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Reports and Interviews From: Slovakia

Juraj Čarný with Stano Masár

Stano Masár: For a long time, you have been one of the few independent gallerists in Slovakia. With your exhibition activities, you have been an active co-creator of the contemporary art scene. What is important for you when choosing an artist or an artwork? What criteria guide your choices?

Juraj Čarný: Paradoxically, I define and re-define the criteria over the course of my curatorial preparations for an exhibition. The beginning of my curatorial work was linked to an absence of gallery institutions, in Bratislava particularly, and Slovakia in general, which was difficult to explain. As a young curator, I had the feeling that I fell into some kind of vacuum, and I was getting offers of cooperation from all sides. At that time, there were only a few galleries in Slovakia, but none of them focused on a concrete circle of artists, as is usual everywhere else in the world. However, I never felt the need to become a dealer and that is why I never intended to build up a commercial gallery, but rather to work as a curator of my own non-profit project space. I have always been fascinated by the space for interaction when collaborating with an artist. I mean, I never gave an artist a space at their disposal and said something like: “Enter and do what you please!” I have always been fascinated by site-specific and context-sensitive art. For me, it was all about trust and partnership in the first place. I have been fascinated by post- and neo-conceptual art, new media, light art, sound art, participative art forms, but the most important criterion was probably the sense of experimentation. Even if I exhibited a deceased artist, I looked for something in their work which would help me introduce them as someone else, to introduce that part of their work where they searched, examined, experimented, and tried to become a different, more realistic, and honest artist. But I gradually realized that one of the most important criteria, beyond just their innovation, is also the personal constitution of the artist, the deep links between their life and their art.

Stano Masár, “Just urinal” (from JUST Series), 2007. print, wooden frame. photo collage, 53 × 57 cm.
Stano Masár, “Just urinal” (from JUST Series), 2007. print, wooden frame. photo collage, 53 × 57 cm.

Masár: You have been devoted to curating exhibitions for a long time and gradually you have also focused on your role as a critic and as president of AICA Slovakia, vice president of AICA International, and the manager of arts institutions—you are a co-founder of the Kunsthalle Bratislava. How do you work with these three levels of artistic perception individually? What do you notice about the arts from your perspective as curator, critic, and manager of an institution?

Čarný: There is a theory that for an exhibition, the budget is more important than the curator, and nowadays it is really not possible to focus on the preparation of a project without its curator also being a manager at the same time. Because an exhibition comes to be in communication with the artist and in conflict with spatial, production, and financial limits. The critic’s work is in direct contrast to managing exhibitions. However, as a critic, I try to bring a feeling of shared responsibility for the future orientation of the arts. For me, critics are not only archaeologists who discover hidden meanings and links, hidden in the past, but also have a duty to future generations. I know a critic who in trying to have maximum objectivity, never visits the studios of artists. He only evaluates the final public presentation, which is the exhibition. I have always seen curators as mediators, as intermediaries—without them, the artists’ work would not be easy. However, the worst thing that can happen to any artist is when nobody thinks anything about their exhibition. Everyone taps them on their shoulder in a “friendly” manner, and that’s it. Without reviews and criticism, the artists’ possibility to develop in the right direction is radically limited.

Masár: In Slovakia, art criticism is a discipline, which is financially undervalued, which is why art critics are also curators and art historians at the same time. Is this an issue which resonates among art historians?

Čarný: I think this is a global problem, not just a Slovak one. But the problem is the independence of criticism, which is directly related to financial resources. In Slovakia, magazines have always been more independent of commercial interests, because there has not been any standard market for contemporary art. This is how one generation of critics came into existence, who do have a high degree of independence but had to make their living doing something else as well, because they couldn’t live solely from writing criticism. Simultaneously, the declining market minimized the financial resources of magazines, so they could no longer afford to pay critics. It was also unfortunate that critics never wrote anything that was not guaranteed to be published, that they did not feel the need to write as a creative process, which is independent of financial and publishing opportunities. Because of this we can say that there are no “academic critics” in Slovakia nowadays.

Masár: The 46th AICA International Congress, which took place under your supervision (in collaboration with Richard Gregor) in Slovakia in 2013, was subtitled “White Space, Black Holes.” In your opinion, are we successful in explaining and fulfilling the shared history of Eastern and Western art?

Stano Masár, “Just Jesus” (from JUST Series), 2007. light box. photo collage, 65 × 34 cm.
Stano Masár, “Just Jesus” (from JUST Series), 2007. light box. photo collage, 65 × 34 cm.

Čarný: I think that currently it is inevitable to look at the art history of last decades with some distance and attempt for the second reading. We often have no apparatus or resources to constitute our own research and thus we are subject to many clichés and we risk a schematic perception of reality. The AICA Congress was not focused on comparing the arts of East and West, but it sought to draw attention to the situation in several regions of the world, which had a special relationship with the global history of art.

Masár: Where do you find the most progress in the field of art criticism globally? Where are the most interesting questions being asked?

Čarný: I think that criticism has to assume a responsibility for the future. Today it is no longer enough to just reflect on the past. Art is developing a lot faster than it used to, although some artists still have the ability to address timeless themes. Small experimental spaces often have much more potential for innovation than the big museums. Not to mention the budgets that they are working with.

Masár: Does it matter today whether art is being created in Europe, America, or Asia? Aren’t the topics and the media interconnected to the extent that there is just “one art?”

Čarný: In Belgrade, for the exhibition The Last East European Show, I presented Slovak artists Marek Kvetan, Aneta Mona Chisa, and Dusan Zahoransky, who were accused of being too global and not invested enough locally. It is better to have various artists and the idea of “one art” sounds more than just intimidating. On the one hand, we are questioning the possibility of a global history of art. On the other hand, the globalization of the art world is unstoppable, though also menacing. Researching the art scenes in smaller Asian towns has taught me that looking for what we already know from our experience and practice—our point of view—can lead to a complete misunderstanding of the local artists’ work.

Masár: What Central European art spaces do you find most interesting and what would you recommend that people see?

Čarný: Central Europe is changing very rapidly, not even local curators are able to regularly visit and research art centers, not to mention smaller places where there are many high-quality galleries. There is so much progressive art that it is hard to, say, go to Poznań, Krakow, Wrocław, and Łódź, because Yerevan, Tbilisi, and Belgrade are no less interesting. It is also important to note the potential of emerging cultural centers like Košice and Žilina, which are at least as noteworthy.

Masár: Is “contemporary art” a sufficient term to describe the range of current practices and modes of production?

Čarný: For me “contemporary art” has basically ended, however, many do not yet know what to call the era in which we are actually participating. Maybe we are already living in the future, and we just don’t know it yet.


Juraj Čarný

Juraj Čarný is a curator, art critic, and educator based in Bratislava, Slovakia. He is a president of the International Association of Art Critics - AICA Slovakia, vice-president of AICA International, appointed director of Kunsthalle Bratislava, editor-in-chief of Flash Art Czech and Slovak edition and program director of Art Academy. He is teaching at Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. Čarný etablished SPACE gallery, Crazycurators Biennale, SPACE residency lab, and public art projects Billboart Gallery Europe and wandering gallery nomadSPACE. He was a director of XLVI. AICA International Congress 2013 that was held in Slovakia with a subject “White Places, Black Holes.”

Stano Masár

STANO MASAR is a playful post-conceptual artist developing a strategy of manipulation, transformation, interpretation, context sensitive, site-specific installations and institutional critique. He advocates the legacy of dada, neodada, Fluxus, minimalism, conceptual art, developing heritage of Kazimir Malevich, Yves Klein, but especially Marcel Duchamp. After critical analysis of art history, destruction and transformation of objects, he is critically turning towards the institutions themselves (“insitutional critique”) and the art world. He exhibits the empty TATE corner, MoMA wall, but also the waiting room for artists’ ideas


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