When a 30 foot purple hand appeared earlier this week in the middle of Prague’s Vltava River giving the finger to the Prague Castle, where Czech president Milos Zeman lives, it was pretty obvious David Černý was behind it.
The 45-year-old sculptor has spent much of his career playfully (and sometimes not all that playfully) poking fun at political figures and pissing people off. There was that time in 1991 he vandalized a tank statue at a Soviet war memorial by painting it pink. There was also Shark, a parody of Damien Hirst’s famous shark-in-formaldehyde sculpture The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, that replaced the shark with a life-size replica of Saddam Hussein. In 2009 he unveiled Entropa, a “collaboration with 27 EU artists” celebrating the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union. In reality, the piece was all David's own work. It depicted every European nation as an insulting, offensive stereotype—France, for instance, was holding a banner that said, “STRIKE!” And then there was Brown-nosers, a pair of sculptures that resembled the rear ends of a pair of bent-over giants. Visitors could climb ladders, stick their heads into the figures’ assholes, and watch a video depicting two Czech politicians eating slop while Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played on a loop.
David’s finger is directed at Zeman because the left-wing Czech president used the scandal that brought down Prime Minister Petr Nečas to replace Nečas with a crony, which led to the government dissolving. The elections to form a new government are going on now. One possible post-election scenario involves the the Social Democrats forming a governing coalition with the Communitsts—whom David despises—with the tacit support of Zeman—whom David also despises.
I’ve known David since last year, when I drunkenly introduced myself to him at an event and told him everything in his gallery was contemporary bullshit. Somehow this charmed him, and we’ve been chummy ever since. On the eve of the election, I called him to talk about artwork and politics.
VICE: What’s the political climate like in Prague right now?
David Černý: The political climate here is… Well, I would say that everyone in Prague is a true right-winger, with some intellectual party sensibilities. We’re all very skeptical rather than optimistic about the election.
Why is that?
Everyone thinks that this election won’t work out, and there will be another.
People seem to keep mentioning Zeman’s alleged alliance with the Communist Party. What’s your take on that?
He’s a pig and that’s it. He has typical communist manners, so it really doesn’t matter if he’s actually a communist on paper. He was a communist until 1968 when he was kicked out the party. He still continued to work with the old regime shortly after.
Does the piece have a name?
I titled it Fuck Off.
Is all your art politically driven?
No, no, no. I recently opened a new exhibition, and it’s not based on anything political. The impact of the political stuff has been pretty amazing, though.
I seriously thought this would barely make the local newspapers, and yet it’s one of the top stories in the New York Times. It’s bizarre.
Why is the hand purple?
Because purple can take on a wide variety of meanings, and it’s also a color that’s not used by any political party.
Has Zeman personally affronted you in any way?
He did about 16 years ago when he said I should be in prison after the pink tank incident. He’s very pro-Russia, and he’s a perfect friend to the Russians. Zeman actually wants to give the National Medal of Honor to one of these guys who was a big communist during the communist era. They’re both pretty close since they worked together for nearly 20 years.
You’ve said that Zeman is intoxicated with power, but from what I hear, power isn’t the only thing he’s drunk on.
Yeah, it’s not only power. It’s a lot of alcohol—a lot of strong alcohol. He’s an alcoholic. He’s always drunk. He starts drinking in the early morning.
So who’s worse: the former president Václav Klaus the kleptomaniac, who stole a pen from the Chilean president on camera, or Zeman the drunk?
This is the question that a lot of people are asking. They both have the same bad qualities, but the good thing about Zeman is that he might die sooner.
You mean he might drink himself to death?
That’s the only thing that’s positive thing about Zeman.
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