History, vision, mission
The gallery’s vision and mission
Prague City Gallery (GHMP) was established in 1963 as part of Czechoslovakia’s network of regional galleries. Today, it administers a collection of more than 16,000 items from the 19th to the 21st centuries. In the past, this collection was characterized by an unsystematic approach to acquisitions, which were initially done by the city itself upon recommendations by its experts. In addition, numerous leading artists donated works of their choosing to the city as part of initial efforts at accelerating the establishment of a municipal gallery. Despite all previous endeavors, such a gallery was not established until during the communist era, when the creation of a Prague gallery was seen as a way of presenting the city as a vanguard of the communist party’s cultural policies.
Sometimes it is easiest to hide in plain sight, and so from time to time the curators’ boldness and erudition produced some interesting exhibitions that ignored the regime’s propagandistic objectives, for instance Paris in the Photographs of H. C. Bresson, Brassaï, H. Martin (curator Anna Fárová, 1964) or Auguste Rodin (curators: Cécile Goldscheider, Jiří Mašín, 1967). In the 1980s, Prague City Gallery possessed a strong team of curators (Hana Rousová: František Vobecký, 1985; Devětsil, 1986; Skupina Ra, 1988 [the latter two in collaboration with F. Šmejkal]; Line, Color, Shape, 1988; Vladimír Skrepl: Jiří Sopko, 1986; Glass Sculpture, 1987; Karel Srp: The Tvrdošíjní, 1986; Václav Boštík, 1989; Marie Judlová: Jiří Balcar, 1988; Dagmar Hochová, 1989), who, thanks to the fact that the gallery existed in the shadow of larger institutions, could realize an ambitious exhibition program that in many ways was more representative and contributed more to the state of art historical research than the work being done at National Gallery. In addition, these revelatory exhibition projects led to numerous interesting acquisitions on the part of the gallery. After 1989, GHMP’s exhibition program made it one of the most popular institutions of its kind. The gallery showed not only exhibitions of works by leading representatives from the interwar avant-garde (Karel Teige, 1994; Toyen, 2000), but also organized important thematic exhibitions (The Landscape in Contemporary Art, 1993; John Cage, Francois Morrelet, Milan Grygar, 1993; Gaps in History: The Polemic Spirit of Central Europe, 1994; Focal Points of Rebirth: Czech Art 1956–1963, Czech Surrealism 1929–1953, 1997; Group 42, 1998; Action Word Motion Space, 1999). The most numerous was a series of monographic exhibitions of domestic and foreign personalities (Alexander Calder, František Skála jr., Vladimír Boudník, 1992; Zdeněk Sýkora, 1995; Jiří Sopko, Mario Merz, 1995; Zbyněk Sekal, Theodor Pištěk, 1998; Vladimír Kopecký, 1999, etc.). Nevertheless, the gallery’s limited budget prevented it from participating in the emerging art market, and so for nearly two decades its acquisitions were limited to gifts from loyal artists. This situation changed in 2013, thanks mainly to a more supportive approach by the City of Prague. GHMP now received regular financing in order to expand its collections, which had suffered from random purchases of varying levels of quality, including an excessive focus on Prague-related motifs from the communist era. Today, the gallery’s acquisitions are focused primarily on subjects associated with the exhibition program’s focus on experimental art from the 1960s and art by the 1980s and 1990s generation. We have had to give up plans to fill in the gaps in our collection of interwar art, since works from this period are today sold at prices that far exceed our annual budget. We also keep an eye on new media and photography, the latter of which has become an integral part of our collections ever since we acquired the collections of the Prague House of Photography along with its exhibition spaces at Revoluční Street 5. Prague City Gallery’s exhibition program explores a wide range of subjects. Besides artists from the 1960s generation with their focus on neo-constructivism and geometric tendencies, we continue to hold exhibitions dedicated to the 1990s generation, many of whom premiered their work at the gallery, for instance as part of the Biennial of Young Artists. For many years now, we have been following the work of the emerging generation of artists as part of our Start Up series, which presents art by outstanding and talented art school students and recent graduates. Following the renovation of the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace, we plan to revive this series with a new thematic focus. We also consistently present works by contemporary artists who explore serious social, moral, and environmental themes. In addition, Prague City Gallery is in charge of managing the estate of František Bílek, including his two outstanding homes built according to his own plans. Both buildings and their interiors have been preserved in their original state, and offer an exceptional and comprehensive view into this artist’s still not fully appreciated body of work, which formed an integral part of his everyday life.
Our mission also includes looking after the various buildings entrusted into our care, many of which are cultural monuments of the highest level of quality. Ensuring and maintaining them in excellent shape is a difficult task requiring constant care and attention. Besides exhibitions, accompanying events, and educational activities, we also use our buildings for public programs and endeavor to inform the public about the buildings’ past and present, among other things, through special publications.
Our education department, ranked one of the highest in the country’s network of regional galleries, is currently working to be designated a model institution for other, similar organizations. Every year, we put together 900 workshops and other programs for children, youth, teachers, senior citizens, and people with special needs. In addition, we offer numerous projects for adult audiences with stronger ties to fine art, prepared by our public outreach department in collaboration with internal and external experts.
Today, Prague City Gallery sees its role in a much broader context than such specialized institutions tended to do in the past. We are working to find ways of connecting our work with various other disciplines that see such collaborative efforts as a new and inspirational way of sharing their message with a broader audience. These efforts offer an opportunity for bringing into the gallery previously unaddressed audiences, for instance fans of dance (Dancing Museums), environmentalists (Bio Troja), or children from socially disadvantaged neighborhoods (workshops at our studios). We have partnered with various non-profit organizations for their ceremonies and celebrations, and make our spaces available for other charitable purposes as well. Our aim is to act as a social center that will draw in an ever greater range of people.
Magdalena Juříková, director, Prague City Gallery
Prague City Gallery organizes various types of art-related educational activities for all types of schools from throughout the Czech Republic and for all other age groups including senior citizens and socially disadvantaged groups. The main focus of our educational activities is on interactive tours of the exhibitions, followed by art workshops. The education department also offers long-term art courses and Saturday art workshops at all of the gallery’s buildings, at our three educational sites (education center, eco-studio, and reading room), or as part of special events organized by partner institutions. The education department also works closely together with art schools by providing students from secondary and university-level schools internships and the chance to gain professional experience. Our instructors are members of the Chamber of Education Workers of the Czech Council of Galleries, the Association of Art Teachers, and INSEA (the International Society for Education through Art). They also collaborate on large grant and research projects (including on the international level) and share their teaching experiences at conferences or in professional journals or other publications.
Prague City Gallery publishes monographs about important artists, catalogues for its short-term exhibitions, and books about its permanent collections and its exhibition spaces and architecturally interesting buildings. As a rule, the gallery publishes several books a year, usually in collaboration with leading artists and experts. The publishing plan is compiled by the gallery’s publications department with a view to the exhibition schedule. All related production activities are provided by the Department of Communications, Accompanying Programs, and Publishing Activities. The gallery regularly presents its publications at book fairs, and they are available for purchase at the gallery’s bookshops and at other select stores.
Schools, academics, and the general public are welcome to visit the Villa Bílek reading room and study center, where they can read academic literature and art journals about the artists represented in the gallery’s collections or who have held exhibitions at the gallery and for whom Prague City Gallery has published a catalogue. The reading room’s archives also contain an extensive collection of magazines to which the gallery subscribed in the years 1985–2015. In all, visitors have access to 5,800 books and magazines, including reference collections and magazine archives.
In 1963, Prague City Gallery was placed in charge of public sculptures owned by the City of Prague. The gallery continues to systematically care for and maintain these sculptures, and is also engaged in extensive restoration works aimed at revitalizing the material and artistic quality of these works exposed to the elements.
Prague City Gallery currently is entirely or partially responsible for the administration of seven publicly accessible buildings. Shortly after its founding in 1963, the gallery opened František Bílek’s important collection of sculptures, drawings, and prints held at Villa Bílek to the public. In 1994, the gallery opened a permanent exhibition of his works at his home in Chýnov near Tábor.
Since 1989, another art-historical building and unique exhibition space used by the gallery has been the Troja Chateau – one of the most distinguished examples of Baroque architecture in Bohemia, which the gallery administers along with its French garden, nursery, and orangery. Large-scale exhibitions requiring a lot of space have been held at the Stone Bell House on Old Town Square since 1988. And in 1994, Prague City Gallery returned to the exhibition space in the Municipal Library, which had been originally built for this very purpose.
Finally, in 2010 the gallery was put in charge of the House of Photography and the Baroque-era Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace.
The history of Prague City Gallery reaches all the way into the 19th century, when the fine art division of the recently founded Umělecká Beseda (Art Forum), then under the direction of Josef Mánes, first proposed establishing a Prague picture gallery. The goal of the fine art division was to support artists and to educate the public through art. In response, the town council began to occasionally purchase works of art. The city’s collection slowly expanded, thanks in part to donations by institutions and individuals. Important gifts at the turn of the century included a large set of paintings by Jaroslav Čermák donated by Hippolyta Gallaitová and numerous works by Václav Brožík donated by Václav Špaček, Knight of Starburg.
The idea of founding a municipal gallery was revived after Czechoslovak independence. In the late 1920s, special exhibition spaces were included in the newly constructed Municipal Library. In 1928, the City of Prague received a generous gift from the artist Alphonse Mucha: his series of monumental paintings, The Slav Epic. At the same time, the town council used various administrative measures to ensure a more systematic approach to acquisitions. In 1927, the city made sculptor Ladislav Šaloun its permanent artistic advisor. By the start of the Second World War, the city had managed to acquire a number of important examples of now-classical 20th-century modern art from various exhibitions (E. Filla, R. Kremlička, O. Kubín, J. Bauch, F. Muzika, J. Šíma, V. Špála, J. Štyrský, J. Zrzavý, O. Gutfreund, J. Wagner, and more). After the war, plans for the founding of a municipal gallery gained steam. The National Committee for the City of Prague purchased several works of contemporary art for this future gallery and laid the groundwork for the creation of Prague City Gallery, which was officially established on 1 May 1963.