Ambitious new privately owned gallery opens in Prague


The old industrial district of Holešovice in Prague 7 has undergone something of a revival in recent years, a change perhaps best exemplified by the opening last weekend of an ambitious new art gallery on the site of a late 19th century factory in the area. At 3000 square metres, Dox is far and away the biggest privately-owned gallery in the Czech Republic.

Leoš Válka is one of the owners of Dox.

“There were two motives. One motive was that I was looking for a space that could be converted for a commercial purpose, which was a residential, loft kind of building. These industrial buildings were an ideal candidate for such a project.

“But when I saw the potential of the buildings I realised that it would be an ideal contemporary art space. So I decided to go against my commercial motives and I decided to go for art, basically.”

Once Leoš Válka had made that decision it took several years (and around CZK 200 million) to turn it into the reality that is the impressive Dox we see today, with its eight gallery spaces of varying sizes, café and design shop. Architect Ivan Kroupa was given the task of turning a former factory into a modern art gallery.

“One of the biggest challenges was to mix historical architecture – a hundred years old, let’s say – with new architecture. And to do so in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself, and doesn’t get in the way of the gallery’s events. Making use of both types of architecture, we tried to create an environment for the events which should take place here.”

As I say, Dox is a privately owned gallery, with Leoš Válka one of four investors. He outlines how they’re hoping to make the project work in financial terms.

“So far we are funding it from our own pockets, still. Now when the place is open we are already registering a lot of interest from potential sponsors and partners, who before the actual openings were quite reserved, if not downright sceptical.

“The hope is that they will see it as an interesting marketing proposition – they can connect their name and image with Dox.”

The first big show at Dox is by the Spanish artist Jose Maria Cano. Entitled Welcome to Capitalism!, it features huge, blown-up portraits of some of the best known figures in the worlds of business and politics, alongside giant-sized newspaper headlines, graphs, and ads for telephone sex-lines.

Also on show right now is a piece by the Slovak artist Matej Krén, who has created a high tunnel made of books that gives the impression of going on for infinity. Here are his thoughts on the new gallery.

“By Czech standards it’s an extraordinary project. We’re used to big institutions which are state-run and not very well run. And we’re also used to a lot of small exhibition spaces set up by artists and young curators, and they sometimes don’t’ last long. So this project stands out for its size, and for the fact it’s very ambitious and has great potential.”

One man aiming to make the most of that potential is the gallery’s artistic director, Jaroslav Anděl. He outlines the aims of Dox.

“There are basically three. One is to present Czech artists in an international context and to create a platform for an exchange between the local art scene.

“Then we also want to support and initiate exchanges and dialogues among different art forms and media. Not to focus on just one or two, but to really explore what are the relationships and crossovers – I think this is one of the most interesting fields in contemporary art.

“And finally the idea is to connect various realities and to create an environment where different views and experiences can inspire each other. That means to create a forum for social interaction.”

Roughly speaking, what percentage of the art shown here will be Czech and what percentage will be foreign?

“Roughly, fifty-fifty.”

What kind of shows can we expect here?

“Well, we are a centre for contemporary art. That means you can expect contemporary art to be shown here. But that does not mean we won’t show art works from earlier periods from time to time, though it will always be related to current issues.

“As I say, we will show all different media, artists from many different countries…often what we will try to do is to for example confront one Czech artist with one international artist.”

Prague already has one big modern art gallery, part of the National Gallery, at Výstaviště. Will you in a sense by competing with the National Gallery’s modern art gallery?

“I don’t think so. I think we will more complement each other. It’s a museum, not just a gallery, and is primarily focused on museum type activities. We are not a museum, we will show only temporary exhibitions, we don’t have a collection – that means a completely different approach and dynamic.”

Your first big show is called Welcome to Capitalism! Is that lucky or unlucky, given what is currently happening to the capitalist system at the moment?

“Well, I think in a way it’s good timing, because in a way the title could not be more topical. I think the moment we are living in is certainly of historical proportion and will have some consequences for the future.”