Mikulov Art Symposium in its 15th year


People come to the South Moravian town of Mikulov, located right on the border with Austria, for many things – historic monuments, folklore, and wine. But only few would expect that the town boasts a large collection of contemporary art, created during 15 years of summer art symposiums. The Mikulov Art Symposium “dílna” or workshop concluded its 15th year at the weekend with an exhibition of this year’s works at Mikulov chateau.

If you happened to stroll through the streets of Mikulov, and into the chateau park in July or early August, you couldn’t have missed a group of dusty men working on a large piece of green stone. Headed by sculptor Radek Král, a resident of the town, they were working on “The Ark”, one of the artefacts that was to become part of the contemporary art collection of the town of Mikulov.

Every summer for the last 15 years, a group of artists, chosen by the Symposium’s curator for the given year, come to Mikulov to spend a month working in studios in various parts of the chateau, overlooking the town. When they leave, their creations stay in Mikulov as part of the town’s art collection. This year’s curator was Jiří David, a Prague-based conceptual artist, most famous perhaps for his neon heart displayed in 2004 above Prague Castle in homage to President Václav Havel, who was just about to leave office. I asked Jiří David how he chose this year’s artists.

“I said one thing to myself – let’s try and get some contrast. I picked one local sculptor and stonecutter Radek Král, who is a sort of local bohemian. He often helped other sculptors at the first years of the Symposium but never presented himself, so I thought I would see if the man can actually handle the pressure. Then I chose some people who would present a contrast to this stonecutter, and to the large stone format he chose. So we have very subtle people here, such as Jiří Kovanda, a conceptual artist, and Eva Koťátková. We also have a Russian artist, Vladimir Salnikov, who is a kind of a guru of the Moscow art scene. I hope that the diversity which will come out of this will be very inspirational because of all the energies that will collide. And that’s something I’m interested in.”

I caught Moscow guru Vladimir Salnikov hard at work in one of the chateau’s towers, in the company of his wife. He looked very far for inspiration for his two paintings, Mandrem Beach I and II.

“I am working on two paintings from the life of southern India. There is this small state, the former Portuguese colony of Goa, where people are both Hindus and Christians. Since the 1960s, Europeans have been coming there, hippies at first because drugs were cheap there. Now, there are many intellectuals from Denmark, Germany and France. An intelligent crowd. They come in winter with their kids because it’s warm there. Recently, Russians have been coming there, too. Some of them are not very intelligent because they are idiotic business types, but some nice Russian people come, too.”

Eva Koťátková, a young artist who won the prestigious Chalupecký Award in 2007 for “combining performance and sculpture in an original manner”, says that at first, it was difficult to concentrate on her work in Mikulov because she couldn’t stop looking out of her studio’s window.

“Well, it’s true that beauty attacks from all sides here, and the view from my studio is totally amazing. I even thought at the beginning that it was too beautiful, and I was thinking that an uglier and darker studio could be more inspiring. But now I’m trying to cope with it, not to look out of the window so much and get more focus. It’s difficult though because it’s beautiful here, there are many nice sites which are interesting in themselves. But these will not be the major inspiration because I tend to look for darker things, or things that perhaps don’t work so well. So this is more of a pleasure for the eyes than inspiration.”

In the end, the Mikulov art collection will have a statue composed of metal pipes, entitled “Bush” and a series of ink drawings.

“I started off the way I always do, with drawings that can be considered sketches but partially also the final product. At the beginning of each project, I do a lot of drawing and start thinking about the motifs that surround me and are intense in one way or another. Then I pick a motif that keeps coming back to me and I work on it, either in three dimensions, or in video or in drawing.”

The Mikulov Art Symposium “dílna” came to an end last weekend with an exhibition of all the works created this summer. Around 600 people came to see the exhibits, and to attend a concert by the David Koller Band that followed. Libor Lípa, native of Mikulov but based in Prague now, is a painter who launched the symposium 15 years ago. I asked him how he managed to make contemporary art, often incomprehensible to people outside a narrow circle of connoisseurs, accessible to the locals.

“The way we have done it is something I always bring up in talks with the organizers, before we start each year – the fact that we have to be in touch with the people. There have been many symposiums which were held at beautiful places. The organizers would arrive from somewhere, wanting to do something there, but they never connected to the people who lived there. They probably don’t realize to this day that it failed because they didn’t work with these people. For all those 15 years, I have always come down from the chateau to talk to the people, have beer with them and listen to their ideas. They say that the voice of the people is the voice of God; I took this seriously and I think it paid off.”

MikulovMikulov Some of the art pieces, created in Mikulov in the last 15 years, can be seen in a small permanent exhibition in the chateau. But Libor Lípa says the Symposium is planning to open a comprehensive exhibition in the chateau in the coming years. He also appreciates the connection between contemporary art and that of the past centuries.

“I think it’s great that it is up in the chateau where all the old art is. People are used to it and actually come to see it, and they will have a great opportunity to see contemporary art, too. This very slow process of I would say ‘education’ will make people used to it. Galleries built completely from scratch exclusively for contemporary art are not very popular here, when you compare it to abroad. So this connection will be great –old art will help modern art. But you have to realize that old art was also once contemporary.”

Jiří David created seven large format paintings for the town’s art collection this year, including his self-portrait entitled “Don’t Ask if This is Me” or a picture he named “Franz Kafka Never Broke a Leg But My Wife Did”. He says that although some of the years were stronger than others, the collection is worth seeing.

“I appreciate that the people who founded this Symposium have held onto it and brought it to its 15th year. The quality of the collection varies but generally – if good artists keep coming here – I think the collection is and will remain very interesting and important in the Czech context, especially given its relation to the place where it’s being created.”

If you are planning a trip to South Moravia, you can see selected pieces from the Mikulov collection of contemporary art at the chateau. You can also visit the Mikulov Art Symposium website at artmikulov.cz.

Photo: Mikulov Art Symposium