5 Mar 09

Entropa: one vision of Europe

When artist David Černý was commissioned to produce a work marking the Czech EU presidency, the result was embarassing!

Here’s a brief guide to Entropa, David Černý’s controversial artwork commissioned to mark the occasion of the Czech presidency of the European Union in 2009.


Occasionally I have lunch with colleagues in the Justus Lipsius Building on Rue de Loi-Wetstraat and Entropa covers the entire far wall of atrium. It never fails to attract attention.

Key to the countries

To compare the picture with the information below, you might want to open the first thumbnail link in a new tab or window.

  1. United Kingdom
    • Conspicuous by its absence is the most sceptical of sceptic member states
  2. Finland
    • A hunter dreams of big game on a wooden floor
  3. The Netherlands
    • Only minarets poke out from a land that has been reclaimed by the sea
  4. France
    • This nation has declared a general “Strike!”
  5. Cyprus
    • Split in two with a saw
  6. Germany
    • Motorways completely fill the landscape, criss-crossing in a possibly controversial pattern
  7. Belgium
    • The half-empty box of chocolates
  8. Romania
    • Trading off the fame of Dracula with a gaudy theme park
  9. Latvia
    • A pancake-flat landscape mistakenly filled with mountains
  10. Italy
    • Pleasuring themselves with their footballs, these players take their love of the game rather too literally
  11. Malta
    • So small, you need a magnifying glass to see it
  12. Slovakia
    • A sausage all wrapped and bound up with string the colours of the Hungarian flag
  13. Hungary
    • Agricultural atomium of simple fruit and vegetables
  14. Greece
    • Fires sweeping across a troubled landscape
  15. Poland
    • Priests raising their rainbow flag in a potato field
  16. Luxembourg
    • A little gold nugget that’s always for sale
  17. Sweden
    • Flat packed furniture
  18. Slovenia
    • A carved plaque to remind visitors that other visitors have visited here
  19. Bulgaria
    • A collection of ‘Turkish’ squat toilets, here covered by a black sheet due to national sensitivities
  20. Estonia
    • Power tools whose design shows a distinct Communist influence
  21. Portugal
    • Raw, red meat in colony-shaped pieces
  22. Spain
    • All steel and concrete, this whole place is a building site
  23. Lithuania
    • Putti urinating happily over the borderline
  24. Denmark
    • A shape built out of Lego bricks, possibly resembling a certain cartoon
  25. Ireland
    • A swampy bog of bagpipes
  26. Austria
    • Cooling towers for the nuclear-phobic
  27. Czech Republic
    • An electronic board of controversial quotes from the host nation’s eurosceptic President

Reactions to Entropa

Bulgaria is now covered by a black cloth

Here in Brussels, people seemed to be more bothered by Černý’s hoodwinking of the Czech authorities than by the import of the work itself.

There was talk of removing the whole piece because the artist had failed to satisfy the terms of the commission, which required “international collaboration”. Černý actually produced the work himself together with two colleagues.

“We wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself” the artist told the BBC when the work was first displayed.

Entropa certainly takes a humorous look at each member state, but it does so inconsistently. Britain’s non-appearance will make many Britons proud! Meanwhile Belgium gets off pretty lightly with its half-eaten, half-empty box of chocolates, whereas the allusion to Bulgaria is somewhat more frank in its display of squat toilets.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

What was far more interesting than Entropa itself was the position in which it put the Presidency and its spokesman, the occasionally gaffe-prone Karel Schwarzenberg.

If the work stayed in place, it would continue both to aggrieve those member states who were upset by their portrayal and to embarass the Czech Presidency.

If the work was removed, it would come off like sour grapes and no-one would take the ‘breach of contract’ reason seriously in the face of more vocal complaints flowing from Bulgaria (those toilets!) and Slovakia (a sausage wrapped in Hungarian-coloured string).

The great European compromise

The eventual compromise reached was predictably European. The effigy of Bulgaria was covered by a black sheet, as can be seen in the image above.

As it turns out, then, the enduring question will not be whether Entropa should stay, but rather whether or not it is good art.

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