Elsewhere / People / Places

“Creating an Identity of the New Kunsthalle is a Real Challenge!” – Juraj Čarný

Interviewed by Lucia Gavulová.

In 2005, when I was actively working at the editor’s office of artistic Vlna (Wave), we took a business trip to Switzerland, the result of which was a whole issue of the magazine, dedicated to contemporary culture of this country. In the art section1 I was thinking about the phenomenon of kunsthalle2, which is widespread especially in German speaking countries. After eight years, I am coming back to this topic in relation with emergence of kunsthalle in Bratislava (Dom umenia / Kunsthalle Bratislava), which should be put into practice in 2014, after the New Synagogue/ Kunsthalle Žilina and Kunsthalle (HUK) have been established. In the interview with the person commissioned to establish the Kunsthalle Bratislava Juraj Čarný I am going to refer to the mentioned mini-research in terms of Swiss kunsthalles, relying on the facts associated with this type of institution in a country, where it has its long-term functional tradition – as opposed to zero operation continuity of kunsthalles in Slovakia, where it is being built „from the scratch“.

Photo - Gabriel Kuchta

Photo – Gabriel Kuchta

Lucia Gavulová
: Kunsthalles Žilina, Košice and Bratislava all have their own characteristics, each of them was established under different conditions/circumstances, and each probably has different vision. Kunsthalle Bratislava is being established in the building of Dom Umenia in Bratislava, which is operated by The National Cultural Center (NOC). What status does it have from January 1, 2014? 
Juraj Čarný: In recent years, there were several attempts to establish a kunsthalle as an independent organisation, however, all of them ended up in failure for different reasons. Model of contributory organization of Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic (MKSR) appeared to be the hardest acceptable. Although this opinion was repeatedly called into question, the Ministry of Finance does not permit to Ministry of Culture establishment of new contributory organizations for financial reasons. Slovak Centre of Visual Arts, as the umbrella organization of Dom Umenia/Kunsthalle Bratislava, will not be a separate contributory organization, it will be established by expansion of the foundation charter of the National Cultural Center (NOC), which is a contributory organization of MKSR. However, NOC and MKSR have clearly declared their interest in finding a way to the earliest possible independence of the SCVU and Dom Umenia/Kunsthalle Bratislava from the beginning. How will that happen is not decided at the moment. There are more alternatives, but the political is going to be relevant.

LG: Kunsthalle Bratislava will be financed (also) from state budget (which is, by the way, also the case in majority of kunsthalles beyond the borders of SR). What should it as an institution document, in association with this status?
JČ: Kunsthallen are usually constituted by cities, higher territorial units, or by associations of artists (kunstvereins) etc. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if more similar organisations were created, that could be a “competition” to each other in the positive sense of the word. On the other hand, in order to sustain Kunsthalle Bratislava securing more sources of financing is inevitable. In the early 90s, Ladislav Snopko proposed a method which was meant to ensure sustainability of regional galleries that would be financed by state (program), by the town (premises) and by the self-governing regions (staff costs). Nowadays, when the self-governing regions abuse their position of gallery founders, remove directors for political reasons and are not professionally competent to provide basic gallery standards, there is no force that might serve as methodological and conceptual guidance for them. Kunsthalle as a state organization shall have primary responsibility for communication towards the local audience, which in recent years used to mistakenly think that fine arts are unintelligible, incomprehensible, elitist, or even unnecessary. It was largely due to the absence of an umbrella organisation which would systematically work on making the art available to the audience, which would explain and educate. Exhibition activities of Dom umenia / Kunsthalle Bratislava will therefore be closely linked to educational activities for various target groups, based on a new communication model through mediators. They will be permanently present in the exhibition premises and they will explain to the audience “what is going on around them” in an intelligent form.
However, I see the commitment of state funding also in terms of presentation of Slovak visual arts abroad. While the Centre for Information on Literature, Theatre Institute, Music Centre, Slovak Design Centre and other institutes are also active abroad, thus not only making the Slovak culture visible, but also directly helping individual authors to succeed in the international environment. This kind of „agent“ has been absent in visual arts in the recent years. In 1990s, this role was successfully fulfilled by the Soros’ Centre for Contemporary Arts (inter alia, under the responsibility of Mária Hlavajová) and it participated directly on several international achievements of selected Slovak artists.

photo 1

LG: Kunsthalle Bratislava and SCVU will ideally work side by side, but each of them will contain and functionally fulfill a different mission. The SCVU should map, scientifically process and make the visual arts available to domestic and foreign audience. Is only Slovak art meant by this? In what time context? And in what form will its processing and presentation be presented?
JČ: Slovak Centre of Visual Arts will develop research, documentation and publication activities. However, saying the archive and the library will contain only Slovak art, would be misleading, since we operate in an international context, just like we refer to a certain historical period, and therefore the „contemporary visual arts“ can not be defined as, say, art after 2000. But basically, the Kunsthalle will manage exhibitor, educational and international activities.

LG: A kunsthalle is mostly associated with a city – in its title and in terms of financing, sometimes also in terms of establisher. That is why the name of the kunsthalle usually bears the name of the city of its origin as well (like Kunsthalle Wien, Kunsthalle Budapest). In the interview published in the newspaper to the BLAF 2013 festival you said that „co-financing by the Municipality of the capital of SR Bratislava, the self-governing region, respectively by the district Bratislava-Old Town is not confirmed at the moment“. How has the situation evolved since then and why is there the name of the city in the name of the kunsthalle?
JČ: The need to use the name of our capital Bratislava in the name of the Kunsthalle stemmed from the fact, that Košice and Žilina are already ahead of us and they have got their own Kunsthallen there. Several years ago, district Bratislava-Old Town was preparing for establishing its own Kunsthalle in the Pisztory Palace. Municipality or the self-governing region did not consider establishing their own Kunsthalle, even though this kind of establishing / financing is common abroad. But it is interesting to look at this problem through numbers. During the negotiations on possible co-funding of the Kunsthalle, the Municipality of the capital of SR tried to defend the need of continuous co-funding of its own Bratislava City Gallery, or raising its budget. The Gallery was funded by annual amount of 565 757 € (2011). While the Bratislava self-governing region does not fund any gallery, other regions are doing much better. The Trnava self-governing region funded the Ján Koniarek Gallery in Trnava with sum of 180 000 €, and the Zahorie Gallery with 160 000 €; the Nitra self-governing region funded the Nitra Gallery with 560 803 €, the Art Gallery Nové Zámky with 173 862 €, and the Gallery of Miloš Alexander Bazovský in Trenčín with 217 068 €; the Banská Bystrica self-governing region funded the Central Slovakia Gallery in Banská Bystrica with 241 666 €; the Žilina self-governing region funded the Povazie Art Gallery in Žilina with 118 200 €, the Orava Gallery with 182 502 €, the P. M. Bohun Gallery in Liptovský Mikuláš with 176 502 €, the Kysuce Gallery with 93 613 €; the Prešov self-governing region funded the Tatra Gallery with 125 780 € and the Saris Gallery with 144 689 €; the Košice self-governing region funded the Eastern Slovak Gallery with 312 794 €. Of course, the highest sum was provided for the Slovak National Gallery, which was funded by the MK SR with budget of 2 912 760 €. From their budget for culture (1 000 000 euro), Bratislava – Old Town supported its own Cyprian Majernik Gallery with the sum of 70.000 € (2013), in the plan for 2014 only with 12.000 €. It would be interesting to compare these numbers with the support of theaters, for instance. However, it is more important to say here, that not only by means of financial subsidies can the district, municipality or self-governing region participate on activities of the Kunsthalle. If the Kunsthalle „pours itself out“ of its premises of Dom umenia on Námestie SNP, it will find itself on the property of the Capital Bratislava. And this is a particularly interesting area for systematic cooperation. Operation of the Kunsthalle in terms of curators’ and artists’ mobility will need also premises for accommodation of residents that could significantly help to reduce the operating costs without any need of direct financial input.

LG: Let’s move on to a more general, or so to speak “foreign” understanding of this type of institution. A kunsthalle internationally is usually understood as an institution representing subjective values of individual curatorial leverage within the temporary terms of office, i.e. de facto it does not need to be bound by responsibility to the local production, or its representation, in any way. On the other hand, however, it can be reflective towards the local production, depending on the management setting. Autonomy of curatorial leverage in such a form is inviolable. Each new curator brings not only a different value vision, but a different conceptual approach of the particular kunsthalle as well. How will the management of the future Bratislava Kunsthalle arise?
JČ: If we consider foreign approach of the term kunsthalle, I have to emphasise right away, that in today’s world, no one actually cares about another hall of art. Reactions are approximately as follows: „Kunsthalle in Bratislava? Great. And what are you going to deal with?“. The form is not interesting today (apart from fascinating designs and architectures; the content is what matters, the message, the thing we want to change the world with). For us, the establishment of a kunsthalle is a long-term process we focused on perhaps a little too much, it is important that we do not lose ourselves in this joy of ours and that we understand, that the function which is the Kunsthalle going to perform towards its local audience, will be vastly different from the international function. It is understandable that in the vast competition of the Kunsthalle it was unavoidable to clearly define its profile and that led also to a despotic perception of curatorial programmes of individual institutes. The more original – read: the more diverse – and the more authentic at the same time was the team of curators, the more interesting and progressive was the kunsthalle, and usually also busier. Disadvantage of working in any greater conceptual team is averaging of common point of view, cutting down the extremes – and that is how we finally get to the essence of the despotic ideological leader of the gallery, who usually compiles significantly more progressive exhibition program than any team of curators. Let’s take for example the operation of the SSCA in the 1990s, that was in direct contrast with philosophical ideas of its founder George Soros and his open society. However, if Mária Hlavajová hadn’t concentrated her attention (and financial ressources of the foundation) on a limited number of selected authors, it is questionable whether any Slovak artists would now be known at MoMa, Tate Modern, or at Guggenheim. But on the other hand, I must say that for me personally a more interactive model of gallery operation is closer; one, that reacts to needs of the space in which it operates. It is necessary to be able to radically make the support of quality a priority, but at the same time, to remain open towards the impetus of the surroundings.

LG: Kunsthalle and its role as an institution may be understood from a certain angle as a centre for arts of trans-regional meaning, the nature and functions of which should be continually re-evaluated and redefined anew. Problems with establishing any kunsthalle in Slovakia, existing for previous long years, illustrate a complicated status of contemporary arts in Slovakia as such, in the framework of which more components do not work as they ideally should. The most striking, however, is the lack of awareness of the importance of arts as such, about its potential impact, if its social „use“ is directed in the right way. The environment, in which the Kunsthalle Bratislava is being established, does not have a strong tradition in collecting nor in gallery operation, it does not have any broader audience base. Working in absence of such a community is quite difficult. How do you perceive the situation in relation to Kunsthalle Bratislava and launching of its operation?
JČ: I can not imagine to have a chance to act in a more interesting confrontation than this one. I take it as a challenge and I am convinced that we can achieve more in conditions that are not ideal. Yes – working as a director at the New Museum, or at the PS1 in New York would sure be fascinating, just like at the Serpentine Gallery in London. I didn’t even apply for the position of director of the Dom Umění in Brno, because I had the feeling that this gallery is actually already built and basically works well. Creating an identity of the new Kunsthalle is a real challenge!

LG: I perceive the role of newly emerging Kunsthalle positively, especially for its proclaimed international dimension. This should be strengthened by production of touring exhibitions. How does that work in this field? Is the exhibition perceived as a commodity for sale? Do kunsthalles sell their exhibitions to each other or what is the modus operandi of this kind of exhibition operation?
JČ: The world of exhibition trade is fascinating and hardly anyone knows about it. There are even conferences that are some kind of fair trades with exhibitions between the galleries. The first important and widely known fact is that so far no big international touring exhibitions stopped by in Slovakia. It is the type of exhibitions produced by some other institution, that provides it under conditions fixed in advance, or, if we want, it „sells“ the exhibition. In such case, we would pay the authors of the exhibition for their work and cover all costs from transport costs to insurance, catalogues. Of course, this does not mean that the Kunsthalle should be satisfied with the function of a compulsory stop of „foreign“ touring projects.
The second level are the exhibitions produced by the Kunsthalle Bratislava, that we will try to get into the international/global context, i.e. to sell them. Thus if, for example, the Slovak National Gallery prepared a large retrospective of a prominent Slovak artist (Ľubomír Ďurček, Jana Želibská, Július Koller and others), then this great praiseworthy work shouldn’t end with the end of the exhibition. From professional point of view, everything that was supposed to happen, also did happen, scientific research and curatorial work had been carried out at the highest level imaginable. But what needs to follow is not letting the results of the work remain on the local level. The higher level, that needs to be introduced as a standard, as a modus operandi, is in the field of international visibility of Slovak art. This kind of work is not easy at all and it will probably take years before we manage to obtain relevant institutional international contacts. This task will be one of key missions of the Kunsthalle. This is how we are getting to the third, the highest dimension of cooperation possible, which is neither import, nor export of exhibitions. It is cooperation on common projects. It means that a curator of Kunsthalle Bratislava will participate on work of curatorial team of a prominent international star, or an international curatorial team, composed of representatives of partner kunsthalles, will participate on preparation of exhibition of a Slovak author. There are more advantages on this form of cooperation. Production of the exhibition will be financed not only by the Kunsthalle Bratislava, which in the end means at least multiple budget (by the number of partners). And we are not talking about spiritual benefits and opening the way to awareness of significant local author.
Another model of modus operandi would be for example a preparation of a parallel exhibition to the retrospective of Jana Želibská at SNG in the Kunsthalle with the title Natalia LL, Valie Export, or Marina Abramovič, that, however, is already a more structured story…

LG: High incidence of exhibition institution of kunsthalle type is in Switzerland, for example, which has, however, in general an advantage in the number of institutions, that are helpful in the development of contemporary art, and that is mainly thanks to the Swiss federation and autonomous functioning of individual cantons. Every canton, irrespective of their area, has built their own network of art institutions. The area and number of inhabitants of Switzerland is comparable to Slovakia (Switzerland has approximately two million inhabitants more than Slovakia), nevertheless, in this case I am comparing the incomparable. The question will be directed to the potential of the audience: there is a Kunsthaus in a little Swiss town called Glarus, while the city has not more than 5.000 inhabitants. Despite this, the Kunsthaus is fully functional, its attention is given to regular exhibitory and publication activities, to support of contemporary art, it has its own collection and good attendance. The same is true for St.Gallen or Winterthur. Swiss artists and collectors, however, never lacked the awareness and the scope of knowledge, which was continually strong thanks to the long tradition of collecting, which was not limited only to the local scene. Nevertheless, there has been a shift in the public in terms of approach to contemporary art in the 1990s, when there was a great movement in the scene – at the level of artists, institutions, galleries or the public – and the art market was revived. The 90’s generation was of groundbreaking importance for further development of the Swiss art scene. How do you perceive the 90’s generation and art, which are the main focus of big pilot exhibition in the framework of reconstructed Kunsthalle Bratislava, in the context of the Slovak art scene? Is there, in relation to the exhibition, shift of the public in the approach to contemporary art, or is there, in your opinion, no change at all, and if so, isn’t it related to the 90’s?
JČ: Cultivation of cultural space in many neighbor countries has lasted since the Middle
Ages, but it seems with us it hasn’t occurred even today. In a country, where the population is being „cultivated“ by shows like Farma, Panelák and Búrlivé víno, we can not wonder that Marian Kotleba won the election. However, I wouldn’t like to cheaply criticise pleasing formats of commercial televisions, or the incomprehensible situation after the election. The error is, in fact, also on the part of cultural institutions and, more specifically of us – culture managers, because we are not offering any civilised alternative to superficial tabloid to the audience. If there was a television channel like ČT2, or ARTE from mid-90’s, today we would be somewhere else. And the situation would be completely different also, if from the early 90’s we had worked on the public opinion by systematic marketing campaigns and activities of a kunsthalle based in the centre of Bratislava and communicating for instance through shop-windows directed to pedestrian zone. I do not want to overestimate the power of shop-windows, but the first institution to start presenting contemporary art in shop-windows was the auction company SOGA. The 90’s in Slovakia were prevalent introverted, they were focused on redefinition of the functions of arts within the new social, political and media situation. Hardly anyone was able to confidently move in the new environment and those who could – marketing-minded artists – quickly sailed into the waters of advertising agencies. Without understanding the present, it wouldn’t be possible to conceptually establish communication with the audience, that was getting lost in completely different problems. Let’s just remember basic systematic problems of art at the time of Meciarism. Absence of magazines – actually, any scholarly reflection of contemporary art and absence of resources for organizing projects and hence, for promoting, marketing and any form of communication. The audience, which at the time of communism was brought up not to visit galleries (what meaningful things would they have found there?!), was in the late 90’s manipulated by pseudo-theories about national art and thus no wonder that in the awareness of the „majority“ still today remain such „national artists“ as Bártfay, Kulich and for the younger ones, Bidelnica, who is over presented in the media.

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LG: In the interview in Vlna 24/2005 (see note No. 1), mentioned at the beginning, the director of Kunsthalle Zürich Beatrix Ruf inter alia mentioned, that status of a public institution is binding because it represents everything but a philosophy of private galleries or private museum and collections. And that sometimes, it is very difficult to define the term „public institution“ and differentiate it within the perception of the audience. How do you perceive this in relation to requirements and conceptions of the local scene, that have been continually created and becoming stronger in the context of the entire slow-paced „struggle“ for establishment of a kunsthalle?
JČ:: Artists of the earlier years of the 90’s were struggling to find their relationship to the era, that was permeated by market on every level. Helena Kontová controversially defined trauma of more generations of Slovak artists, when she said that „in the arts, there is nothing beyond the market“. I am intimately familiar with the interests of collectors and private gallerists since I used to work in this environment for a long time. Defining ourselves negatively, i.e. declaring what we do not want, is sometimes a good way how to get the bottom of who we want to be and what we want to say and do. The local art scene has done really a lot in the battle for Kunsthalle and without their effort, today we would be somewhere else with our plans.

LG: One of general reasons for establishing the kunsthalle was the absence of presentation of trends in contemporary art in the museum type of institutions. could be simplistically said in Slovakia, the museum type of institution is for example the Slovak National Gallery or city galleries, that also build their own collections. Today, however, the visitors can come across with contemporary art exhibitions, even it shouldn’t be its primary dramaturgic filling. This type of institution like SNG or GMB also a lot bigger visitor base – just because also for its collecting activities and exhibitions of old art. In general, Kunsthalle does not have this kind of base, in the local context it is not the type of institution that would be a matter of interest of broad spectrum of the public. This fact can be perceived as an advantage – because like this, it is not exposed to too big pressure from visitors and it can focus more deeply on other activities – research, publication activities, documentation; or as a disadvantage when individual events or exhibitions will be attended only sporadically. How do you perceive it?
JČ: Until now, the Slovak National Gallery has been fulfilling the role of an absent modern art museum, contemporary art museum and kunsthalle at the same time, to which an undue pressure and non-standard expectations of the expert public were related. The Kunsthalle comes to the scene in a situation, when it is possible to clearly and unambiguously name, what has been missing for a long time. I think that this absence of its own audience is an extraordinary advantage of the Kunsthalle, which can be defined as a new, blank and sexy gallery, which can reach out to new kinds of audience.

LG:Your ambition is to establish a kunsthalle with no entrance fees. Is it achievable in reality, and how do you think it would be the most helpful?
JČ: It is very interesting to associate getting support from a general sponsor with a particular activity. Telling the viewers that instead of 7 or 10 euro entrance fee they are being given a small present in form of a free ticket is in my opinion very interesting in relation to both parties involved. Given its attractive location, the Dom umenia has had an extraordinary high attendance, that could drop by introducing entrance fees. On the other hand, it is true that the attendance has been high even without any PR and marketing activities. That is why I believe that the attendance of the kunsthalle will grow rapidly. The basic mission of the kunsthalle will be making the visual arts available to broader public and demolish a myth about its elitism and unintelligibility. In what better way could this effort commence, if not by means of such a vision of openness? Reachability of this plan is related to success of the fundraising process. In association with the fundraising director for It of the Kunsthalle, Martin Knut, we managed to reach a number of surprising results, and I believe that the format of kunsthalle attracts more potential sponsors.

LG: Where do you see Kunsthalle Bratislava in in November 2014?  Mention the most optimistic and the most pessimistic version, whichever is in line with your vision.
JČ: There is no most pessimistic version, if I could predict it and name it, from tomorrow morning I would be working intently to dissolve it systematically, and thus it would no longer exist at the time of issue of this magazine.
The most optimistic one? I would like to say that it is going to be the exhibition of Pipilotti Rist, or Peter Fischli & David Weiss, when we already spoke so much about Switzerland, or maybe we could try a different land? In the professional sense of the word, a high-quality programme is the minimum criterion. However, also the matter of form is attached to this. Paradoxically, I dream about the form a lot more frequently, because achieving it will be a little more challenging. The whole idea starts outside the premises of the very Kunsthalle itself, which is now on Námestie SNP in Bratislava. That is totally inconvenient today. From urbanist, transport and existential point of view, it is a non-standard space from which one tends to want to escape. Kunsthalle should be „poured“ into the square and provide the passers-by with experience connecting the public space with nature, art, design and architecture. The new facade of the Dom umenia will build on public art projects from the square, which will „climb“ to the roof of the terraced building, open to the public. The new entrance to the building will, as a mysterious labyrinth, lead the visitor through traps of a New York design shop, fragrant coffee house, creative kids’ corner, to a surprising hatcheck girl and a noble receptionist. Interactive audio and visual installations, mysterious surprises, anti-staircase with slides… and we have not yet got by far to premises of the V-klub, or to exhibition premises of the participating Dom umenia / Kunsthalle Bratislava.

Juraj Čarný (1974, Bratislava) works as director of Slovak Centre of Visual Arts – Kunsthalle Bratislava. Since 2012 he is vice-president of AICA International, since 2009 president of AICA Slovakia. Since 2010 he is also active as program director of Art Academy.

Lucia Gavulová (1980, Bratislava) works as project coordinator and curator in Kunsthalle Bratislava, freelance curator and art critic.

Originally published in Slovak Magazine for Contemporary Art and Culture VLNA

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