Thursday, 17 April 2014

Respekt: National gallery's prospects bleak as ministry freezes reform

23 April 2013

Prague, April 22 (CTK) - The Czech National Gallery's (NG) prospects under the new director who will replace the sacked Vladimir Roesel are gloomy in a situation where the Culture Ministry has swept off Roesel's vision of a reform aimed to boost the NG's budget, Jan H. Vitvar writes in weekly Respekt.

Wednesday's dismissal of Roesel as NG head by the Culture Ministry was a step as incomprehensible as Roesel's installation in the post two years ago, Vitvar writes.

When Roesel, a manager by training, unexpectedly defeated promising experts in the competition for the top NG seat in 2011, he was expected to lead the NG out of the crisis into which his predecessor Milan Knizak had thrown it during his ten years at its helm, Vitvar says.

Not surprisingly, Roesel failed to meet the expectations. However, beside him, Culture Minister Alena Hanakova (TOP 09/STAN) is also to blame for the failure. The ministry's poor support to the NG and its lack of a vision outlining the NG's path would cause even a much more experienced NG director to fail, Vitvar points out.

When taking over the NG, Roesel found it heavily indebted and bound by long-term contracts that he could not change.

He was left with no other possibility than to admit that in view of the circumstances, the NG, which is the country's most important art collecting institution, cannot fulfil its tasks of producing quality and attractive exhibitions and purchasing works of art, Vitvar writes.

After Roesel had a NG budget analysis worked out, he realised that the ministry's subsidy only suffices to cover the operational and maintenance costs. As a result, he has even ordered the closure of the NG's permanent exhibition in the Kinsky palace in the historical centre of Prague, in order to save money, Vitvar writes.

Afterwards Roesel came up with a solution. Like in the case of the underfinanced National Theatre, it would be worth considering changing the NG's status, he said.

As an organisation subsidised by the ministry, the NG fully depends on the state money and is tied by tough rules. If it were transformed into a public corporation, it would have free hands and its managers would bear clearly defined responsibility, Roesel suggested, cited by Vitvar.

However, Roesel was dismissed before he could launch a debate on his plan, though things had finally started developing to the better in the NG, Vitvar writes.

Roesel appointed very promising Helena Musilova head of the Veletrzni palace, which hosts the collection of modern painting, and Musilova immediately resumed cooperation with organisers of the Jindrich Chalupecky competition for young artists, with whom Knizak had fallen out, Vitvar writes.

As far as the production of exhibitions is concerned, the NG woke up from a long sleep this year, Vitvar continues, giving the successful exhibition of Frantisek Kupka's works in Prague and an exhibition of Czech modern art in Seoul as positive examples.

The tense atmosphere in the NG started to dissipate under Roesel and the employees started siding with him and his team of managers, Vitvar writes.

Roesel's dismissal has thrown the NG two years back. Once again, no one in the NG knows what can be expected now. According to speculations, Roesel's successor may be either Jiri Fajt or Marek Pokorny, the experts whom he defeated in the previous competition, Vitvar writes.

The ministry expects the candidates to present a long-term vision of the NG's work. However, such a vision was indicated by Roesel and the ministry nipped it in the bud, saying that no more money will go to the NG, no transformation will take place and the NG must manage with the state subsidy, Vitvar says.

The question is what visions a new NG director can present in this situation. Would he propose further closures of permanent exhibition premises in order to save money for staging ad hoc exhibitions? Would he propose renaming the Veletrzni (trade-fair) place to bear the name of a sponsor who would help the NG cover its heating expenses? There is no high number of alternatives, Vitvar adds with scepticism.

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