Belmont Club

Self parody

Spiegel has a photoessay depicting national European stereotypes as conceived by a Czech sculptor. The work was commissioned by the EU itself. An accompanying article explains what the sculpture is, how it came to be made and why it is controversial.

A new sculpture in Brussels, commissioned by the Czech Republic in honor of its stint as holder of the European Union presidency, has rankled some EU members. The artwork depicts countries using stereotypes, not all of them terribly flattering.

It’s no secret that the Czech Republic is one of the more euro-skeptic members of the European Union. The country’s president, Vaclav Klaus — who, as it happens, is the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency — called in 2005 for the bloc to be “scrapped” and was a vocal opponent of the Lisbon Treaty, which was rejected by Irish voters in 2008 before the Czech Republic had a chance could torpedo it. …

“It is preposterous, a disgrace,” Betina Joteva, press officer for Bulgaria’s permanent representation in Brussels told the euobserver Web site. “It is a humiliation for the Bulgarian nation and an offence to national dignity.”

Joteva has, perhaps, reason to be upset. Her country is depicted in the eight-ton sculpture as a Turkish toilet. Many speculated that the reference might be to the centuries Bulgaria spent under Turkish rule.

And that’s just for openers.

‘It’s not art!,’ goes the cry. But presumably Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is. “It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine. The piece was a winner of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art’s “Awards in the Visual Arts” competition, which is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a United States Government agency that offers support and funding for artistic projects.”

Since art sometimes takes on a life of its own, maybe the safest course is to stay away from publicly funded, monumental pieces. Or else there’s no telling where things may go. Rodin originally intended The Thinker to “depict Dante in front of the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. (In the final sculpture, a miniature of the statue sits atop the gates, pondering the hellish fate of those beneath him.) The sculpture is nude, as Rodin wanted a heroic figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.”

Since then, copies of The Thinker have been used to ornament museums, libraries, cemeteries, savings banks and less tasteful settings. Those who get there may eventually discover whether a copy has found its way to the gates to hell, as Rodin intended.