Czech Venice selection descends into chaos
Culture minister overrules museum director’s choice of artists for the Biennale
By Richard Unwin. News, Issue 220, January 2011
Published online: 12 January 2011
PRAGUE. In a conflict that went right to the top of the nation’s cultural hierarchy, the selection process for the Czech Republic’s participation in this year’s Venice Biennale was marred by controversy after Milan Knizak, the director of the country’s National Gallery, refused to accept the decision of an independent selection committee. Under the terms of the country’s selection procedures, Knizak, as head of the leading Czech museum, has the right to final veto over the Biennale entry. In this case, however, Jiri Besser, the minister of culture, stepped in to overrule Knizak, declaring on 6 December that the committee’s choice, installation artist Dominik Lang, would represent the country in Venice.
The minister’s decisive intervention has been warmly welcomed amid fears that Knizak’s stance would result in the Czech Republic failing to participate in the art world’s most prestigious international showcase. A no show would have been particularly painful since the Czech Republic shares its Giardini pavilion with Slovakia, with which it was formerly united, with each country exhibiting only once every four years.
Knizak (who is also an artist and is associated with the Fluxus movement) had followed his rejection of Lang by announcing in November his own selection of a project by three young Czech artists—Vasil Artamonov, Alexey Klyuykov and Pavel Sterec—to exhibit in Venice. The artists, however, rejected Knizak’s offer, calling, along with members of the selection committee, for Lang to be reinstated as the country’s official selection. It was as a result of their protests that Besser decided to uphold the jury’s selection of Lang, who will now exhibit a project coordinated by Brno-based curator Yvona Ferencová.
Committee member, Michal Kolecek, dean of the Faculty of Art and Design at Jan Evangelista Purkyne University in Ustí nad Labem, said: “It seems that we won our small battle and saved the transparent process of selection.”
It is now expected that the National Gallery will lose its veto over the Czech Republic’s Venice entries. The Art Newspaper invited Milan Knizak to respond, but he preferred not to comment. Members of the selection committee claim that he has yet to explain his reservations over Dominik Lang’s selection.
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