“We value diversity and support exchange of opinions” says Christelle Havranek

Christelle Havranek, chief curator of Kunsthalle Praha

Can you tell me something about your professional background? What does it mean for you to be the Chief Curator of the newly-emerging Kunsthalle Praha?

After studying art history in France, I worked for many years as head of the art gallery at the French Institute in Prague. I’ve been living in the Czech Republic for twenty-five years now. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I have been to witness this exceptional time in the history of this country. I’ve observed the various phases of the post-communist period, which have influenced the evolution of the art scene. I remember that at the beginning of the 1990s the scene was rather experimental and local, and then gradually began to vary, professionalize and take on an international character. I recall the re-opening of the Trade Fair Palace, the MXM Gallery – the first commercial gallery in Prague, the first artist-run exhibition space, and the first philanthropic initiative…it’s amazing to have witnessed so many “firsts”, while feeling that it’s still possible to create new institutional models.

For me, Kunsthalle Praha represents an institution that’s missing here, and which it is necessary to create. I am grateful that I can be a part of this adventure. At the same time, it’s a great challenge for me, because my task is to prepare a program together with the curatorial team, which would meet the expectations of an increasingly demanding audience.

What will make Kunsthalle Praha different, special or specific, differentiating it from the current, existing institutions?

Kunsthalle Praha is not going to be some elite museum, but rather, an accessible platform. The way I see it, Kunsthalle Praha’s distinctive feature will be its collaborative and inclusive approach. We value diversity and support exchange of opinions. We want to create a cross-disciplinary program, in which modern and contemporary art are interconnected with literature, music, film, science and architecture.

Every themed exhibition will be original, conceived in cooperation with an external team, or potentially with another institution. We favor artists and curators whose work is the result of research that has a broader geographic and historical context. When it comes to solo shows, we are developping an ecosystem that will provide support for artists during their production, presentation and promotion of innovative projects, not just here in the Czech Republic, but also on the international scene. This is the identity of the institution we are now creating prior to its opening.

Would it be possible to capture the identity of the future institution in one word?

No, but I’ll at least try to summarize its essential characteristics: generosity and an open approach.

What will be the program’s focus in terms of changes in the social, environmental and gender areas?

Our exhibition and accompanying programs will aim to reflect the world we live in, including controversial issues, and to address the traumas and taboos of the recent past. But we do not want to moralize in any way or impose one single truth. We wish to connect communities that are becoming more and more enclosed in social bubbles. I’m even convinced that the core mission of cultural institutions in this time of fragmentation of society is to facilitate intergenerational dialogue, provide a plurality of views on sensitive topics, and in this way to contribute to a more empathetic and tolerant society.

What are the advantages of a private institution compared with a state institution?

I myself was employed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a long time and have only been working in the private sector for three years. When I compare these experiences I’m convinced that the coexistence and balance of the two models is very important. It is a guarantee of greater autonomy, freedom and professionalism. Moreover, together these two models ensure there is space for various creative attitudes within the art scene.

What directions are you considering pursuing in future programs?

In the case of Kunsthalle Praha, the building itself, and its history, determine certain directions and some themes. The function of the former transformer substation and the personality of the modernist sculptor Zdeňek Pešánek, who designed artworks for its facade, lead us to a visionary and experimental approach to the world. The theme of electricity is a challenge for contemporary society and new art forms.

Is it difficult to find collaborators and partners when you don’t yet have any exhibition history?

We were surprised by how easy it’s been to establish cooperation – especially with foreign institutions – and to collect great ideas. Much more complex is their subsequent execution. It could be said that we have enough projects for the next few years. In the Czech Republic, there are a number of institutions with whose programs we feel a connection, and therefore I believe we will be collaborating with them in the future.

What are some events coming up in the near future that visitors can look forward to?

In 2017, we launched the Facade Project as an accompanying event for the renovation of our building. This is a series of installations created specifically for the facade of Kunsthalle Praha by Czech and foreign artists. With this project, we want to encourage artists to work on a monumental scale and allow them to experiment with new materials. The last of the presented artworks is Lightness, a light installation by the Ukrainian graphic designer and artist Aliona Solomadina.

As I’ve already indicated, we are taking inspiration from the industrial legacy of the Zenger transformer substation, and preparing several projects that pay tribute to the original function of the building. For example, we’ve invited American artist Mark Dion, to collect objects and artefacts on site, left here by previous users of the building (technicians, tenants, squatters), from its construction in 1936 up to today. As an archeologist of the present, Mark Dion is assembling a Cabinet of Electric Curiosities from these objects. His work will be on permanent display at Kunsthalle Praha. We will also prepare a public event related to this project in 2021, before the official opening of our venue.

Interview led by Lenka Lindaurová.

Photo © Jan Rasch