The Minister of Culture, Jiří Besser, has appointed a fresh face to the head of the Czech Republic’s National Gallery, that of economist Vladimír Rösel. Though chosen for the position by a selection committee and praised by the minister for having by far the best plan for leading the gallery into the future, critics have been quick to point out his obvious drawback – that he is neither an artist nor an art academic. What’s more, Mr Rösel replaces a huge figure in the Czech art world, Milan Knížák, an artist of world-renown whose 12-year tenure in the gallery has nonetheless been speckled with mishaps and controversies. Earlier on Tuesday we spoke with art theorist Tomáš Pospiszyl about the situation.
“Milan Knížák, for almost the entire time of his leadership at the National Gallery, was heavily criticised by certain parts of the Czech art community. It was mostly due to the fact that the gallery is concentrating on national issues, that it is closed off in this way and does not have a relationship with international galleries or art scenes. And also what has been visible at the gallery in recent years is a lack of financial resources and the activities that galleries usually have. That means that programmes, exhibitions, are being scaled back, and the number of activities is very low and not noticeable for the public.”
A lack of financial resources though is obviously something that Mr Rösel, as an economist, could help to rectify. But what else does he bring to the position?
“Well we don’t know yet. Mr Rösel is a big unknown to most of the people in the Czech Republic, because he was not active on the visual art scene in recent years, and maybe the first we heard of him was last year when he applied to win the competition to become the director of the National Gallery. His plans are still as little unclear, because he has said he will wait until he is officially introduced in his position to clarify his plans. But what he has talked about is trying to change the rules on how the National Gallery is run, and open it to more financial sources that come not from the state but other, including private, resources.”
How does his appointment weigh with the Czech art community?
“Part of the art community is still very critical as they see Rösel as a continuation of Knížák’s rule over the gallery, especially because Rösel has decided to work with Mr Vít Vlnas as his chief cutrator, the person who will help him with the issues of art history, and he is also known for his rather conservative view of what a national gallery should look like. For example, he would like to see the National Gallery concentrating on more on historical and medieval art, and maybe cut out contemporary art altogether.”
In what capacity will Milan Knížák stay on in the National Gallery? Or will he go on to do something completely different now.
“We don’t know that yet; we know that for the next three months he will be forwarding his agenda to Mr Rösel, and then he will probably leave the gallery - or as I understand it, this is the wish of the Minister of Culture, that 12 years was enough, and it’s time for a change. But as we know Milan Knížák, he is still very active even though he is 71 now, he is still a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts and I’m pretty sure that he will also be active in the field of politics. He is also active as an artist. So it is hard to tell whether he will continue to have influence over the National Gallery once he officially leaves his position and the institution. This is something we will find out in the fall.”