2012 in the arts: Galleries
The National Gallery continued reshuffle of buildings, collections
Posted: January 2, 2013
As the year drew to a close, Prague's Museum of Decorative Arts unveiled an exceptional gift: an extensive collection of drawings and prints by Alfons Mucha. The donor was the Czech émigrée and art patron Věra Neumann. The highlight of the bequest is the original drawings for the famous Art Nouveau painter's 1899 book, Le Pater. The gift also includes a complete maquette and numerous preparatory sketches and lithographic proof sheets.
Earlier in the year, the museum lost a long-promised gift from the world-renowned Czech-born photographer Josef Koudelka. Back in 2007, he offered the museum a collection of vintage prints, including a set from the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, but took that back in July because of frustration with the length of time the museum and Culture Ministry were taking to commit to his conditions for archival storage.
Alfons Mucha and Art Nouveau were in the news in other respects, as well. In July, after a long legal battle and amid much controversy, his monumental 1910-28 cycle, "Slav Epic," was relocated from Moravský Krumlov, where it had been housed for almost half a century, to the National Gallery's Veletržní Palace. The move was opposed by the Mucha Foundation, headed by the artist's grandson, John, and his daughter-in-law, Geraldine, who died in October in Prague at the age of 95.
As the biggest art institution in the country, the National Gallery is perpetually making headlines. In addition to attempting to bring the well-respected Galerie Rudolfinum under its control in early autumn, a move which met with outcry from the art community and was soon abandoned, the institution continued in 2012 with its ongoing reshuffle of buildings and collections. It opened Salm Palace on Hradčanské náměstí and closed its exposition of Cubist art and design at the House at the Black Madonna. It also closed its exposition of 19th-century art at St. George's Monastery at Prague Castle due to the building's deteriorating state.
Its opening gambit at Salm Palace, an exhibition tracing František Kupka's path to abstraction, signaled a resuscitation of ties with institutions abroad. The National Gallery eventually plans to relocate its collection of Czech Gothic art from St. Agnes Convent to Salm Palace.
After nine years of operation by the National Gallery as a permanent home for Cubist art and design, the House at the Black Madonna will be used in the coming years by the Museum of Decorative Arts as its own main building undergoes a multiyear reconstruction.
Meanwhile, the National Gallery's Veletržní Palace, home to its collection of modern and contemporary art, has been undergoing major cosmetic changes, including removing the large-scale sculptures from outside the building and renovating its entry hall, including losing Rodin's Balzac sculpture, which has greeted visitors for many years.
Behind-the-scenes changes at Veletržní stalled, however. The search for a new director and chief curator, launched in September, was called off due to extremely low interest. Only four people applied to head the collection and just two for the chief curator job. The search committee didn't recommend any of the candidates. Many in the art community viewed the low interest as a referendum of sorts on the leadership of new National Gallery Director Vladimír Rösel, who took over the post last year.
In contrast, 10 people applied to head the City Gallery Prague this year, with Magdalena Juříková being chosen as its new director in October. Another strong year of exhibitions included one of 2012's best: Krištof Kintera's "Results of the Analysis." Stanislav Kolíbal's retrospective "Another World" at Prague Castle was another of the year's best.
There are also some positive signs for the National Gallery. It seems ready to mend its relationship with the Czech artists it had alienated in the years the institution was headed by Milan Knížák. After a long absence, the Jindřich Chalupecký Award for artists under 35 is set to return to Veletržní Palace next year, and the National Gallery will once again administer the Czech representation at the Venice Biennale.
This year, the finalists' exhibition for the Chalupecký Award took place in Brno. Vladimír Houdek, the only painter, won the award at the end of November, becoming the 23rd Chalupecký laureate and the first since its co-founder and guiding spirit Václav Havel died last December.
A few weeks before year's end, the Czech representatives for the upcoming 2013 Venice Biennale were announced: The project proposed by artists Petra Feriancová and Zbyněk Baladrán, curated by Marek Pokorný, was the hands-down favorite among selection committee members for the 55th Venice Biennale. Meanwhile, Kateřina Šedá, a past Chalupecký winner and a rising star on the international scene, became one of three artists chosen to represent Taiwan in Venice - and the first one not from Taiwan.
The end of the year heralds other annual awards. The Artist Has Value Prize had a bittersweet undertone. Each year's award carries the name of the previous winner, but this year's winner, Vladimír Kokolia, did not receive his honor personally from the hands of last year's: Dalibor Chatrný had died in July at the age of 86.
Until last year the Culture Ministry prize has been awarded to visual artists for lifetime achievement. In 2011 the ministry broke with tradition and gave it to Leoš Válka, the founder of the DOX Center for Contemporary Art. This year the award went to Petr Wittlich, a longtime pedagogue at Charles University and a leading expert on Art Nouveau.
It was a year in which Art Nouveau and Alfons Mucha appeared in Prague repeatedly: The grand building of the Municipal House (Obecní dům) celebrated its centennial with an exhibition that showcased works displayed the year it opened to the public.
Two notable developments show promise in terms of synergy: Several galleries have opened under one roof at the former Electric Company building at Bubenská 1 in Prague's Holešovice district. And, in the Smíchov district, the new Polansky Gallery has coordinated with neighbors Svit Praha and Galerie Jelení to hold exhibition openings on the same evening, following a model popular in other major art cities.
Mimi Fronczak Rogers can be reached at