Thursday, January 15, 2009

Detail of the installation "Entropa", which represents several European Community countries, on view at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: EFE/Olivier Hoslet.

BRUSSELS.- The idea was simple but good. So effective that he convinced the presidency of the European Council, which this semester is headed by the Czech Republic, to give its blessing and the 500,000 Euros needed to finance it. Czech artist David Cerný promised the following: a collaboration between 27 artists from the European Community who would put forth their vision from their own countries. France was portrayed as a labor strike, Spain as a slab of concrete and Italy into a soccer field.

The only problem is that behind this work of art, which has caused great controversy reducing Greece to a huge fire, Romania into a Dracula castle, there is only one creative mind, that of David Cerný.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister, Alexandr Vondra, has confessed feeling "surprisingly sorry" after discovering that the only author of Entropa is Cerný and not 27 artists, as had been stipulated in the contract with the artist.

"David Cerný is the only person responsible for not fulfilling his commitment", said Vondra, who added that the Czech presidency is analyzing what to do with the installation, which has already been placed at the Justus Lipsius builiding of the EU Council building and which was supposed to be inaugurated on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Cerný, known for his sculptures such as Freud hanging in the middle of the streets in Prague or for painting a rose on a Soviet tank, has laughed all along and said that he wanted to prove "that Europe could laugh at itself".

Cerny, who also invented 26 false names of European artists that had supposedly collaborated with him, recognizes that he knew the truth would come out and says that economic restrictions and lack of time motivated him to do the whole work by himself.

Belgium appears as a chocolate box, Denmark constructed with Lego and the map of Sweden below a box that looks like the ones Ikea uses.

On his website, the artist posted the fllowing comment:

Europe is unified by its history, culture and, in recent years, also by a jointly created political structure. More or less diverse countries are intertwined by a network of multi-dimensional relationships that, in effect, results in an intricate whole. From within, we tend to focus on the differences between the individual European countries. These differences include thousands of important and unimportant things ranging from geographical situation to gastronomy and everyday habits.

The EU puzzle is both a metaphor and a celebration of this diversity. It comprises the building blocks oft he political, economic and cultural relationships with which we 'toy' but which will be passed on to our children. The task of today is to create building blocks with the best possible characteristics.

Self-reflection, critical thinking and the capacity to perceive oneself as well as the outside world with a sense of imny are the hallmarks of European thinking. This art project that originated on the occasion of Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union attempts to present Europe as a whole from the perspectives of 27 artists from the individual EU Member States. Their projects share the playful analysis of national stereotypes as well as original characteristics of the individual cultural identities.

That much is stated in an official booklet of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However Entropa is not a real pan-European work by artists-provocateurs, but a mystification. At first glance, it looks like a project to decorate official space, which has degenerated to an unhindered display of national traumas and complexes. Individual states in the European Union puzzle are presented by non-existent artists. They have their names, artificially created identities, and some have their own Web sites. Each of them is the author of a text explaining their motivation to take part in the common project. That all was created by David Cerny, Kristof Kintera and Tomas Pospiszyl, with the help of a large team of colleagues from the Czech Republic and abroad.

The original intention was indeed to ask 27 European artists for participation. But it became apparent that this plan cannot be realised, due to time, production, and financial constraints. The team therefore, without the knowledge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, decided to create fictitious artists who would represent various European national and artistic stereotypes. We apologise to Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and their departments that we did not inform them of the true state of affairs and thus misguided them. We did not want them to bear the responsibility for this kind of politically incorrect satire. We knew the truth would come out. But before that we wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself.

At the beginning stood the question: What do we really know about Europe? We have information about some states, we only know various tourist clichés about others. We know basically nothing about several of them. The art works, by artificially constructed artists from the 27 EU countries, show how difficult and fragmented Europe as a whole can seem from the perspective of the Czech Republic. We do not want to insult anybody, just point at the difficulty of communication without having the ability of being ironic.

Grotesque hyperbole and mystification belongs among the trademarks of Czech culture and creating false identities is one of the strategies of contemporary art. The images of individual parts of Entropa use artistic techniques often characterised by provocation. The piece thus also lampoons the socially activist art that balances on the verge between would-be controversial attacks on national character and undisturbing decoration of an official space. We believe that the environment of Brussels is capable of ironic self-reflection, we believe in the sense of humour of European nations and their representatives.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Edward Hopper, New York Restaurant, 1922. Oil on canvas, 24 X 30 in. Collection of the Muskegon Museum of Art. Michigan. Hackley Picture Fund Purchase.

SEATTLE, WA.- The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents some of Edward Hopper’s best known paintings in the exhibition Edward Hopper’s Women. The paintings, along with three etchings by the artist, paint a poignant image of the emergence of the modern American woman, through the eyes of an artist with an uncommon ability to convey seemingly unremarkable human situations in ways that elicit powerful associations and emotional responses. Edward Hopper’s Women will be on view through March 1, 2009 at SAM downtown, First Avenue and Union Street.

In 2007 SAM announced the promised bequest of Hopper’s Chop Suey, a seminal painting from 1929. With Edward Hopper’s Women, the museum unveils this evocative painting in the context of a very specific set of social circumstances in New York in the late 1920s -- and the changing role of women within it.

"The tensions that still seem to emanate from this painting are testament to the penetrating power of Hopper’s gaze," noted Patricia Junker, Curator of American Art at SAM. "Hopper revealed himself an uncommonly close observer of people and place, and it was with Chop Suey that he found his most potent, enigmatic subject in the American city—the modern American woman."

Organized by Junker, Edward Hopper’s Women brings together a group of paintings that shows Chop Suey as part of an extended narrative of human vulnerability that evolved as Hopper studied New York women in new kinds of social spaces. Through works such as the early New York Restaurant (1922), and the later Compartment C, Car 293 (1938), visitors can appreciate the universality of Hopper’s themes and the communicative power of his art across time. The paintings, together with related etchings on the theme, suggest that the artist’s near obsession with the idea of human frailty occupied him through his entire career, informing his most potent -- and now iconic -- works. The exhibition is supplemented by a selection of photographs from the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection by Edward Hopper’s contemporaries, including Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans and Ben Shahn, among others.