Designed by the controversial Czech sculptor David Cerny, “The Tower Babies” in Prague’s gritty Zizkov neighborhood is one of my favorite urban art installments. Bizarre, creepy, captivating – the humanoid babies crawling up the Zizkov Television Tower are arresting at first sight, and one of the first things I showed visiting family and friends when living in Prague. Construction of the high-tech television antenna began in the twilight of communist Czechoslovakia, and today it juts from the spire-speared Prague skyline. Of course, the tower itself is a reminder of the jarring legacy of communism in Central Europe, but Cerny’s unsettling babies, added permanently in 2001, are one heck of an exclamation point.
So when I read yesterday that Cerny’s “Metalmorphosis” is on display at the Whitehall Technology Park in Charlotte, NC, where I’m currently visiting family and friends, I couldn’t resist. Fronting one of the largest buildings in the park, the 30-foot-human-head-water-fountain disassembles and reassembles as its layers spin throughout the day, which you can watch on YouTube.
Without a historical reference point, “Metalmorphosis” has nothing on the “The Tower Babies,” of course. But the sculpture is striking. Its reflective metallic finish and perpetual reassembly play with the light and surrounding landscape. (Film buffs might see in “Metalmorphosis” a derivation of two James Cameron classics: Terminator 2 and The Abyss.) The sculpture is also physically formidable. Perched atop a high column of stairs before a massive building in a massive office park, the sculpture struck me, at least, as the T-1000 meets the Sphinx.
“Metalmorphosis” is part of a portfolio as controversial as the man behind it. As a business journalist in my Prague days, I never had a chance to interview or mingle with Cerny, but the artist is evidently quite the character. Certainly an iconoclast, Cerny crashed the Czech art scene in 1991 by painting pink a Soviet tank that was a war memorial in Prague. His 2005 “Shark,” a model of Saddam Hussein in a tank of formaldehyde, was banned in Belgium and Poland for risk of offending Muslims. More recently, Cerny’s 2009 “Entropa” (below) sculpture scandalized Europe. Commissioned by Brussels to mark the Czech European Union presidency, the collage-like piece mocked European integration by emphasizing (often negative) national stereotypes. In depicting Bulgaria, for instance, Cerny chose a series of Turkish toilets.
Photo of “The Tower Babies” from Wikimedia Commons. Photos of “Metalmorphosis” by the author.