The town of Kutná Hora attracts visitors mainly thanks to its gothic cathedral and its history of silver mining. Now there is another good reason to visit the UNESCO listed town – the recently opened Central Bohemian Art Gallery, in short, GASK. Situated in a former Jesuit College, it has become the second biggest gallery in the Czech Republic.
The building of the Jesuit College was originally meant to house a permanent exhibition, but the new, young team, which took over the gallery’s management more than a year ago, has different ideas. Ondřej Chrobák is the head curator:
“A permanent exhibition of this kind is not attractive enough. Based on our experience from various institutions outside Prague, this kind of exposition wears out within a year or two and the attendance rate falls rapidly because everyone has already seen it. So we have decided to display the permanent collection only on one third of the grounds out of the overall 3000 square metres and use the rest of the area for temporary exhibitions.”
The permanent exhibition is entitled ‘123’. Instead of presenting the best of the gallery’s acquisitions, it focuses on the process of acquiring works of art. Mira Keratová, a host curator from Slovakia, gave me a tour of the exhibition:
“This exhibition was put together by curator Marie Bergmannová who composed it as a sort of deposit map. She structuralised it according to historical periods in which the artworks were obtained, therefore the title ‘123’. One part is devoted to artworks bought in the 1960s, the second to artworks acquired during the period of Normalisation and the third to those obtained after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. These three islands reflect a certain mood and ideological approach to what was acquired in those times.”
“It is the collection of the financial group Erste and focuses on central and eastern Europe from the 1960s up to the present. It is a very nicely articulated concept focusing more or less on conceptual arts and certain spheres of interest. A substantial part of the artworks in this collection deals with public and political issues, with issues relevant to the transformation processes this region went through.”
Another current exhibition is dedicated to the famous Czech cubist painter Emil Filla. Again, the organizers chose a rather unusual approach and instead of showing his works, they are presenting Filla’s extensive archive, mapping the sources of his inspiration.
But the most valuable item in GASK and one of its most recent acquisitions is a rare 15th century miniature, acquired at the end of last year at an auction at Sotheby’s in London for over half a million pounds. Due to its age it will only be on display for a limited space of time.
“This illumination was never publicly exposed before and it is only known from reproductions from the 1920s because it was privately owned. The illumination shows the process of mining and minting of silver in the town of Kutná Hora which is famous for its production of silver. It is very special because it shows the procedure in great detail and because of its artistic mastery.”
The Jesuit College, standing right next to the famous gothic cathedral of St Barbara, served as army barracks in the 1980s, and had to undergo a major reconstruction that took more than ten years. Apart from the exhibition halls, there is a museum store, a children’s corner and a beautiful lecturing centre, all done by young Czech architects. In the future there will also be a garden and a café. Head curator Ondřej Chrobák:
“We want to be as open to the public as possible and create a museum where you can spend a pleasant time, which can be intellectually demanding but at the same time you don’t have a feeling that it is something really serious. We want to equalize different forms of art. Last year for example we organized a Creepy Teepee festival to show people that indie music and serious art, such as cubist painting, are not two separate worlds but one world of culture.”
One of the central points of the newly opened gallery is the lecturing centre. On the day of my visit, it is full of children from a local primary school who come here regularly to work on their art projects. To make the collections comprehensible to the broad public, GASK offers a wide range of accompanying programmes. Ondřej Horák is in charge of the lecturing centre:
“I don’t really like traditional galleries. What we are trying to do here is set the institution in motion and show it in a different light. We created a mobile project called GASK Tour and visited around 25 towns in the Central Bohemian region in a London double-decker bus with a programme for high schools. It was very well received and in June the GASK tour will culminate with an event in which thirty high schools will compete for a prize designed by a contemporary Czech designer.”
In the weeks to come, GASK will be hosting its second indie music festival Creepy Teepee and a summer camp for children entitled Artek, which takes its name from a former international youth camp in the Soviet Union. In early autumn, it will present a collection of student works from European Art Schools called Starting Point. In short, GASK promises to bring more life and colour into the picturesque but sleepy town of Kutná Hora.
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