As from February 1, 2021, Kunsthalle Bratislava officially has a new director. In a transparent selection process, the successful candidate was the well-known curator and critic Jen Kratochvil, active in Prague and Vienna. He has already begun giving practical effect to his vision, having travelled to Slovakia in February. Our visual art scene is not unknown to him; quite the contrary. In recent years he has collaborated with many Slovak galleries and contemporary artists.
Photo: archive Kunsthalle Bratislava / Aleksandra Vajd
KHB’s new director does not merely have a successful career as curator behind him (and before him). At the Department of Photography in Prague’s FAMU, together with Hynek Alt he leads the Studio of New Aesthetics; in the Rudolfinum Gallery he has engaged in film dramaturgy; and in Vienna he has co-directed the independent space Significant Other. His spectrum of involvement is focused particularly on time media, overlaps and context of architecture in visual art, and research art tendencies.
Expectations and New Strategy
As Jen Kratochvil takes up the position of Kunsthalle Bratislava director, there are expectations not only from the funder, The Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic (MK SR), but also from Slovakia’s contemporary visual art scene: a new progressive vision, an updating of the institution’s identity, and a greater depth of international contexts and cooperative ventures.
“Kunsthalle Bratislava has all the essentials to be one of the active, easily distinguishable agents on the international field of contemporary art. It has a fine city centre location, communicating with the general public via its facade and a parterre in full view of the street; it occupies a very high-quality late modernist building with generous exhibition spaces. And besides, it is situated on a many-branched crossroads of the Central European cultural sphere. Alas, until now it has been battling with insufficient finance for its dreams to be realised, and it lacks sufficient visibility vis-à-vis possible new partners. But I am firmly convinced that with this Kunsthalle, in synergy with the funder and local and foreign partners, we will be able to find functional and sustainable solutions for these maladies,” Jen Kratochvil says.
First Months at Work
The new director has stated that during the first months he will concentrate above all on gaining a thorough familiarity with the internal processes of the institution, its staff, and the projects and activities in progress. A further step will be direct contact with the Slovak art scene, whether online or by personal meetings and visits to studios. Kratochvil’s steps will naturally also lead towards creating regular contact with the funder, MK SR.
“I am coming from an independent and academic milieu, and therefore it is essential for me right from the beginning to become fully familiar with the processes and functioning of the state institution, as well as with the individual members and agents on the Slovak scene. But at the same time, already during the first weeks the outlines are beginning to take shape of new partnerships and connections, which will be indispensable and invaluable for Kunsthalle Bratislava in the future,” KHB’s new director declares.
Exhibition Activities in 2021
Most of the exhibition activities for 2021 had been planned prior to the new director’s appointment. The conceptually prepared projects in the spaces of Kunstalle LAB and EXT remain unchanged. Exhibitions in the main spaces will be made known during the first week in March.
“For each new director, the first year is crucial for getting acquainted with his/her new place of work, following the plan of an already existing exhibition programme. Nevertheless, we have already decided on a number of initial changes aimed at more fluent running of the institution in the coming months, particularly having regard to the restricted conditions while the pandemic is in progress,” Kratochvil explains.
New Vision of Kunsthalle Bratislava
At a public hearing Jen Kratochvil already caught listeners’ attention with an original vision of a progressive leadership of KHB, envisaging the institution at a crossroads of the international contemporary art scene. Updating the identity of KHB, a new website, creating prospectively beneficial partnerships, developing and establishing international collaborative ventures, as well as preparing a new concept of exhibition projects, for 2022: all of these are fundamentals of the planned change.
“When one enters a new setting, there is always a certain naiveté and maybe an excessive measure of optimism, but at the same time one has a detached, unencumbered view, more precisely a critical view. This is a prerequisite, but often it may not last long, so one must use it immediately in the first months and take steps that may be perceived as radical. We’ll see how the situation develops, but so far I have only encountered willingness and enthusiasm for possible changes in the orientation and scope of Kunsthalle Bratislava. The Slovak scene has exceptional potential. For me, the Kunsthalle is a space which can offer it not just a presentation platform but principally a means of communicating with the wider world of art,” Jen Kratochvil says, describing his vision of the direction the institution will take.
Jen Kratochvil is curator and art critic working in Prague and Vienna during recent years. His curatorial practice is focused on time media and research art tendencies linked with architecture. Together with Hynek Aly, he has led the Studio of New Aesthetics in the Department of Photography in Prague’s FAMU. Among other projects, Kratochvil was co-author of the exhibition cycle Moving Image Department in Prague’s National Gallery; curator of the film programme Plato in Ostrava; also of Fotograf Festival 2017; also of Festival m3 / Umění ve veřejném prostoru 2018, while at the same time engaging in film dramaturgy in Rudolfinum Gallery, entitled Rudolfinum_Time-Based. Besides the activities mentioned, he has worked as an independent curator. Since 2017, together with the architect and curator Laurou Amann he has directed the independent space Significant Other in Vienna. Currently he is a regular contributor to various print and digital art periodicals. On February 1 Jen Kratochvil was appointed director of Kunsthalle Bratislava, to which he has transferred his base of operation.