Review - With this New Year comes a new exhibit attributed to Milan Knížák, director of Prague's National Gallery, hot on the heels of his last year's show at the Mánes Exhibition Hall.
The two exhibits are as similar as apples and oranges, though.
The current one is displayed in a corner glass store front in Holešovice, near the Veletržní Palace, a far cry from the prestigious Mánes location.
While last year's exhibit concentrated on current new works, this year's presents works that look all the way back to the mid-60's, though most artifacts are from this year.
Whereas the preceding show was primarily about presenting the works to a wider audience, the current one is clearly marked as a sales exhibit, and so are the prices of the works.
These may astound the onlooker even more than the exhibited works themselves. Prices range between a hundred thousand to about half-a-million crowns.
My friends in high places
One can also find an unusual piece here - an unconventionally formatted biography, fashioned as a first-person narrative.
An excerpt reads: "I expelled the professors and students who did not agree with my leadership at AVU (Academy of Fine Arts in Prague). I entered in the competition to become the general director of the NG (National Gallery) and finished fourth."
It continues: "My friend, the Minister of Culture, named me the general director of the gallery despite the decision of the committee. After coming to NG, I approved purchases of highly priced art works. I bought many works created by students of my studio at AVU for the gallery's collections. I blocked the presentation of the Jindrřch Chalupecký Award [yearly award to young Czech artist] winners from the NG exhibition spaces. I was named by mayor Pavel Bém to Prague's grants committee, although my name did not appear among the 80 nominees."
This would be an unusually open, daring, almost pragmatic step. It would be an especially juicy revelation now when the scandal about a work by Knížák's friend Joseph Beuyse, which allegedly Knížák bought for the National Gallery's collection for an exorbitant price, is starting to unravel.
It certainly would be, if it were not a fake, a complete fabrication.
The exhibit is a brainchild of an art-activism group called Guma Guar, which renamed itself Milan Knížák for this occasion. This "conceptual display" appears under the auspices of the Vernon Gallery, as part of the Vernon Projects.
The power of division
From the curator's notes it becomes clear that the exhibition aims primarily to explore the correlation of art and commerce as well as the use of author name as a brand. But the subtext becomes fairly obvious to everyone.
This project is simply about power, its use and mis-use, Knížák's conflict of interests and long-time criticism of his activities on the national art scene.
The potential sales from the exhibit are meant to be used as a prize fund for the Milan Knížák Award, which is supposed to mimic the NG director's idea of an alternative to the Chalupecký award.
Knížák has divided the Czech art world for the last ten years. He is a controversial figure, who has given rise to unsurpassable disputes.
The simple fact of his being the demarcation point for the whole of the community is telling.
Can we do without him?
The general sentiment is that he should resign as the head of NG and other influential positions. His opponents will probably see that day eventually, but it will be interesting to watch what will happen when the nemesis is gone.
Maybe the local art community will need to create another Knížák to replace this one. There won't be a lack of candidates, and they will most likely also come from the ranks of contemporary visual artists.
The current Knížák exhibit, if nothing else, expresses a sentiment, a relevant one for today.
Provocation and confrontation are an indelible part of Knížák's persona, just as it is for the Guma Guar group. But just because they do the same thing, does not mean they are the same. At least, not for now.
The question is if the show's meaning can withstand time, and if it doesn't give Knížák more publicity than a bad rep, with the importance that it essentially attributes to him.
More importantly, is it not actually counterproductive? Since, it is possible to exist without Knížák even today. You just have to want to.