Interview with Lenka Bakes

PRAGUE ART WEEK is an open platform for the cooperation of the most important institutions in the Prague art scene and an annual art festival with the aim of connecting galleries, museums, exhibition halls, as well as art collections and other art-oriented organizations. The vision of PRAGUE ART WEEK is to make Prague stand out on the art world map and contribute to the internationalisation of the Czech art scene.

The second edition of the art festival called PRAGUE ART WEEK 23 will present the best of the programme of Prague’s leading art institutions during the days 21-24 September 2023. As part of the accompanying and educational programme for the professional public, it offered a series of lectures, master classes and thematic discussions with the participation of distinguished domestic and international guests.

You have been leading marketing and communication at SUMO Prague since 2020 and Prague Art Week since 2022. How challenging is it to run such a vast, internationally oriented program? 

Actually the international overlap is what I enjoy the most about these works. For both festivals, I would like to see their international network and reach grow. Sumo is run by the AGSU alliance of galleries (among other gallerists my husband Richard). I am mostly linking this festival with PRAGUE ART WEEK (PAW) this year. Connecting and sharing is the key to the success of my projects. We have to learn to be sustainable even in the creative industries. I mean long term planning, sharing know-how, material and immaterial resources. Otherwise, of course, it’s a challenging job. As for a lot of people around me, art is what they love, we tend to overload ourselves way more than in other jobs. That’s why we are trying to build programs and networks for arts management and marketing professionals, not only for artists.

PRAGUE ART WEEK program of conferences for professionals in the Superstudio will be reserved for PAW PASS holders (partners and guests of the festival) and will consist of four thematic blocks—Art Reflection, Art Career, Art Service, and Art Collecting—which will later be available to watch on YouTube and on the festival website. Viewers will have the opportunity to see how successful international projects are organized by art professionals, listen to a discussion about issues related to the art trade and counterfeiting, learn about the life of internationally renowned Czech artist Magdalena Jetelová and the work of Tadeáš Podhradský, and get acquainted with the visions of art collectors Kateřina Havrlantová and Pavlína Pudilová.

David Krňaský
David Krňaský

How much has SUMO and Prague Art Week evolved as a platform since they were founded? What has changed, and what has stayed the same? 

SUMO is fighting to survive by looking for a sustainable form, so that the program remains international but does not overload individual galleries with production. This year, SUMO Prague has one joint exhibition featuring artists from participating galleries. This is new. The focus of the individual galleries remains, but it is more benevolent and directed by them. Some invite foreign galleries to their space, others just show foreign artists. Next year, they may present such a joint exhibition abroad, not only in Prague. This is the current vision of where the project will head to. We have already successfully realised such exhibitions in Brussels and in collaboration with PAW in Hong Kong.

Prague Art Week is growing too fast! That’s good, its point is to be an all-embracing event of fine art, bounded only by the dates of the festival. But at the same time, such an event needs a long preparation and consumes a lot of resources, and so we add year-round activities to the festival that naturally arise from our background as an art publishing house and from the possibilities that naturally arise from our position as a platform that represents the Prague art scene as a whole.

The event will present a robust line-up. Are there some highlights you would like to mention?

The great opening ceremony of the festival will take place on September 21 together with the National Gallery Prague’s Opening at the Trade Fair Palace, which this year will also host the festival’s centre for professionals, the so-called Superstudio. As part of the Opening, the NGP will be launching the new exhibition Watercolour between Prague and Vienna, as well as the exhibition HYPERTENSION23, which is part of Fotograf Festival #13. The NGP’s Opening will culminate in the performance Higher by Italian artist and choreographer Michele Rizzo, who will be presenting his work for the first time ever in Prague. The performance is taking place in collaboration with NGP, Lunchmeat, and PAW.

Eliška Konečná

The joint group exhibition of SUMO, entitled Gnomes with Saxophones, will open on Friday, September 22 evening and will then continue until Sunday, September 24. The whole SUMO Prague 2023 program will unfold in seven private and off-space galleries across the city (A.M. 180, Berlinskej Model, City Surfer Office, Garage Gallery, Holešovická šachta, hunt kastner, Polansky). Among them, I must mention the long-awaited solo exhibition of the emerging star Eliška Konečná in Prague at Polansky. And then the show that my husband and I are doing in our project space Berlinskej Model, Caliban and the Witch(es), which will bring together the work of four young women and non-binary artists from France, and invokes the aesthetics of magic. The theme of magic is also exposed at a group show in Bold Gallery entitled Tarot, as well as in a unique exhibition, Two Plus Two Is Five (Collages 1973–2023), featuring the collages created over the past fifty years by of one of the most prominent figures of the Czech visual art scene, Jiří Kovanda.

Exclusively during PAW23, four exhibitions will take place at the address Jeruzalémská 4 in a former bank building from the early 2000s, which was provided to the festival by its partner PSN so that the disused structure could become an exhibition space for a period of four days. The opening ceremony will take place on September 22 evening. An installation tailored to fit the specific space around the bank counters has been conceived by the collection Pekelné sáně, and will present works by Tomáš Bárta and Tomáš Roubal. This will be complemented by Jan Nálevka’s intervention in the basement, by the bank vault. The fifth floor will host the exhibition Contemporary Polish Abstraction, with works by seven artists of different generations brought by Molski Gallery & Collection from Poznań, Poland. The postmodern architecture of banking houses and savings banks from the 1990s will be brought to life by Jana Pavlova’s book Chrámy peněz [Temples of money], and the interior of the building will also give space to a group exhibition by young artists entitled Who Moved My Cheese?

What kind of accompanying activities can the audience expect? 

In addition to traditional art events, visitors can also look forward to the unveiling of eight new realizations in public space at an as yet Secret Place. The installation of artifacts by David Böhm & Jiří Franta, Michal Cimala, Petr Stanický, Čestmír Suška, Evžen Šimera, Michal Škapa, and Karel Štědrý, while Lukáš Rais’s work Trichodon will be displayed at Franz Kafka Square during PAW23. The vernissage of the collection will take place on September 23. Other highlights of the festival program include the afternoon literary performance Ora et lege at the Museum of Literature, a Sunday performance by Janice Kerbel at the Convent of St. Agnes, and the performance Schwarmwesen, which will take place on Charles Bridge.

Special events and days with free admission have been staked out by many large institutions. Museum Kampa has organized the lecture “Why Is Kupka So Cheap?” as well as the opening of the studio of artists Věra and Vladimír Janoušek, which has undergone extensive renovation. Galerie Rudolfinum will have a guided tour of the exhibition NAVE (by Jiří Příhoda and Brian Eno) with a Sunday art workshop for children. The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art will similarly have a guided tour of its exhibition Infamous Beauty and a connected Sunday family art workshop. On Sunday, September 24, all exhibitions at Kunsthalle Praha will be open free of charge, with guided tours of the exhibition Bohemia: History of an Idea, 1950–2000 all weekend long. On Saturday, at Kunsthalle, you can also watch Jeremy Deller’s film Everybody in The Place: An Incomplete History of Britain between 1984 and 1992, which explores the social history of the UK through the lens of acid house and rave music, with screenings beginning every hour on the hour.

During the festival, the Prague City Gallery will have a symbolic admission price of 1 CZK for its exhibition of photographer Pavel Beneš at Otto Rothmayer’s Villa, for Villa Bílek, and for the Troja Château, where it is presenting a thematic exhibition from its collections together with an exhibition by Darina Alster. On Sunday evening, September 24, the Prague City Gallery invites visitors to the conclusion of the festival program, with the exhibition and concert project Uncertain Situations, presenting various possibilities of dialogue between music and visual arts.

Evžen Šimera

If you have visited other PAW, what did you think about them?

I have been visiting Berlin and Vienna quite regularly since 2016. Because I was excited about this concept, I wanted to bring it to Prague. When I got this opportunity in 2022, I immediately got in touch with their program managers Theresia Nickl and Mona Stehle. Then I visited other Art Weeks and Gallery Weeks in Stockholm, Brussels, London and Barcelona.

What are your worst/best memories about the PAW? 

Actually, I remember being sad that only a few artists came to the festival. The ones who exhibited came, but the others probably thought that the event was for the general public and that it didn’t really relate to them. But I think it’s part of their profession to know their audience and support the art community. My artist friends often ask me if there is anything I can do to help them – usually it’s about sales, and that’s not what I primarily want to do. So I explain to them that they need to talk and meet people, find their audience and then buyers will come naturally. In this sense, PAW is an opportunity they can take advantage of.

The best memory I have is dancing at night with my team and a few friends on the Brutalist square at the end of the opening day of last year’s PAW 22. At the same time, we were celebrating the kick-off the festival’s first edition after a year of preparations. This place is historically loaded, it’s a functionalist square in the heart of Prague. No one will ever erase the memory of the party we had there.

How do you see PAW expand and evolve in the future under your guidance? 

I wish PAW to grow and to be essential to the Czech creative industries, just like the Film Festival in Karlovy Vary or the design festival Designblok in Prague. I hope that people in the Czech Republic and Europe will realise that culture is one of our real riches, and that it also upholds our values as democratic society. Therefore, we would like to show our culture and art abroad, and we are currently preparing another exhibition as well as residency programs in Hong Kong during the spring Art Basel in this city.

Could you tell us more about the latest tendencies in the Prague art scene?

“This year, the exhibitions and works of artists reflect the themes of the search for identity and humanity. Many of the exhibitors have also taken an ecological approach, and we are pleased that a large number of the works were created from recycled materials. This year we chose the subtitle PLAN_T for the festival, for our podcast Art Week, and for the conference in the Superstudio because it perfectly captures these motifs of green planning and sustainable growth. But everyone reads art from their own perspective, and it remains transcendental and inscrutable, so themes such as magic and the occult also feature in the program. Art either enchants you and transports you to other worlds or it activates you. What is certain is that we will harvest what we have planted. Come plan and harvest with us!” says festival director Lenka Bakes.

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