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Art Watch : David Cerny

David Cerny is our Art Watch Artist for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

Cerny has cemented himself in the art-history books, or rather blogs, with acts of ‘hooliganism’ (painting a war memorial tank in central Prague pink, in 1991), cultural defiance with his permanent installation – ‘Inside and Out’ at FUTURA Gallery in Prague, in 2008. And his nod to various cultural icons throughout history in an insolent manner. Such as the 1997 ‘Hanging Man’ (ode to Sigmund Freud), and more recently Metamorphosis (Kafka). To give you a glimpse into the mind of this dictator, rebel and provocateur I quote his answer, when asked by a journalist about talent, “I have problems understanding the word ‘talent’.

The artist is also known as the enfant terrible. And he can pin point his rebellious culture of art from a moment in his childhood. It was not simply as Cerny has mentioned that much of his work stems from anger, built up against communism; it was also a breakdown of certain morals and expectations that he had. 

Why David Cerny?

He traces his impulse to revolt to a childhood under Communism, when freedom of expression was suppressed.

David Cerny is the son of a painter and a restorer of 15th-century art. At the age of 4 there was a statue of Lenin that was erected in a square near his house. One day, he and his father were driving by. His father muttered, “They would be better off building streetlights”. David did what all children do – imitating the actions of the parents. He carried this back and repeated it in school. Much to the alarm of his Teachers, the governing body and obviously his parents. He was not expected to repeat this at kindergarten, he said. The teacher called his parents to warn about their young subversive. Was he really subversive always and caught onto an element, was he always a super sensitive child.

Not known to follow rules, Cerny remembers the school summoning his parents. “If he were to be heard by somebody else,” a teacher warned, “he might get into trouble”. Here was the deeper problem. He was being told to lie and it was confusing.

“You realize that in the moment when the teacher is pushing you to know something and say something which is not true,” Cerny says. “As a child, you know that there is something wrong when your parents are telling you, what you hear at home, you should not repeat at school.”

It was the first time a young David faced the backlash for being himself. But it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Much older and definitely more opinionated, tn elementary school, he was scolded for wearing American flags on his shoes; and in high school, he spent his share of nights in prison for attending anti-Communist demonstrations.

Artistic Journey

In the ‘90s, David Cerny completed residencies in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 and the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program. He’s a laureate of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award, one of the Czech Republic’s most prestigious awards for young visual artists. He’s had solo exhibitions in galleries from Budapest to Rome, London, and Berlin,

What sets Cerny apart isn’t just his controversial style and skillful artistry. But also his ability to record history with his art.

“The Czech attitude is not to be proud of being Czech. It is a positive thing for me, but it also has a dark side, which is that we never won any war. In America, people are taught to be proud and as visible as possible. Here in this country, we are taught to be silent and invisible.” Said the artist


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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