The influence of funding schemes and strategies of international institutions on the development of the concept of Central European art

Edited by Judit Csatlós and Borbála Szalai for the supplement of INDEX 
Translation: Zoltán Móra

As a supplement program of the exhibition series Flashbulb Memory – Gallery by Night 2011 we’ve organised a panel discussion with the title: ‘Central European Accent: still Sexy?’. While editing the typed material of the discussion, some further questions occurred. The text bellow is an edited version of the panel and the e-mail answers for our questions of the followings: Juraj Čarný curator (Space, Bratislava), Áron Fenyvesi curator (Trafó Gallery, Budapest); Michal Moravčík artist, Dušan Zahoranský curator, artists (MeetFactory, Prague) 
Szörényi Beatrix: Anti-Diva sorozat. 2008-2009 akvarel/papir, 29,7x21cm


Dušan Zahoranský (SK): The people of Eastern Europe are somehow demand the attention of western countries. The only way how to experience and get deeper to the different art-scenes is to travel and to meet the people, go to studios and to really make a research. I don’t see the reason to expect that French or German curators would do it, because they can be busy by their own scenes. The feasible strategies are on one-way long-lasting supportive initiatives where curators would be inspired and supported to discover unique artistic achievements among Eastern European artists. With no prejudices to genres of art or generational distinction, curators and theoreticians should be provoked to formulate characteristic paradigm of eastern visual art. That means to work with critically with the selected artists (systematically for several years!!! and not only from a short-term project to another accidental occasion…), and search for historical connotations.

Áron Fenyvesi (HU): Getting noticed by the “Western” public is sure to remain a major incentive for local contemporary fine art scenes in the region. However, I would not find it impossible, if the art scene of the region used this established identity to develop into a whole new and self-sufficient system. No need to start from the scratches: art has similar historical traditions and is embedded in similar social contexts in all neighbouring countries. This shared identity could be pivotal for orchestrating the leap from exotic marginality and could serve as a valid point for the fine art scene of the region against being regarded as excessively fragmented, lacking a coherent context and generally hanging in a semantic vacuum. In order to achieve the much needed consensus for realizing this, curators and art historians need to ensure the clarity of concepts and provide a framework for future development. 

D.Z.: There is no common aesthetical characteristic of the Central European, but more on operational level. I think that Central European art is unprofessional, is kind of a hobby activity. In a way I fund it healthy, as it is not overproducing.

Juraj Čarný (SK): I think the operation level of artists in our countries is very different because we must be much more active…

Michal Moravčík (SK): What is important is the position of curators. This is important for local scenes if there is some important curator from the east that can mix the scenes or artist together in an international context.

J.Č.: In Slovakia there was one institution that made a big star out of a Slovak artist. (Of course the artist has to be great...) Soros Centre was operating – under the directorship of Maria Hlavajova - as a commercial gallery, that was representing few particular artists – for example Roman Ondak –, and form my point of view for his carrier was crucial that he had this international support, and budget support form Soros Centre during the ‘90s.
The Polish situation is extremely important to analyse, because after Danish art was very sexy during the ‘90s, the polish art become internationally very successful. Of course there were some institutions working behind, for example the Focsal Foundation. After this boom of Polish art, it is Romanian art at the moment, which become very sexy on an international level. After analysing what happened and how it has happened in Poland or Romania, we can come to some conclusion why Czech, Hungarian, Slovak art scene is not so sexy for international audience.


D.Z.: I think its healthy not to except the western art-scene to be automatically interested in us, because I think these are economics, they generate quite a big amount of money to really invest money back into the culture. Our countries should search for the models how to educate the politics and system to somehow support their own culture.
In this year I have realized the limits of a non-profit organization, which depends almost fully on money from the City and the Ministry of Culture. In Prague there is a situation that the State run institution somehow doesn’t function fully, the main institution; the National Gallery happen to be isolated from what happens in the art scene. In the last 10 years there is quite a strong independent and non-profit artists run art spaces and galleries. So the institutions, which are supported by the City or the State are not connected to the young art scene. 

M.M.: In Slovakia we have really crisis of institutions, because they are still influenced of politicians, they don’t have money and they are under pressure. This is some kind of post-socialistic model of institutions; they are not flexible and live. Curators and theoreticians can do much more than these old institutions in our countries.

D.Z.: After changes of regimes in 90s the level of professionalism has failed drastically. Contemporary galleries (at least in Czech Republic and Slovakia) have a poor profile of collected art from recent periods. Instead they do tend to consume yearly budgets on their maintenance. There should be stricter funding procedure in the field of State/City run galleries and museums. France has for example its FRACs institutions based in every region. They function both as regional and international collections so they do provide visitors with an insight into a modern culture. They can therefore later act as a database of artworks which represent certain periods or visual strategies.

Á.F.: The readers of Index are thoroughly familiar with the scantiness of financing for culture in Hungary. The last few years have seen a dramatic drop in the amount of disbursed state aid and, in my opinion, the Hungarian state is trailing behind in ensuring an adequate cultural policy and legal framework for stimulating private patronage of fine arts to fill the gap created by insufficient public funding. If I had to name an example of the botched and most unprofessional attempts at funding fine arts, it would be the scheme for expanding the collection of KOGART, initiated by the previous government.  But it did not take much time for the current government to find its KOGART either – let’s not forget about the failure of the Hungarian Art Exhibition in Beijing that initially had also started as a private enterprise (of the Forrás Gallery), but with time it was overtly turned into a tool for institutionalizing the contemporary canon in Hungarian fine arts. These cases seem most peculiar to me because the government is pouring public money into private enterprises to the detriment of the wide and expensive network of state institutions that is supposed to be actively engaged in collecting contemporary Hungarian works of art and in devising its international representation. Without the full backing of public funds, the national network of institutions is not capable of fulfilling its role as the main provider of support. In the long run, a destabilized budget may have dire consequences that can prove incapacitating for the whole Hungarian fine arts scene.

D.Z.: There has to be a long term fights, small invisible fights for small wins on a local level to really distribute the wealth in a more democratic way. Which is not happening right now, and it will not happen because the culture system of these post communist countries functions as substitution of social health-care, for elderly people. They are based in the academies of fine arts, and they are occupying the museums and galleries, so there is no clear system of renewal of those cultural positions. It is a problem in our countries that there is no transparent and frequent process of changing people, and that causes institutional blackout.


J.Č.: As a low budget institution, SPACE depend on a funding that is usually related with or focused on „some countries“.  There is a structured grant system at Slovak Ministry of culture. It is much easier to receive a grant for international collaboration, than to any other local project of local artists. Our programs are co-financed from EU sources and governmental funds.
For the Crazy Curators Biennale I invited curators from visegrad, but not only visegrad countries. And now approximately 2/3 of my exhibition program is international. From the beginning I was trying to exhibit in Bratislava artists from other counties to make something more for the local art scene. Beside we also started to run residency programs. From the beginning I started a gallery as a non-profit project space, and still I’m running it as a non-profit project space, but we are trying to get some co-funding for our projects from commercial sources. So we started to rent out artworks of young artists, and we started to visit international art fairs, but basically it was a mission to promote Slovak artists internationally, but in general we’ve spent more money on these art fairs on promotion of artists than we got back from selling. At the moment we don’t continue with this, so this year we are not visiting any art fair.

Á.F.: Fortunately, thanks to our balanced budget, the presence of foreign artists in Trafó is solely governed by professional considerations and the willingness of our invitees to meet us, of course. One of the benefits of being professional is that Trafó is reasonably capable of securing funds from international grants that are used for creative purposes and for developing artistic networks. Our gallery has partnered with three other entities to form an International Visegrad Fund offering standard grants, eg. for the recent exhibition entitled Loophole to Happiness. In addition to that, we are working on a workshop entitled Political Design / In charge, hopefully realized within the framework of an EU grant this fall in Budapest, with the participation of Asian guest artists.

D.Z.: MeetFactory has quite a stabile funding for residents, and a precise procedure of selecting and nominating artists. The statement of the gallery is mixing the foreign and Czech artists. The foreign artists are confronted with the Czech scene, so my idea was to regularly, like really intentionally compere the tendencies, which are accepted in the western art market and art scene, with those, which has a good quality in the Czech Republic.


J.Č.: Visegrad Fund is a great structure to initiate dialogue in a V4 region, but unfortunately contemporary art is not in their main focus. Residency program is operated very easily and it has already initiated extremely high number of reasonable collaborations. This model should be inspiration for a more user-friendly operation system of collaboration in V4 and also wider region.

D.Z.:  Visegrad Fund from my point of view functions very well in the field of smaller neighbour to neighbour activities. It cannot substitute lack of advanced art market or irresponsible behaviour of State run institutions. Practically when Eastern Europe would provide partners from Western with both intellectual and commercial challenges, than it might probably become accurate partners to our western cultural allies. To have a functioning support for residency programs for artist or to have a plenty of smaller artists run D.I.Y. unites it’s simply not enough to attract our western partners.

Á.F.: Basically, I have no faith in state-run and state-funded systems because they can seldom provide consistent support and success in the long run. Rather, I believe in close cooperations between institutions. The ultimate success would be if, with a change of heart, regional institutions started regarding the development of networks and cooperations as something in their own best interest. To achieve this, we need to rationalize the funding of these institutions that are frequently competing against each other for the same pot of money. But whatever our position is, we must admit that the Visegrad Fund is instrumental to initiating a strong regional partnership that has lead to promising prospects for future connections for the Hungarian art scene.

D.Z.: Project based applications are meaningful to a certain extend. It is burden for stuff to deal responsibly with long term planning and later with summarizing it. On the other side there is not that big space left to manoeuvre in case of shorter spontaneous projects. At the same time it does not solve problem of appropriate financial support from state run galleries and museum.

J.Č.: Cultural institutions are playing very important role in small-scale projects as exhibitions, residencies and presentations. EU grants are great for a large-scale projects, but flexible support program is extremely important for surviving of contemporary art. Countries with low support of cultural institutions are definitely discriminated.  After Visegrad Fund started to operate, number of collaboration increased. That is why I am trying to focus on countries as Georgia, Armenia or Indonesia, that are out of focus from our Central European perspective.


J.Č.: In 2oo2 I co-curated an exhibition which was called The Last East-European Show, it has happened in Belgrade and I nominated three Slovak artists: Dusan Zahoransky, Aneta Monacisa and Lucia Ktcova. After my presentation Matei Bejenaru - the initiator of Iasi Biennale - told me that this three artists are for him international, and that I don’t show any local artists, and there is nothing Central European in there work I was presented. And after I started to think that was I supposed to present artists which are the best form my point of view from our art scene, or if I have to discover some art which should be very “Central European” and than maybe also very attractive for the international audience?

Á.F.: I strive to present the contemporary Hungarian fine arts in a regional context. This is why more Slovakian, Romanian and other foreign fine artists were granted space in the group exhibitions in the Trafó. I would like to further expand this regional focus, as I believe that the regional artistic identity needs to be upheld in as many ways as possible.

J.Č.: What is Central Europe? Do we already know what we have in a common and what are the differences? How many institutional curators from big important museums are visiting our countries to make a preliminary research? Are we traveling enough, are we scanning our local scenes, are we discussing our local and global issues? We expect the rest of the world to recognise us, but we are more often in New York, then in Warsaw, Budapest, Ljubljana or Belgrade. And what about Kijev? Curators are working hardly, but should we say that they are lazy? Do we have institutional support to travel, to make researches, to become expert for „Central European“ contemporary art? We have one internationally recognized artists in Slovakia. Roman Ondak. After successful exhibition in Tate, he exhibited in Venice Biennale. After success in MOMA he was invited to Guggenheim and New Museum. Everybody wants to collaborate with a recognised star that should be still called „emerging artist“. If Flash Art says that Wilhelm Sasnal is N.1 „emerging artist“, where are the real criteria of being emerging and being a star? What does it mean to be Central European?