It’s not so long ago that Prague was lacking a significant art institution - a contemporary art gallery that would be independent, stylish and young. Simply, something similar to London Tate Modern or Centre Pompidou in Paris. Prague is, of course, much smaller than these world metropoles but, luckily, the same can’t be said for its vibrant art scene. It was about time to fill this gap in our capital.
The same idea crossed Leoš Válek’s mind when he, as a Prague developer, got his hands on a former factory in Holešovice - the industrial part of town. The building had been abandoned and neglected for years but its estate and background seemed lucrative. Válek, therefore, came up with an ambitious plan and with the help of architect Jan Kroupa, he rebuilt it into a minimalist gallery exhibiting first-class contemporary artists.
Tall white walls, concrete and iron columns and typical factory windows highlight the great exhibitions regularly taking place at DOX. The brilliance of a clean interior with an industrial undertone lies in the ability of not diverting the visitors’ attention onto itself and does not, therefore, steal focus from the exhibitions. If you study the interior more closely, however, you’ll be likely to fall head over heels for it.
You founded DOX in 2008 and since then you have managed to help rank Prague as one of the metropolitan cities around the world with respected centres for contemporary art. What other plans do you have with DOX?
In the next two years, DOX will expand in the neighbouring building in the Poupětova Street. There is also a new multifunctional auditorium being built in the new building, which will serve for new disciplines such as theatre, literature, film, performance, etc. through which DOX will develop new exhibition themes. The space will also be partially to hire for events such as conferences, discussions, fashion shows and concerts.
Do you consider the fact that Prague’s authorities did not initiate the foundation of a similar type of centre for contemporary art themselves as a failure? Instead, they waited for a private entrepreneur to do so…
I am really not surprised that Prague’s authorities did not initiate any foundation of a similar centre themselves. However, what was surprising is the attitude of the public institutions for supporting such a project. The situation has been slowly progressing but it is still a struggle, even today when DOX is internationally renowned and recommended by many touristic guides as a ‘must see’ of the central European cultural scene. We are successful in getting grants and funding but the financial support from the Ministry of Culture covers all together only 20% of our costs for one year of operating and programming. The press then publishes news about DOX getting one of the highest grants in culture but nobody writes about what percentage they represent in our annual total budget. Such an overview of successful applicants for funding is very misleading. Speaking about the local support, we used to get 10 000 Kč per year from the Prague 7 City District. We will see how the situation changes with the arrival of new authorities.
Many visitors are attracted by the DOX’s industrial appearance. However, when designing exhibitions, don’t you find its appearance to be a complication?
Exactly the opposite. DOX emerged from a reconstruction of an old factory in Holešovice but the whole project was from its beginnings designed as a multifunctional space for showcasing contemporary art. I can often see in contemporary art museums and galleries designed by leading architects that the space overwhelms the art exhibited in it. Our aim was to create a neutral space where the art will come to the fore.
The reconstruction was lead by architect Ivan Kroupa. Did you have a clear vision about the building’s appearance or did the design rest with him?
I approached Ivan Kroupa when I was planning the project and we worked on the concept closely together with consideration for all the possible functions of the building.
According to contemporary trends, there seems to be hope for rescuing our industrial heritage. On the other hand, searching for immense and often dilapidated buildings that would be suitable for other projects is problematic. What is your opinion on builders and developers?
Some of the guidelines for decision-making are the character and uniqueness of the building, as well as economic costs. High costs for putting the building into operation in culture are often far beyond feasibility.
What type of contemporary art do you prefer the most?
Art with space, with reflection, stimulating and especially doubtful.
(Leoš Válka, founder of Centre for Contemporary Art DOX)