Polish curator Knast named new Czech National Gallery chief

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The Czech National Gallery is set to get a new director. For the first time in its history, the highly important institution will be led by a foreigner: Polish curator Alicja Knast. She has been appointed for a six-year-term and will officially take over in January.

The post of the National Gallery head has been vacant since April last year, when then director Jiří Fajt was unexpectedly dismissed by the previous culture minister, Antonín Staněk, over alleged economic misconduct.

The arts minister, Lubomír Zaorálek, temporarily entrusted the gallery management to economist Anne-Maria Nedoma, and formed an advisory body to search for the right candidate for the post.

On Tuesday, Mr Zaorálek announced that he has selected Alicja Knast over two other candidates, ex-chief Fajt and a former director of the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Marek Pokorný.

“Alicja Knast succeeded in all three parts of the selection process. There are many proofs that she is a very skilled manager in her field. What made an impression on me is her emphasis on reaching young audiences.  She has also presented a clear vision on how to build the name of the National Gallery abroad.”

Alicja Knast, Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The 47-year-old Polish curator has previously headed the Silesian Museum in Katowice and was also involved in the establishment of two major museums, the Chopin Museum in Warsaw and the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Speaking after her appointment, she said the current coronavirus pandemic presents the National Gallery with a huge challenge, but it is also a chance to reconsider its role:

“The time after the pandemic will be very hard for culture. It would be really helpful if we could re-think the entire issue of the access to the public and access to our collections.

“One thing is the National Gallery itself and the other thing is the time we live in. People, who are now 19 or 20 years old, were born in the internet era, and we have to do our best to really encourage them to come into the galleries because in 20 years’ time, they will decide whether these institutions will flourish or not. So it is a big task that lies ahead of us and I think I am up to this task.” 

Veletržní Palace, photo: Barbora Němcová

Mrs Knast also said she will announce her first plans for the National Gallery in about three months’ time:

“I don’t think it would be wise to present my plans earlier. You have to learn about an institution to responsibly say what is most suitable for the team and for the resources you have. To promise something you can’t fulfil would be irresponsible.

“It takes a lot of discussions and talks to ensure a smooth transition,  So I am hoping to have those discussions and talks in November and December, so that on January 1 I will be ready to lead the institution responsibly.”