Controversial Art: David Černý's Sadaam Hussein

David Černý's shocking parody of David Hirst's work and other surreal and disturbing pieces.

(Editor's Note: 'Shark' is very realistic and therefore of a somewhat graphic nature. Some viewers may find the photos disturbing.) 

Art comes in many flavors of controversy.

Some pieces result in raised eyebrows and a stiff upper lip - perhaps Henri Matisse’s face upon seeing Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon for the first time.

Some pieces find viewers blushing and shifting uncomfortably in place - see Georgia O'Keeffe’s Grey Line with Black, Blue, and Yellow (1923).

And some pieces elicit quizzical looks, heads cocked from right to left, sparking a debate as to whether or not we’re really looking at art - see Gianfranco Zappettinis Quadrato Blu (Blue Square) circa 2003.

Then there are the pieces that fiercely reject subtlety in favor of a style that grabs viewers by the shoulders, drags them kicking and screaming into the art, and tosses them back into reality without a moment’s consideration for what their reaction will be.

Such a piece shook and shocked in 2005 when Czech sculptor David Černý created Shark, a parody of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, (1991).

Hirst’s piece, which showcases a 14-foot Tiger Shark preserved in a large tank of formaldehyde, inspired Černý, who sculpted a life-size replica of Saddam Hussein to display in a similarly large tank of  formaldehyde. The exhibit came only a year before Saddam Hussein would be executed.

The sculpture is startlingly realistic and depicts Hussein in his underwear, a rope around his throat, his wrists bound by rope behind his back and attached to his bound feet by another rope. The sculpture floats eerily in the water much like a laboratory specimen.

In 2006, Shark was banned in Poland and also in the town of Middelkerke, Belgium, where Mayor Michel Landuyt stated the piece might "shock people, including Muslims."

The Brussles Journal published an article entitled “Meet Saddam, The Shark” January of 2006 on Černý’s work. Some of the initial reactions were catalogued in the comments.

“Provacative? Explosive? Hardly- how about just plain old Stupid. Who even pays attention to something this lame?” asked commenter Claire on the article (2006-01-20).

Another commenter called dougf reacted a day earlier stating, “Europe as a whole seems to have lost its way and now can no longer really differentiate between 'good' and 'bad'. Well, let me correct that observation slightly. Europe no longer really 'understands' that there are things that are really in themselves 'good or bad'. It's all in the context , and the culture . European 'artistes' are merely the worst examples of the sickness. Saddam as VICTIM. Isn't 'nuance' wonderful?”

Other unusal works of art that shot Černý to fame include tower babies, which, as it sounds, features sculptures of babies crawling up the sides of towers; Hanging Man, which depicts a sculpture of Sigmund Freud hanging from the side of a building; Peeing Statues, which is precisely what you think it is, and a sculpture of King Wenceslas riding a dead, upside-down horse. (See photos).

Want more? Read a one-on-one interview with Černý and the "Prague Compass."

Debra Sherwood July 08, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Under related Topics (at the end)...the word sculpture is misspelled.


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