Petr Pudil Pursues a New Model and New Dialogues at the Kunhstalle Praha

Bringing together more than 20 private collections, the institution will map connections between Central and Eastern European art and global narratives

BY Kristina McLean AND Petr Pudil in Interviews | 05 AUG 21

Kristina McLean: We spoke, Petr, couple of months ago, about the Kunsthalle Praha. I think it’s an incredibly exciting project, and it’s really great to be able to talk with you today and share the news of the opening in February 2022? Is that date correct?

Petr Pudil: Yes, that’s correct. It’s going to open in the former Zenger Electrical Substation, in the historical centre of Prague, in February 2022. It will be over 5,700 square metres, 1,300 square metres of which will be dedicated exhibition space. The mission of the Kunsthalle Praha is to contribute to a deeper understanding of Czech and international art in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Kunsthalle Praha. Photo: Alexandra Timpau
Kunsthalle Praha. Photo: Alexandra Timpau

KM: This mission to provide context for the Czech and Eastern European art within the European and global narrative is something that you’ve been doing through the Pudil Family Foundation which you cofounded with your wife, Pavlína, in 2014. So how will this new physical space further this vision and mission of yours?

PP: Our building has a great location in the historical part of our capital, which was always a cultural crossroads in Europe. Therefore, we believe that Kunsthalle Praha can smoothly enter the mature flow of communication between the local and international community. Art talks in universal, visual language, which is a much broader understanding than people usually have through spoken languages. Therefore, it has an even more vital role to play in Europe, where we don’t have a common native language.

KM: Were you able to create physical interactions with art through your work with the foundation?

PP: We did some small shows, where we presented some part of our collection, in the past. but having a physical building will be a strong support for our mission. That’s what we learned during the last two years of the pandemic: the physical contact with art is something which we as humans desperately need.

KM: Beyond a platform to exhibit your collection, one of the goals of the Kunsthalle Praha is to be create a dynamic cultural institution. How do you plan to achieve that?

PP: Vision can be only achieved by people, and through people. So we hired a great team, and they are working hard to present an attractive, innovative programme, connecting the international and local art audience: not only for art professionals, but also for people which are still trying to find the way to be connected with art.

We are planning how to exhibit the collection in a larger context of the show, based on the long-term deep research, but this project will be accompanied by solo shows of contemporary artists...

As well as visiting the shows, people can also be engaged with us through various educational programmes, memberships, events, and through digital platforms. So, Kunsthalle Praha is set up to be more like a platform for discussion, rather than an activist institution advocating for some particular view.

We think that our society is already deeply divided, so we want to act more like a bridge between communities, to contribute to a place where art is an inspiration in their lives, rather than to be another battle zone. And finally, to be a place for social gathering, where people can meet, talk, and enjoy art.

Petr Pudil and his wife Paulina
Petr Pudil with his Pavlína Pudil. Statue by Anna Hulačová, Me, you, He, She, It, We, You, They, 2016. Courtesy of Petr Pudil. Photo: Lukáš Dvořák

KM: There is a sense in which Kunsthalle Praha will itself be a gathering, where different collections and collectors come together. Could you explain how?

PP: From the beginning, we had a vision to create a leading collection of Central European art in the international context. And there is nobody who can achieve that alone.

So, we approached many collectors, offering a professional platform. This starts with a dedicated team including art historians, registers, and restorers, but our building also offers a state-of-the-art depository, where the artworks can be physically located.

KM:  How many collections, roughly, have you convinced to join the project?

PP: We are in collaboration with roughly 20 collectors from the region, based on long-term loans. But this partnership is not only about art loans, but also about broader understanding: understanding how important art is in society, and how wonderful it’s actually to share stories, knowledge and friendship.

The artworks from this wider Kunsthalle Praha collection will featured through a series of contextual shows. And these shows will be introduced by independent curators invited by Kunsthalle Praha.

Petr Pudil artwork
Ivan Picelj, Composition LYX, 1957. Courtesy of Petr Pudil. Photo: Lukáš Dvořák

KM: That’s exciting. And what about making the works more accessible globally also?

PP: The collection will be digitised, first of all as an educational tool for different target groups, starting from students, art lovers, and ending with professional curators around the world. We are planning to further develop our digital presentation as soon as progressing technologies are coming to be viable. We want to be considered the primary destination to explore what is happening in Central and Eastern Europe in art, and the digital platform is an essential part of that. We’d like to be a credible partner in further dialogues with curators and institutions around the world to put on their own exhibitions in their own regions, too, mapping the connections between Central and Eastern European art and international art. I’m happy to see that we are being more and more asked about loans from our collection, even during COVID-19.

KML: I find this model is very innovative, but I wonder if there’re any private initiatives which have inspired you?

PP: My wife and I travel around the world and visit so many museums and art initiatives, to get inspiration and to see different models. I think that we are more inspired by the Anglo-Saxon system of cultural institutions if we are talking about operations. But if we’re talking about programme and the consistency of the dramaturgy, we are great admirers of Louisiana in Denmark: a great example of how a private initiative can become a leading platform for the understanding of art in an international context. Like us, they are coming from a small country, and they have a smart programme, consistency, powerful education programmes, so that’s admirable.

I guess it’s a two-part question, the first one being, what out there inspired you, or lack of something inspired you? And then, I’m really curious about the endowment fund approach to sustainability.


Petr Pudil Sculpture
Theodor Pištěk, Medusa Head, 1980. Courtesy of Petr Pudil. Photo: Lukáš Dvořák

KM: As opposed to Louisiana, the Kunsthalle Praha will receives no government support, is that correct? And you’re really relying on this being a private initiative, so that it can retain complete independence in programming, so you have this approach to sustaining the long-term future through an endowment fund. Can you talk us through that?

PP: Kunsthalle Praha is a foundation founded by our family foundation, the Pudil Family Foundation. It’s a non-profitable organisation, non-governmental institution.

And actually, this freedom, it’s something which we feel is attractive for individual donors, for corporates, and we hope that we will be able to build a broad support from individual members. I think that it’s an essential value, actually, to be independent, and an essential statement, which could attract many others to follow.

KM: Continuing this idea of independence, and a new model, I wanted to ask: how has the periods of limited communication between the Czech artistic community and the Western world during communism affected the art historical landscape now?

PP: The former Soviet Bloc was not a place much known for people in the West, in general, and art was no exception. Many artists who lived there didn’t have so much communication in the global conversation, or even a chance to exhibit their artworks very often. So, it was certainly a unique environment: these artists made art only for themselves and their closest friends, and their unstoppable desire to create art filled their lives.

Black artwork
Haroon Mirza, Self Transforming EmDrive, 2017. Courtesy of Petr Pudil. Photo: Lukáš Dvořák

It’s actually extremely interesting to listen to their stories now, and I think they reflect that there must be some deep, strong motivation for artists to do art. This inspired us to post a series of short movies about how art was persecuted in communist Czechoslovakia on social media, as a part of our educational programme for our audience. Again, the relevance is not only local, because this narrative is something that can be delivered to the global community. There is even an interesting parallel with the experience of Soviet Bloc artists and pandemic, where we all were limited to travel, limited to communicate to each other physically.

KM: It sounds like fantastic content that a global audience would definitely be interested in. History tends to repeat itself. Petr, your interests are broad. You’re interested in both modern and contemporary art, international and local. Which are the artists that you are looking at right now, and why?

PP: It’s a super difficult question. We are fascinated by many artists, old or young, it doesn’t matter. As you know, we are collecting 20th century and contemporary art, so it’s quite a broad range, starting with maybe Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, František Kupka, William Kentridge, Tomás Saraceno. Each of these names actually influenced art movements in particular times, and somehow impressed our collectors’ eyes, to look into their work and life more deeply.

Artwork Petr Pudil
lmgreen & Dragset, Highway Painting, No.4, 2018. Courtesy of Petr Pudil. Photo: Lukáš Dvořák

KM: Brilliant. And then, if some of our readers were interested in learning more about artists or galleries in Eastern Europe, which artists or galleries should people pay special to, in order to learn more about the region?

PP: There are many great artists in this region. It could be a very long list, but I can try to mention at least a set of artists represented by different regions. To start with, for instance, Zhanna Kadyrova, Krištof Kintera, Ancha Klade, Lina Lapelyte, Roman Ondak, Florian Pumhösl, Nedko Solakov, or Alexander Tinei. But I could say many others.

KM: This is great. Petr, is there anything that you want to add in terms of our audience gaining a better understanding of this massive, innovative project?

PP: I think that we would love to host all the people who are interested to come, and we would be even more happy if they could give us some feedback and reflection on how to make it better.

Main image: Portrait of Petr Pudil. On the wall: Václav Bláha, N.Y.C. is Colourful, 2016. Photo: Lukáš Dvořák

Kristina McLean is a development consultant specializing in art and philanthropy, based in Budapest, Hungary. She consults for Frieze and Aspen Art Museum, among others. Until recently based in Colombia, she is the editor of the book Soy Bogota (2018).

Petr Pudil is a collector, and Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Pudil Family Foundation