Hunt Kastner Artworks – helping young Czech artists develop international careers

Hunt Kastner Artworks

Hunt Kastner Artworks in Prague 7 is a private gallery owned and run by Camille Hunt, who is Canadian, and Katherine Kastner, who is from the US though her mother is Czech. The two represent 10 Czech artists, among them Eva Koťátková, Josef Bolf and Daniel Pitín. This week I stopped by to talk to the owners about their work, both curating shows and helping their artists find buyers overseas. I first asked Hunt what had led them to open the gallery in the first place.

CH: “What led us to open the gallery here was there are few galleries representing artists working on that level, so there are a lot of art spaces, non-profit, artist run spaces, but very few that are working representing artists, showing them abroad – that’s why we decided to open a small private gallery.”

Hunt Kastner Artworks
You’ve been open for four years – what has the experience been like so far, Kača?

KK: “Actually surprising good. Better than expected. I think when we started the gallery…there aren’t really that many commercial art galleries here in Prague and there’s not really a big market for the kind of art that we’re showing, which is pretty young and pretty progressive…so our expectations in terms of sales and that sort of thing wasn’t that high. And we’ve been really very pleasantly surprised.”

How do you select the artists you would like to work with?

KK: “That’s a very difficult decision. It’s a question that we get a lot and people always want to know where we find the artists. In fact, Camille and I have been living here since 1991 and have been working in the arts field, so we know the artists and we’ve known them for a long time.

“You spend a lot of time watching their work over a period but choosing the artists is always difficult, because we represent now 10 artists and there’s sort of a limit to how many artists we can really give a lot of time to. So we decided to focus on the younger generation, because they’re the ones who are in need of it most.”

Josef Bolf - 'School Atrium II', photo: Jan Freiberg
From your perspective as foreigners, how would you regard the contemporary Czech art scene?

CH: “I think the artists are strong but the infrastructure is still quite weak, so we’re hoping to change that in our small way. I’m speaking about institutions, city and state institutions, we’d like to see those improve and get stronger. It would help us and generally everybody would benefit – the artists, the scene, gallerists…we have to work in concert.”

KK: “Camille’s right. I think it’s just not that developed a platform here. In particular the market for contemporary art was very weak or non-existent, in fact. We used to laugh when we opened the gallery and I had friends in New York who would ask, you’re opening a gallery in Prague, what’s the competition like? And I laughed and I said, we don’t really have any competition, there’s no market.

“Actually that’s changed over the last four years. And we’d like to see a lot more galleries open like us and I think artists really need it, because artists need to sell, they need to be able to fund their work, and to develop their work. So we’d be really happy to see more commercial galleries and we’d be happy to see a gallery district to build up, like in Berlin or Paris, where there are more galleries that are working with artists.”

Hunt Kastner Artworks
Would you have any idea how Prague compares in this respect with other former Eastern Bloc capitals, like for instance Warsaw, or cities further eastwards?

CH: “It doesn’t compare favourably to Warsaw for example, but it’s hard to compare because Poland’s a much bigger country. But the scene there is much more active. There are more young galleries, private galleries, the curators are more active internationally, so they get the Polish artists out there. So it doesn’t compare that favourably.

“Also the Polish market for contemporary art is much more developed. There are many local collectors of contemporary art, which is not the case here so much. But compared for example to Hungary it’s maybe on the same level…I’m speaking in gross generalisations [laughs].”

Tell me about the international aspect of your business – how does that work in practical terms, selling Czech artists work abroad?

Jan Kotík - 'Coat of Arms'
KK: “The international part of our business is quite important and in fact from the beginning the majority of our collectors were from abroad. They were serious collectors who have serious collections and really think about it and add specific pieces to their collections. It was a great thing for us and it was a really positive for us to see that people were interested – not just us but outside, they were interested in the work from a purely artistic perspective…

“In terms of expanding the platform for Czech artists it’s really important, getting their work seen outside this small, centralised Prague circle. For that we go to the art fairs, we go to the big fairs, really well known places like in Basel, in London, or in the US. That’s an important part of what we do, bringing the artists outside…and introducing it to new people. It’s not just collectors. It’s also curators and museum directors and people working in the arts on an international level.”

What kind of reception has the work of the artists you represent met with abroad?

Daniel Pitín - 'Backdoor'
CH: “They’ve been met with great enthusiasm, so we’re very happy about that. Again I would say, coming back to your question about the art scene here, the artists are as strong as anywhere else…when I speak of weakness, it’s just that they’re not represented internationally. When we do show them internationally the reception is what it should be, because the artists’ work is really good.”

Eva Koťátková – one of Hunt Kastner Artworks’ artists – was the recipient of the prestigious Jindřich Chalupecký Prize for young Czech artist of the year in 2007, and is one of the hottest conceptual artists of her generation. Her new show Controlled Memory Loss opens at the gallery next Wednesday. Camille Hunt says it will be interesting, but doesn’t want to give too much away about what it entails.

CH: “It’s continuing her exploration of familiar social structures like the family and the home and looking at those limitations and how they define us and how we negotiate these things. It’ll consist of video and installation work, drawings.”

Tell us how your relationship with her works and how it has developed.

Eva Koťátková - Untitled
KK: “With Eva and our other artists we actually work with them very closely over the long term, and that’s what I think is the important thing we’re doing in the Czech Republic, which is maybe new for other galleries here. It’s not just one show and then, thank you very much.

“With Eva we’re giving this show here and then we’re going to show her in Basel, a solo project in June which is a continuation of this one. It’s a very close relationship with the artists that we represent. We work with them over a long period of time on exhibitions here, exhibitions abroad, and their work in general.”

The episode featured today was first broadcast on January 8, 2010.