ENEMY OF THE STATE: MILAN KNIŽÁK ON THE POWER OF REALITY AND THE FEAR OF ART
02. June 2021
“I’m the leader and member of a single clan. That clan is named Milan Knížák.” The foremost figure of Czech performance art, Milan Knížák, in this documentary portrait recounts endless interrogations, his friendship with Jindřich Chalupecký, as well as a reality more powerful than pop-art and the feeling of intense post-revolutionary solitude.
“The communists alleged that I had influence over the young generation. They were afraid of me; they wanted to silence me. From 1966 onward, I was listed as an enemy of the state,” claims the only Czech member of the Fluxus movement, whom communist ex-president Gustav Husák falsely accused on live television of smuggling pornography. Knížák’s reaction was true to his style — he sent Husák a telegram requesting an immediate apology. “The women at the post office that day loved it.”
Why Art in Isolation?
The artistic activity took a strong hit. Exhibitions began to get cancelled, various regulations affected direct interaction with colleagues, spectators, and the world stage. Questions about the meaning of art, an artist's mission, and boundaries of freedom emerged yet again. The testimonies of the artists who were creating their art during the communist regime in Czechoslovakia are an important memento of a time gone by and an inspiration for the search for meaningful answers in the present. With or without the crisis.
The stories of artists in the time of totality carry on. You can look forward, among other things, to the stories of Květa Pacovská, Kurt Gebauer, Tomáš Císařovský and others. You can watch each episode on social media and web platforms of the two associated institutions, Kunsthalle Praha & Post Bellum–Memory of Nations.
Milan Knížák (*1940) gained recognition as a prominent performance artist of the 1960s; he became the only Czech artist invited into the Fluxus movement. He also extensively engaged with painting, objects, installations, design, fashion, and music. He acted as a solitary figure on the Czech art scene and was always highly critical of his surroundings. His consistent human and artistic stances garnered widespread respect—consequently, following the fall of the Iron Curtain, Knížák found himself in important specialist positions, despite never finishing his professional education. He became the first post-revolutionary rector of the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, and later the director of the National Gallery in Prague. His earlier work is part of many art collections worldwide.