Interview with Gallerist Lucie Drdová

Lucie Drdová - Drdova Gallery, Prague 3

Our relationship with art is very much a personal thing, a two-way interaction between ourselves and an artifact. This relationship can function well with established artists, however when it comes to contemporary art, which is often loaded more with concept than aesthetics; we often struggle to connect with it. It would be dismissive to call this ignorance on the part of the viewer, whether you have an academic background in art or not shouldn’t influence your instinctive reaction to a piece of work. However there is a case for saying that there are processes at work within the art world that many of us are unaware of, and this is one of the reasons that some people find contemporary art so inaccessible.

To discuss some of these processes and to highlight the importance of contemporary art I met with Lucie Drdová, Gallerist and art historian, who runs the Drdova Gallery in Prague 3.

You’ve just got back from the Art Brussels fair and you’ve also taken part in the Vienna Fair, how important are fairs like these for an independent gallery?

Participation in an art fair is an essential part of our work. The situation internationally really pushes us to go there, especially as we are not really on the map for international collectors. Also the state institutions (galleries & museums) don’t work properly and don’t really bring the curators, directors, or collectors to Prague so we have to be represented at these shows. Also the local market is very small so the art fairs are a unique opportunity to meet everyone in one spot. It is very expensive though, typically it would cost around 10-15,000 Euro to attend, then we have to apply and wait for the decision about whether we have been chosen by the selection committee. It’s very difficult to be accepted nowadays because the art market is very competitive; it’s really a big industry now. For me we are able to do one or two art fairs a year, maximum, but in Austria for example the galleries are supported by the state so they can apply maybe four times a year and the State would pay the rent for the stand. So you can see that the competition is very unfair because they are doing very well because of their local collectors, and then they also get supported at the art fairs.

Is that a situation that you can see changing here, do you think the Czech State would adopt a similar approach to Austria in the future?

I wrote a study last year about the art market for the Ministry of Culture about what they can change, not only for private galleries but for artists too, but if you go through the structure of grants in the Czech Republic there isn’t much for private galleries. It’s true that there is some support for an annual exhibition program but not for the fairs and these are the most important things for us. The problem is that they are not aware of what we are doing; they can’t see any difference between a non-profit gallery and a private gallery representing a group of artists. Especially because I am a company, so for them why should they support us? Why should we receive support for an exhibition where the work is for sale? The art fair on the other hand is not only about sales, it is also about the network. The art market is a network between professionals - curators, journalists, gallerists - it’s also to meet the directors of other art fairs. For example we were approached at Art Brussels by around ten other fairs, by Miami and London for example but I have to say I can’t do it because the costs are so high.

What about the annual Art Prague exhibition, is that something different to the fairs you take part in?

It’s not a real art fair; it’s just a gathering of institutions of different types. As I said, the purpose of an art fair is to select the best galleries from different parts of the world and why we pay so much is because as the representatives of a fair we have to be able to bring this audience of collectors, journalists, and directors. We have to guarantee that our effort brings an audience. At Art Prague anyone can apply, there is no selection process, and none of five or six private galleries in Prague - the ones that consider themselves at a professional level - none of us attend Art Prague.

If there are such a small number of professional galleries in Prague then surely now would be the ideal time for the State to engage with them and start supporting them because in five or ten years’ time, when there are twenty or thirty, then it surely becomes a bigger issue?

Well our neighbours, Germany, Austria, and France for example, they are aware that this support for the professional galleries is really the only way to promote their artists internationally. This is one of the reasons I write these different papers about the subject, to try and raise awareness. I see Czechs who are entering into the gallery space and in comparison with foreigners, they don’t really know what we are doing, they are asking if they should pay an entrance fee, and what does it mean that I have the portfolio of the artist, what is the collaboration? There are many activities that are not seen, if I do a show here it’s just 30% of our activities. Because I’m something like an agent for the artists I am working with them on other projects, we are publishing catalogues, or I am partly paying the production costs for the new works, so everything, with these art fairs, has to be balanced, and this is what I’m trying to educate people about.

In terms of Czech collectors, is that an area that you have seen growing recently?

This is the problem here, especially with the new generation; it’s not only about investment but there is also a lack of education. For me I met art at high school but generally for Czechs it’s not natural to be confronted with fine art, especially contemporary art, they all go to the theatre and read books, and they can tell you their opinion on a new film, but if you ask them what exhibitions they have seen and what do they think about it, then they are somehow afraid to answer this.

So what do you think could be done to improve this situation? I saw one of the artists that you represent is currently exhibited at the Rudolfinum as part of the Model exhibition, so I presume that having one of your artists in a major institution would help towards educating people?

I must say that the situation with education and the institutions is really everywhere getting better so this is the reason why the people are starting to buy art; I think they see that art can be an expression of your attitude to life. When we have an artist chosen for an exhibition in somewhere like Rudolfinum that confirms our artists’ work is good.

What are your plans for the rest of this year?

Actually I’m thinking to go to the art fair in Berlin, or maybe to Vienna again, this for us is a very good opportunity, but I’m really not sure so we’ll have to wait to see on the success of the gallery. For the upcoming months we are preparing an exhibition of new works by Pavla Sceranková (the artist from the Rudolfinum exhibition) curated by Dutch curator Alexandra Landre, this opens on the 28th May. Sceranková has also been shortlisted for the Jindřich Chalupecký Award 2015, the most important award for local artists up to the age of 35, so we are very curious about the winner. We have also launched a collaboration with the Hotel Josef (designed by London-based architect Eva Jiřičná) where our artists will be exhibiting their work. The artist couple Aleksandra Vajd and Hynek Alt will open their art installation in the famous Vila Prikmajer (architect Josip Costaperaria) in Ljubljana on May 29th and for the summer months we are organizing an exhibition in Žižkov together with the galleries Hunt Kastner Artworks, Nevan Contempo, 35M2, and Surfer City.

I don’t expect you to go into detail about the finances of the gallery but it sounds like the whole operation is very expensive to run, so when you talk about success how do you measure that, is it simply a question of survival in the first years?

It is very expensive to run. I’m alone here and I don’t have any employees so everything that we earn stays in the gallery. So, on this operational level we are fine but let’s say, as a rule, the first three years are only about investment into the gallery so you have to be prepared to invest more money than you earn.

The artists that you represent - choosing them must be both the most important and interesting part of your work, so how do you find them and what are your criteria for deciding whether someone fits into your vision?

For sure it is the most important thing as the artists are actually the gallery. You can be a critic, curator, gallerist, you can work for a museum, or in research, but the position in a private gallery when you are, let’s say, a head-hunter, then you can discuss everything with the artists directly and you can see how they think, this is something very interesting for me. So this process when I found my artists, some of them I knew before I opened the gallery, some of them I really needed to approach and see if they would be willing to collaborate, I had to present my idea about the gallery to them.

So when you decided to start your gallery did you have a concept that you wanted to select artists to fit around?

Well this is subjective, it’s intuitive. I would say they create a coherent group based on my experience, but I cannot explain exactly why this artist or why another, I would say our portfolio is more conceptual or analytic, with all the artists their works are not only aesthetic but you really have to go into them and you have to be open because it’s not easy, art should involve a challenge. This is something I like, not to have an artwork that is just nice or simple, I like the ideas behind it. This might not be so important for the viewer but for me to understand why they did it or what is their creation about, this is the most important to me, and this is the reason why I asked them to be a part of the gallery.

In a way it seems like you’re almost a collector, collecting artists who interest you.

Actually I am! You know, we are a small group; this is also because I’m here alone and I’m not able to take care of more artists, but all of us are a very close group, all of them are my friends now and this can also be another consideration of the portfolio. Of course many galleries are searching for artists that can be good to sell but for sure every gallery also has artists that are very difficult to sell so it’s a fact that some artists earn money for the others but this is the consideration of the galleries because it is important to have these sober, precise, difficult, conceptual artists as well because these artists are for the institutions.

Would you ever consider taking on a new artist that maybe doesn’t fit in with your portfolio but you know they would sell well? Ultimately you are a business so are there some times when you need to compromise in order to get sales?

I wouldn’t go for that. The quality of the gallery, with all of the artists together, this is the most important thing for me. As I said, we are now a very close group so I also discuss everything with my artists, when I would like to bring a new one in I have to talk about it with the others. I’m also asking them if they can recommend me an artist because artists have a very good eye and also their overview is sometimes better than mine. Ultimately it’s me, the gallery, and the artists, so I cannot really bring a new one if they don’t fit to this. Private galleries can be considered commercial but you know this selling, all it does is enable us to continue. I would never consider us to be commercial, the artists can do whatever they want without worrying about being commercial, I would never tell them it should be in a different way.

Lucie Drdová graduated in art history and German literature from Masaryk University in Brno where she presently continues her PhD studies. In 2007, she studied at the Institute of Cultural Management and Cultural Studies (IKM) at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. From 2007 to 2008, she attended a residency program at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna. From 2008 to 2010, she worked as curator of the Jiri Svestka Gallery in Prague and as director of its Berlin branch.

From 2010 to 2012, she was co-organizer of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award and lecturer at the Studio of New Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Since June 2012, she runs the Drdova Gallery in Prague which focuses on the co-operation with Czech and Slovak.

Lucie Drdová contributes to periodicals such as the Art & Antiques Magazine, the Fotograf magazine, and the daily Hospodárske noviny. She is co-author of A Study on the Contemporary State of Support for the Arts published by the Arts Institute within the implementation of the Czech government's cultural policy 2009-2014 and of the Czech Contemporary Art Guide (2013).

The Drdova Gallery is currently collaborating with Hotel Josef Prague to exhibit some of their artists. The first exhibition will feature a selection of work by photographic duo Aleksandra Vajd and Hynek Alt.
The next exhibition at Drdova Gallery will be work by Pavla Sceranková from the 28th May.

Drdova Gallery

Krizkovskeho 10 CZ – Prague 3 (entrance from Sevcikova street)
Within walking distance from Jiriho z Podebrad metro station

The gallery is open Tues. to Fri. 1 – 6 pm, Sat. 2 – 6 pm, or by appointment

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