Funeral home gallery offers a fresh look at death, life and contemporary art

Na shledanou gallery, photo: Art & Culture Photography

The cemetery in the small South Bohemian town of Volyně hides an unusual secret – a contemporary art gallery called Na shledanou, or Goodbye. Actually, the secret is not that well kept, since for the past three years the gallery’s curator Jan Freiberg has been inviting well-known and up-and-coming Czech artists to use the funeral home’s walls and beautifully lit space to create site-specific works. Visitors from the surrounding region and from far beyond come to experience the unusually located gallery. On a recent visit to Prague, Jan Freiberg spoke to Radio Prague and told us how the Goodbye Gallery found a home at Volyně’s cemetery.

Na shledanou gallery,  photo: Art & Culture Photography
“Three years ago I left Gallery Klatovy/Klenova and I didn’t know what to do with my profession. And my friend from my native town Strakonice offered me a place in Volyně. He became the director of the museum in Volyně. He had a good relationship with the mayor of the town. And he offered me three possible places for the gallery. The first one was an old school, the second one was a granary from the 19th century and the third was the funeral home in the cemetery. And I decided that the cemetery will be the best choice.”

What appealed to you in this funeral hall?

“There are several layers to this. I was tired of contemporary art and I wanted to find some place where it would be possible to produce art, which has some one idea or theme and the cemetery was the best place for that. The other reason [it appealed to me] was that my father was very ill and I was thinking about death and I needed to come terms with that. And thirdly, I thought that I would be finishing my work as a curator with this gallery, and its name is Goodbye.”

Na shledanou gallery,  photo: Jan Freiberg
So, did you come up with the name Gallery Goodbye?

“Yeah, I did. I wanted to say something with hope, because we can say goodbye, but we may meet again. That’s the reason for this name.”

Of course, because in Czech ‘na shledanou’ also means we will see each other again.


So, it seems that this gave you a good starting point as a curator. The idea of the funeral hall and death, how much does it influence how you choose the artists and the kind of art that appears in the gallery?

“The important thing is the death surrounding this gallery. Death is everywhere in this place and artists need to come to terms with these surroundings. I was looking for artists who would be able to understand death in our culture and what death means in their lives. The first artist was Ondřej Maleček. He likes Czech poetry from the 19th century, which is based around the idea of death.”

That sounds like a pretty morbid theme, it’s pretty grim and sad if every exhibit is about death. Does it attract a lot of visitors? Is it something that has actually played to your advantage?

Artwork by Daniel Vlček,  photo: Art & Culture Photography
“I think that death is the most important thing in our lives and that’s the basic source of interest. And people are interested in Gallery Goodbye and I think that it’s a part of our lives and I think it is necessary to show it. We know images of death only form television, or the internet, but contemporary artists don’t like these themes. I was thinking that this is a very important thing for our life.”

And in these three years, have you been able to always stay with that theme. Has every exhibit been about death in some way?

“No, it is not the main condition for the exhibits. The main condition is this place. I don’t tell the artists, you have to prepare something about death. It depends on them. I chose the artists and they prepare whatever they want.”

The architecture and interior of the gallery is very beautiful. It’s very unique. There are big windows and for a place that is supposed to be sad it’s actually very bright. It seems very optimistic. Who created the design? Was it like this originally or was it changed later on?

Jan Freiberg,  photo: archive of Jan Freiberg
“There were some rules about how to build cemetery hall under socialism. One of them was having big windows to look outside onto nature or the town. They wanted to replace god with nature.”

So the design is from the communist period? It didn’t change when the gallery moved it.

“The building of the gallery was built in 1992 and they began the construction in 1987. And the funeral hall did not function as a funeral hall. There were no funerals. This build was empty for almost 20 years. Funerals usually take place at the church at the cemetery.”

And today you have an exhibit by one of the member of the Guma Guar group. Can you tell us a little bit more about what the exhibit involves, what it looks like?

“Dan Vlček is a man of many faces. He is a musician, he makes some political art, he is a performer and he is a painter. And the relationship between painting and making music is the topic of his exhibition at Goodbye Gallery. He tried to make tracks of the noise on the walls of the gallery. Another topic of his exhibit is sgraffito, because the town hall in Volyně has very nice sgraffito and Dan Vlček wanted to try this technique in the gallery. And he prepared a lot of his work using this technique. He usually worked with LPs. He traces the LPs to create his art. And the shapes are like a sound wave floating on the walls of the gallery. And another part of is the sculpture, which Dan prepared from LP, he put about 500 LPs one on top of another.”

Daniel Vlček,  photo: Art & Culture Photography
The gallery sounds incredible, the exhibits as well. But Volyně is a small town, so how difficult is it to drawn not just well-known artists, but also a big enough audience?

“People from Volyně are curious people and they come to our gallery and they like our artists. About 30 percent of our visitors are from Volyně, I think, and 70 percent from South Bohemia, from the Plzeň region, from Prague, because we have become a gallery which is well known around the Czech Republic.”

The episode featured today was first broadcast on August 16, 2013.