National Gallery hosts collection of 20th century masterpieces


Many of the most famous artists of the 20th century will be in Prague as of Wednesday, vicariously through their artworks that is, as the National Gallery opens a major new exhibition called Monet – Warhol, showcasing masterpieces from the Albertina Museum in Vienna. The collection of 80 paintings merely begins with Monet and ends with Andy Warhol, with multiple works by Matisse, Magritte, Kandinsky and many more found in between. Taking famous collections on loan from abroad has not been a common trend in the National Gallery and I asked its director Milan Knížák if it had been difficult to materialise.

Andy Warhol - 'Electric chair', photo: CTKAndy Warhol - 'Electric chair', photo: CTK “You know, to get the collection together was not a problem, but it was very difficult to get the state indemnity. It was very difficult, we talked to the Ministry of Finance for a long time, and finally we convinced them. But it was difficult. We are always talking about using the state indemnity within the European Community, because it will be much easier to get good collections if the state will take the responsibility.”

You’ve said that this represents a big change in the ability of the national gallery to work with other galleries and collectors, can you explain how?

“This is not a real change, I would say, because we have organised other huge and fantastic exhibitions for example with China and other countries. But this is a collection that has many famous names and the media and the audiences always want to see things that they already know. They are fascinated by certain names, and this collection has these names.”

Milan KnížákMilan Knížák But it would not have been possible to put this together, say, ten years ago, as I understand it.

“That’s not the case, the gallery was in a very bad situation when I started. First, the gallery had many debts, and second, the lending policy was not developed. And we started slowly, we stopped lending pieces like crazy to anybody anywhere, and certain pieces we wouldn’t lend, and if the pieces are presented in out collections and we don’t have others to replace them then we ask for reciprocity, to fill the empty space after lending a piece to someone. And this was the case of the cooperation between the National Gallery in Prague and the Albertina in Vienna, and the result was the lending of some pieces for the exhibitions they have there and lending this collection to Prague.”

Rene Magritte - 'Golconde'Rene Magritte - 'Golconde' Well these are some of the most celebrated painters of the 20th century, but are there one or two particular pieces that you yourself are especially excited about being able to present?

“Yes, I am very happy about Magritte, because Magritte was not in our collection and had not been presented in Prague much. Magritte is really fantastic. We have a Lucio Fontana in our gallery, but this piece by Fontana exhibited here in this collection is typical of his work – these scars – and I like it very much.”