Curatorial History of Contemporary Art

Milan Knížák has been a noticeable personality of the Czech art platform since the 1960s. Since 1990 he has been the head of the Intermedia Studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague where he also worked as a chancellor between 1990 and 1997.

From 1990 to 2011 he was a director of the National Gallery in Prague. His contribution deals mostly with this function and his occasional curator activities.
He put emphasis on a very rigid differentiation between art museum and kunsthalle. His management of the National Gallery belongs to the first type of institution and he aimed to lead it in accordance with it. The main task of an art museum is to administer and extend its collections which is being presented by permanent expositions. In his opinion those expositions should be stable and their little or no variability is not any imperfection as people should come back to such museum to contemplate the same artefacts at the same place. Exhibition organization is just a complementary activity for such institutions and he tried to minimize it. He added that the problem of contemporary art operation is the lack of exhibitions rather than their excessive amount. In a discussion he was confronted with an objection that the National Gallery operation during his administration did not entirely correspond to this conception. In the same context there was also mentioned organization of the international biennale or triennale of contemporary art in 2003, 2005 and 2008. Knížák admitted that such type of event does not fit in his conception of art museum. He would rather prefer such event not to take place in the National Gallery at all. Nevertheless it was a compromise – the consequence of the outside strain on the gallery to engage more in exhibition organization.
In his curator activities he supposedly emphasized the strength of an art individuality. It was projected onto the permanent exposition of the Czech contemporary art he composed in Veletržní Palace. The exposition is not assorted by themes but by properly differentiated authorial units.
Similarly motivated is probably his interest in art „outsiders“. He stresses their resistance to contemporary art trends and the resulting creative individuality. One of such artistically and morally strong „outsiders“ was in his opinion Vladimír V. Modrý (1907-1976), a painter from Plzeň who had an exhibition in the National Gallery in 2004.

Josef Ledvina

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