Earlier this year, the Czech Republic commissioned artist David Cerny to create a monumental sculpture to celebrate the nation's six-month stint as president of the European Union. The sculpture was to be a collaborative piece created by twenty-seven international European artists to celebrate the unity of the continent and was planned to be on display for six months at the European Council building in Brussels.
But when installation day arrived in January, the finished product, called ENTROPA turned out to be a politically incorrect nightmare and a headache for diplomats across Europe. The vast sculpture is a pieced-together map of the continent, each country represented by a sort of stereotypical caricature of that country's people or history.
For example, Germany is represented by a grey block intersected by autobahns that, some people say, resemble a swastika. France is draped with a sign that says, "Grève," or, "Strike!" One of the most controversial parts of the sculpture is Cerny's portrayal of Bulgaria as a Turkish Toilet.
But perhaps the most outrageous part of the story is that, despite what the Czech Republic asked for, the sculpture was not at all a collaboration. Cerny and a small group of friends created the entire piece as a hoax meant, according to Cerny, to "find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself." Given the outcry against the piece, and its eventual early removal, the answer to that question seems to be a resounding NO. You can read more about the controversial piece here, and there is a full list of countries and their portrayals on Wikipedia.
Looking at Cerny's other work, it seems that this sort outcome should've been predicted when commissioning the piece, but I think it raises a larger question. This sculpture may have been intended to be satirical and humerous, but given the venue, not many people were laughing. Most felt that it was just inappropriate. Others would argue, however, that the sheer amount of attention the piece has gotten makes it successful. It has forced people to talk about stereotypes and cultural perceptions, so how could it be a failure?
My question is this. Satire is often offensive by nature. That being said, does it have a place in public art? Should the knowledge that a piece of public art will offend someone prevent it from being commissioned? What do you think?