The Art of Tact

Provocative art does not belong in the political forum

A basic rule of politics is to avoid offending your allies. Apparently unaware of this tactic, the Czech Republic has decided to celebrate the start of its presidency of the European Union by commissioning a sculpture that is controversial to the point of insult. Entitled “Entropa” and mounted in the foyer of the EU, the eight ton monstrosity takes the form of a model kit, with pieces intended to humorously represent each member country. The humor lies in the shocking nature of the stereotypes selected—Italy, for example, is depicted as a football pitch, whose players seem to be masturbating with their footballs.

While the sculpture’s brazen impudence is certainly comic and refreshingly devoid of political correctness, its presence at the center of a major political institution is simply inappropriate. To display an offensive piece like “Entropa” is to dangerously accentuate the political divisions it mocks.

Its subtitle, for instance, is “Stereotypes are Barriers to be Demolished,” a play on the Czech EU presidency motto of “Europe without Barriers.” In the context of the sculpture’s divisive stereotypes, this transforms the Czech Republic’s noble goal into a foolish ambition to be mocked. The inflammatory images in “Entropa” cast a similarly negative light on other EU goals, such as unity and cooperation. Such “ironic” jibes can only create hostility and division; it is unnecessarily aggravating for such provocative art to decorate a political forum when so many more positive images could have been found.

Indeed, the sculpture has already met with disapproval. Bulgaria’s piece, a series of “Turkish” squat toilets, was hidden by cloth after Bulgaria’s ambassador to the EU protested and sent a note to the Czech government. Many other nations have been similarly offended by its crude suggestions. Portugal is represented as a cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies, the UK is absent as a reference to its Euroskepticim, and some claim that Denmark, built of Legos, depicts faces similar to those of the cartoon controversy.

Aside from its content, debate over the display’s creator also contributes to its inappropriateness. Publicized as the collaborative effort of artists from each EU nation. Czech artist David Cerný recently admitted that he falsified the names of other artists, and that two Czech colleagues were his only assistance. “Entropa” is thus a symbol of deception and a rejection of international collaboration.

Attempting to explain the rationale behind the sculpture, Cerný explained that, “We wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself.” Admittedly, “Entropa” is funny because many of its stereotypes have some element of truth to them. The EU is not as unified as it ideally aspires to be, and of course each of its member countries has flaws. Criticism and humorous mocking by artists can be vital and necessary to help effect change.

Such art, however, belongs outside the political arena. The role of the politician is to attempt to mend divisions and to aim toward uniting people, not to encourage divisive differences. It is dangerous and unhealthy to mock politicians within their working environments, as such jibes only accentuate divisions and hostility. Political institutions thus necessitate a sanctuary of political correctness; choosing a sculpture so contentious is inexplicably antagonistic. One can only hope that all as the Czech government takes the reins of Europe, its future decisions will be more prudent than this one.

Olivia M. Goldhill ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.