Perhaps this is why Cerny thinks he never did.

 

Horse
‘Horse’

 

Next up was the hilariously salacious Proudy that always guarantees a giggle for viewers. Two bronzed men stand opposite each other ‘urinating’ into a shallow pool. What might appear to just be a vulgar piece of work actually has a clever backstory. While it just looks like the gyrating hips of the bronzed statues are simply urinating nonsense, they are actually spelling out Czech literary quotes. And it’s not just a shallow pool they are peeing into, it’s the outline of the Czech Republic, so essentially they are urinating on the country itself. Mic. drop.

 

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‘Proudy’ – Little bit rude, a whole lot of truth

 

We wandered through Kampa Park, on our way back to our apartment and found the larger than life babies with barcoded faces crawling around the park. The babies were originally created to make the Zizkov TV tower less hideous, and the concept was so popular that they are still are crawling up the tower today. We didn’t make it to the tower but stumbling upon the creepy looking babies in the park was enough for us.

 

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‘Barcode Babies’

 

As we crossed back over the Charles Bridge and let ourselves get lost in the windy cobblestone streets, we had a hard time looking up when everything at eye level was fascinating. We knew the ‘Hanging Man’ was hangin’ about here somewhere but our coordinates were off. Just as we were going to walk to the next street, one of my travel companions said “Look up girls” and there he was, right on top of us!

The sculpture of Sigmund Freud dangling high above the fairy-tale-esque streets was just as eerie in real life and you do have to do a double-take at first. This sculpture, that looks like Freud is contemplating whether to let go or not is said to be Cérny’s answer to the role of intellectuals in the 20th century. Grim? Yes but scarily accurate.

 

Hanging Man
‘Hanging Man’ -eerily mindblowing

 

That night after a delicious Indian dinner (‘K – The Two Brothers‘ amazing Indian food!) we took a stroll to find a less obvious piece that apparently glowed at night. After a relatively easy search for the others, we were sure we would find ‘The Embryo‘ quickly, but over an hour later and many wrong turns made, ‘The Embryo‘ was nowhere to be found. This was just the start of our bad luck with Cérny’s statue and perhaps his plan all along. Was he making his more elusive pieces harder to find, or were we just getting worse at looking? ‘The Embryo‘ is said to show how difficult art is to make and how hard it is for artists to create in such a narrow-minded world, where people wouldn’t understand the meanings behind the pieces. I guess this rings true with the ‘Proudy‘ statue where tourists laugh and giggle at the naughty statue but don’t take a second for the meaning of it to sink it.

 

cerny-embryo
The elusive ‘Embryo’ – photo credit (https://www.mywanderlust.pl/quirky-prague-art-by-david-cerny/)

 

Dismayed by our previous night’s attempts, we set out on our final morning to find the one we were all really keen to see. ‘Brown-Nosers’ was probably the most hilarious/crude creation of Cérny’s in Prague, yet the meaning behind it is a powerful punch to Czech politicians egos. Tucked in the small garden of a non-profit art gallery, Futura, the large sculpture of two humans bending over with ladders leaning against their backside was a humorous shock but one I had to see for real. Apparently, inside the butt-hole, you can poke your head in and see the former Czech President and the former head of the National Gallery spoon-feeding each other to Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’. It’s a supposed metaphor for Czech politics however this piece rings true for countries worldwide.

 

Brownosers
Risque, hilarious and still not seen in real life! – photo credit (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/brownnosers)

 

We only had about two hours to find the gallery before we had to hightail it to the airport. As the gallery was only open a couple of days a week, this was our only opportunity to see the ‘Brown-Nosers’.

Now the day was just one of those days that nothing seemed to go right. It was a beautiful clear sky and the winter chill wasn’t as bitter as it had been the previous days. Maybe it was the blue skies that set us awry but it seemed that as soon as we checked out of the apartment, everything went south.

First of all was getting there. It was on the other side of the river and several blocks uphill. As we were short on time so it was a frenzied scurry with not much time to appreciate the lovely weather.

We had to go up and over a large hill that appeared to have the Prague version of the Stairway to Heaven. Step after step and I was cursing myself for being a lazy sod that hasn’t worked out since she left Australia. My extra four layers of clothing weren’t helping in the bright Czech sun. Finally, we made it to the top, only to be greeted by more uphill streets. This was a lovely part of the city though; it felt more like the real Prague with us being the only tourists.

After using a sketchy locator on Google Maps, we finally spotted a hanging white sign with the letter ‘F’ protruding out from the ancient building – but it seemed a little too quiet.

It turns out that the gallery didn’t open until 11am and we had found it at 10:15am.

Normally it wouldn’t be a problem but we had to make it all the way back to our apartment and be on our way to the airport at 11:30am. So we’d be cutting it super fine if we waited for it to open.

Maybe it was a lesson from Cérny to stop being such a brown-noser? If I am being honest, all we wanted to do was see this crude sculpture, have a giggle and snap a pic that would guarantee us a few likes on social media. Was this a wake-up call to stop being on the hunt for the coolest and most obscure thing out there and instead to appreciate the fact that we have the opportunity to travel freely? Was Cérny actually a messenger from above trying to change our superficial ways?

Or should we have just checked opening times more closely?

I don’t know but it looks like I have to return to Prague to search for Cérny once more!

J.x

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