National Gallery head rejects calls for his resignation

Milan Knížák, photo: CTK

It is just under a month ago that some of the country’s most prominent artists and art critics sent a letter to the government calling for a change at the top of the National Gallery. Its signatories accused Milan Knížák, who has been the head of the gallery since 1999, of economic mismanagement, and leading the gallery, and by extension the Czech art world, into isolation. On Tuesday, Mr Knížák reacted to the petition calling for his removal.

Milan Knížák,  photo: CTK
Over 50 of the country’s artists, curators and critics put their signature to the petition calling for Milan Knížák’s removal from the helm of the National Gallery. One of the petition’s instigators, Lenka Lindaurová, told Czech Radio what motivated her to speak out:

“A long-term and ever-increasing dissatisfaction with the way that the country’s most important artistic institution – its National Gallery – is being run. Criticism of the gallery has been abounding for years and finally we thought we had to act. Mr Knížák has been head of the gallery for too long. He is leading this country, and this institution, into complete isolation, and the gallery is stagnating under his leadership.”

The petition’s signatories have called on the Culture Ministry to stage a transparent international selection process to find a suitable replacement for Mr Knížák. The Culture Ministry says that it is willing to take petitioners’ complaints into consideration, but that it will stage no such competition to find a new gallery head. For his part, Milan Knížák says he is unworried by the petition:

“You know, if you want to change anything, you need some facts, some real arguments. And what I have read in that petition are just people’s feelings. And that is not enough.”

What do you say to claims that the National Gallery is increasingly self-absorbed and isolated from the rest of the art world?

“I’m proud of that. And the National Gallery does collaborate with many, many other galleries and presents its art works all over the world. But anyway, that is not the point. What I am proud of is that the National Gallery has its own face. It is different from other museums, and I think that this is very important. We don’t want to be the same as other museums all over the world, we want to be specific, and we are specific, and I’m proud of that.”

And what about claims that the gallery is being badly financially managed?

“This is not true, because when I came to the gallery, it had many financial problems. It had debts running into millions of crowns, its financial situation was bad. We had to straighten it out. Now the gallery is in a good financial condition. Of course the money we get from the state is not a big amount, and that is a problem, but the finances of the National Gallery are in good order.”

So, finally, this petition has not led you to consider resigning?

“No, of course not, there is no reason for that.”

It doesn’t look like Mr Knížák is going anywhere without a fight, but this ongoing feud between him and some of the country’s most prominent artists certainly isn’t painting too pretty a picture of the Czech art world.