DOX a grand narrative with an unfinished ending: DOX, as a center for contemporary art, seeks to place contemporary artifacts into unexpected contexts, to break from the conventions of galleries and museums, to display artistic creations not as symbols, but in surprising contexts--to create a laboratory-like setting for them.
On the 19th of October 2008, one of the biggest events on the Czech art scene happened since 1989. The massive street advertising campaign that preceded this day was, however, met with a lukewarm reaction from the Czech media and cultural institutions. On this day a monumental center for contemporary art--DOX--opened as the first such Czech institution dedicated to the display of temporary art exhibitions, something like a Czech "Guggenheim." DOX was literally born from nothing; its founders, Leos Valka and his partners are neither gallery owners, collectors, nor let alone millionaires.
But the question is, why was such a cultural event not given its due glory? The answer is simple. Culture, specifically modern art, comes second to the Czech's other social interests. While in the first half of the 1990s, the Czech Republic tried to incorporate itself into the "Western" context of modern art, the situation (not only for us) has changed. We have now found ourselves stuck between the globalized market for art and, speaking like Derrida, on the "indecisive" self-colonized periphery of this market.
Our forced separation from the transatlantic culture did great harm to us. Nor were we able to recover from this harm during the 1990s. The local institutions that cater to visual art missed out on interesting and valuable collections (including
Western art), failed to find experienced managers or appropriately orientated theorists, and lacked the necessary autonomy. To this day they are still managed under outdated laws. The need to establish a place in Prague to display contemporary art was much discussed throughout the 1990s. During the renovation of the convention and trade hall, which was the de-facto National gallery during socialism, people discussed erecting a brand new building for modern and contemporary art far outside of town near the airport. As Jaroslav Andil, the artistic director of DOX said, to this day, if culture is not part of a political or commercial gain, it will be sidelined to the periphery of people's awareness.
Leos Valka is an unremarkable and quiet man inside his fisherman's vest. No one would guess that he is the main developer and manager of the entire project, which has cost more than 200 million Czech koruna.
Valka studied neither the history of art galleries, nor even the history of architecture. Rather, he specialized in the renovation of tall historical monuments. He learned this trade following his immigration to Australia, where he had traveled with some of his coworkers in 1981, and thereafter established a company in high-rise construction. In the mid-nineties, he became the sole owner and director of an international construction company, which specialized in skyscrapers. After 1989, he periodically returned to the Czech Republic, where he also established a building renovation company. His income has never been spectacular.
From the time he was a child, he followed trends in art, architecture, and literature, and throughout his travels he became interested in not only what was housed inside the museums and galleries, but in the structures themselves--the functionality of their architecture and interior design. While searching Prague for interesting loft s, he discovered what was to become DOX: an abandoned factory building in the district named Holesovice. He and a Dutch business partner (who helped finance his building renovation business) decided to put their profits towards building a gallery. Valka collaborated with the architect Ivan Kroupou, and eventually bought the entire site of the former factory. And just as the original budget expanded, so did his new ambitions: coffee shop, gift shop, auditorium, and restaurant. Finding more financing for his project wasn't easy. In the end he built the gallery with only a few partners. But without the necessary prestige and programs, he was unable to entice foreign investors. According to him, it was especially difficult to motivate locals to get more involved in the project. With the motto "Let's be realistic, Let's try for the impossible," the center finally opened without institutional, financial, or political support. His stubborn Don Quixote-like determination has now given him the respect that he initially lacked.
CZECH CAPITALISM AND ART
The opening exhibition of DOX occurred as news of the American economic crisis was breaking. The theme, "Welcome to Capitalism," came from a series of paintings by one of the exhibiting artists--the Spanish painter Jose-Maria Cana. Big wax casts of politicians and corporate magnates created from newspaper photos welcomed the audience: "This is capitalism; this is what you always wanted. You have embraced a system on the verge of collapse. And after such a complicated journey!" The first exhibition also displayed the work of the Slovak artist Matej Kren, and Dominik Lang. But instead of speculating about the center's program, future projects and which world-renowned names DOX will bring to Prague, I have a single concern: will it last?
THE STATUS OF ART IN A FLUID ENVIRONMENT
In today's world, whether or not certain pieces of contemporary art belong in museums remains an unanswered question. Art never has been and never will be a mass-produced concern, and all attempts to normalize it within everyday life have more or less failed. Concurrently, most people view art and its status with skepticism. Even so, it is an indispensable part of our lives; it provides us with one of the few chances we have to forget about our own mortality.
The meaning behind a piece of artwork will either be created by the artist him or herself, or derived from the emotional or thoughtful response it invokes in the onlooker. DOX, as a center for contemporary art, seeks to place contemporary artifacts into unexpected contexts, to break from the conventions of galleries and museums, to display artistic creations not as symbols, but in surprising contexts--to create a laboratory-like setting for them.
The former detachment between the self and the artistic creation that prevails throughout art's historical development is no longer applicable in the twenty-first century; the nostalgia for such things is, however, still with us. While many of the postmodern strategies have simply weakened art's authority, the nature of contemporary art is to challenge our assumptions about it. Without showing us a better or different world, it distorts, discombobulates, and deprives us of conventional bonds. But the fact that very progressive, radical, and rebellious art has made its way into institutions has in fact hurt them. DOX is attempting to create a different, human environment for this art, without carrying with it any false expectations.
Even ancient philosophers knew the rule that knowledge moves in a circle--that individual parts are only understood when looked at in the context of the whole. We understand the point of art, the enjoyment of it, but our favorable communication with art exists only though a given context.
For example, let us observe Prague's art scene. The polarization is evident in the presentation of contemporary art (including its negligible imported parts): on one extreme we have the conservative and immutable stance of our state institutions--a wait and see model which says no to any risk-taking; on the other extreme we find the alternative galleries, (that are in general without financial support) which present a model comparable to the underground. This community certainly requires a new, self-conscious model, which will gain the trust of the public, artists, and professionals alike.
In this modern information age, it is no longer the task of each institution to link the various disciplines. They have already connected themselves via the Internet. In this fast-paced world we live in today, art can serve us as a kind of safety brake; institutions may now stand in as an interesting and surprising decoder.
When artistic intent isn't actually communicated, works of art become but intellectual exhibitions. It is more important to create something with artistic meaning rather than to simply seek to record history. Jindrich Chalupecky has come to the understanding that art cannot be the salvation of life, but instead, life must be the salvation of art. Indeed, the figures behind DOX do not want to save art, but they are definitely trying to imbue contemporary art with new meaning.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Forrester, Sibelan Elizabeth S., Magdalena J. Zaborowska and Elena Gapova. Over the Wall/after the Fall: Post-communist Cultures Through an East-West Gaze. (University Press, 2004).
Hodges, Nicola and Paul Crowther. New Art from Eastern Europe: Identity and Conflict. (Academy Editions, 1994).
Prior, Nick. Museums and Modernity: Art Galleries and the Making of Modern Culture. (Berg Publishers, 2002).
Pejic, Bojana and David Elliott. After the Wall: Art and Culture in Post-Communist Europe. (Moderna Museet, 1999).
Founders and Initiators of the Centre
The DOX center in Prague was initiated by Leos Valka with the help of his business partners: Robert Aafjes, Richard Fuxa, Vaclav Dejemar. Leos Valka works in the field of construction and interior design. He has held lifelong interests in architecture and contemporary art. Today, he is currently the director of the DOX center in Prague. PhD. Jaroslav Andil, artistic director at the DOX center, is the author of numerous exhibitions and publications dedicated to modern and contemporary art at home and abroad
International Advisory Committee for the DOX centre
Vicente Todoli, Director, Tate Modern, London / David Elliott, former Director, Museum of Modern Art in Istanbul / Willis Hartshorn, Director, International Center for Photography, New York Henry / Meyric Hughes, Director, AICA, London / Suzanne Landau, Chief Curator, Israel Museum, Jerusalem / Reyn van der Lugt, former Chief Curator, Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam / Jonas Mekas, Founder and Artistic Director, Anthology Film Archives, New York
The DOX center is a share-owned non-profit company.
Financing for the Centre
DOX will be financed from several sources: through its own activities (admission charges, membership, restaurant, bookshop, commercial hiring for events), from sponsor donations, marketing revenue, and donations from the city, state, and European institutions.
Lenka Lindaurova is an art critic and curator.
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|Publication:||The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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