Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds It is customary for a country presiding over the chair of the European Council to commission a work of art for the Justus Lipsius building that remains on display during the six months of that country’s presidency. In 2015, Luxembourg, for example, commissioned a work of art from Georges Zigrand, which resulted in an arrangement of 28 deck chairs in the colours of the flags of the member states in the building’s atrium. This work had to encourage people in the building to take a seat for a moment of relaxation and reflection. Further on in the building, a second artwork, a curiosity cabinet, displayed an unknown side of the country through a display of Luxembourgish curiosities– objects, people, artists, and artworks.
Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds In the second half of 2013, Lithuania decorated parts of the building with a work called Gardens of Europe by an arts collective headed by art director Salius Valius. You can find more information on the work and the philosophy behind it in this video. These commissioned works are rarely an occasion for discussion, but offer the presiding country, by means of showcasing its national creativity, the opportunity to provide an aesthetic framework for bureaucrats, politicians, and citizens, within which to contemplate aspects and dimensions of Europeanisation. In 2009, however, quite a stir was caused with the Czech contribution to this traditional decoration of the Justus Lipsius building.
Skip to 1 minute and 40 seconds For his work, entitled Entropa, the artist, David Cerny, chose satire, parody, and irony to reflect critically, even though with some misplaced humour, possibly, on the process of Europeanisation, given the current condition and mindset of the member states. If you want to, you can pause the video here to find pictures of it on the internet. Entropa makes a bold statement in the form of a subtitle– “Stereotypes are barriers to be demolished–” as a response to the motto of the Czech presidency, Europe Without Barriers. The work was commissioned to a collective of 27 artists from the then 27 member states of the EU, and initially presented as such.
Skip to 2 minutes and 24 seconds Soon, however, nosy newspaper journalists in the Czech Republic discovered that the artists listed in the work’s accompanying brochure do not exist, or that their CVs are, in fact, that of other real artists. Cerny eventually admitted that the work was made only by himself and three assistants. This caused the Czech government to state its disappointment for having been deceived, and the artist replying with an apology. The work represents the European Union as a construction kit, like the Airfix toy airplanes that one can assemble oneself, containing the 27 member states. In fact, Cerny stressed this link with toys himself by stating in the brochure accompanying the work, “The EU puzzle is both a metaphor and a celebration of European diversity.
Skip to 3 minutes and 16 seconds It comprises the building blocks of the 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.” The Wikipedia page on this work of art contains a very useful description of the various elements of this work of art. Each member state is depicted as a building block for the EU and represented by means of a stereotype. France, for example, is a country covered by strikes, Italy as a country of playing football, and the Netherlands is represented under water, with only a few minaret towers still visible.
Skip to 4 minutes and 0 seconds Bulgaria is represented as a set of squat toilets, called Turkish toilets in the artist’s brochure, and caused so many negative reactions that this part of the artwork was veiled during the months that it hung in the Justus Lipsius building. Cerny’s message is clear– a construction made of these building blocks requires serious rethinking. At the time, the Czech Deputy Prime Minister released a statement– “We consider Entropa to be art, nothing more and nothing else.” And sure, Entropa has received much media attention and got people talking in Brussels and outside of it, too. As a work of art, it shows clearly what art can do– enable us to reflect critically on ourselves and our reality. This is not always easy.
Skip to 4 minutes and 54 seconds And Entropa dispels, in any case, also the myth that art is always beautiful.
Every six months, one of the member states holds the presidency of the European Council, in which Heads of State or Government and ministers meet. Each of them gets to commission an art work for the EU’s main building, the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels. In this video, Dr Margriet van der Waal looks at one such art work, ‘Entropa’ (2009) by Czech artist Černý.
‘Entropa’ was meant as a satire and parody of European stereotypes. Arguably, the piece misfired and many people took offense. However, because ‘Entropa’ was put on display in the Justus Lipsius building, which is the heart of European institutions, the affair makes for a good example of looking at the tensions between top-down and bottom-up manifestations of European culture.
© University of Groningen