Art Match: Patronage and National Gallery

The sixth debate in the Art Match series was devoted to the patronage of National Gallery in Prague, and featured Jiří Fajt, General Director, Milena Kalinovská, Director of the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art and Peter Vajda, a longtime patron.

Discussion revolved around the long-term challenges of the National Gallery in Prague and ways to address them. The panelists recognized underfinancing, deficiencies in technological modernization and incoherent approach to (potential) patrons as the main problems in the Gallery’s functioning. Therefore, Jiří Fajt has been devising a new strategy to actively search for and engage patrons. Milena Klinováská endorsed that saying that in the USA, gallery directors spend around 80% of their time working with supporters. The first step towards that goal is the establishment of a patrons’ club. Jiří Fajt would like to e.g. offer patrons the possibility to attend exhibitions at different preparation stages or travel with them to international art fairs, helping patrons acquire artworks that might be then displayed in the Gallery. Milena Kalinovská shared examples from the USA, mentioning i.a. Joseph Hirshhorn, who donated nearly 6 000 painting, sculptures, and drawings to a gallery. His endowment would not be that remarkable (apart from its huge volume), if he did not allow the gallery to sell the donated artworks. This decision brought in a huge financial asset and let the gallery maintain a high quality collection.

However crucial the work with patrons and private sector is for a gallery, it can also generate problems. This hold true especially for public institutions, when private collectors try to interfere with their program and functioning. In line with tradition of renowned public galleries all over the world, Jiří Fajt stressed that he would not submit to private collectors’ and patrons’ pressure to organize exhibitions as “commissioned” by them. Kalinovská added that exhibitng entire private collections is acceptable as long as they are donated to the gallery afterwards. More frequent mode of public-private cooperation is to borrow specific artworks that fit the curator’s concept. Such rentals from collectors are indispensable for the National Gallery, which does not have the funds to acquire many new exhibits. The inadequate financing was named as one of the main inhibitors for the Gallery development, The Gallery for example cannot right now afford to garner a proper collection of modern Czech art. Therefore, Fajt wants to obtain from the Ministry of Culture regular funds for such acquisitions. He also thinks that private collectors, who donate or lend their artworks, should be properly visible as Gallery supporters. This however requires creating a deeper bond between the Gallery and its patron. Peter Vajda reiterated this as on of the main instrument of gaining and keeping patrons. Nevertheless, it is also a responsibility of the state to support patronage with legal instruments such as tax reliefs and incentives to promote philanthropy.

For more feedback from the event, you can have a look at an article by Daniel Konrád available here.

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