Compensation Portrait: A Defense of the 'Conceptual' Process in Art
Original Author: Adrian Piper, 1967
Notable Changes: The notion of the artists in the text is changed with the director and Czech Republic is inserted as a geographical reference point.


The Representing the Nation publication was prepared in relation to our participation in the International Triennial of Contemporary Art (ITCA) organized by Tomáš Vlček and Milan Knížák at the National Gallery (NG) in Prague in 2008. We were invited to create a new work.

We wanted to characterize the NG in Prague as an institution. In 2008 the NG was a member of the Association of Czech Galleries. We decided to visit all of its member institutions across the country during a six month period. This gave us an overview of topics, complications, facilities, and staff issues, including an understanding of the challenges the respective institutions face, in respect to the regional, economical, and historical collections of art for which they are responsible. How do they think about and reflect on their own practice? What kind of functions, positions, roles, or ambitions do they articulate?

Despite being dissatisfied with the research material, we made a decision to maintain the project’s original framework. We had anticipated more substantial visions or statements, so we applied an improvised strategy of so-called Compensation Portraits, inspired by a concept from the exhibition catalog First Papers of Surrealism held in New York in 1942. In this case, the surrealist painters were asked to bring photographs of people other than themselves to represent them in the publication. In this spirit, we selected theoretical texts on institutional critique from a range of international writers, translated these texts into Czech and presented them as texts from Czech institutions and their representatives.

The project as a whole was self-financed. The sponsors or partners whose logos are printed on page 59 at the end of the publication are all imaginary sponsors, themselves unaware of any seeming participation. Thus, the publication falsely takes on the form of a serious international cooperation between the European Institute for Progressive Cultural Practices (, the EU Education and Culture D6 Framework Program, the Association of Czech Galleries, the National Gallery Prague, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Prague, the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, and funded by the Austrian Raiffeisen Bank. This parody reflects the trend of corporate sponsorship supporting critical, progressive, intellectual, and autonomous initiatives within locations of their respective markets.

The Representing the Nation publication was immediately distributed to all of the represented institutions. The project was not appreciated by the organizers of the ITCA / NG, generally disappointed in not understanding the basic conceptual framework. They refused to cover production costs or to further communicate concerning the project. In addition, part of the publications went missing from the NG depository. Few institutions encouraged further dialogue, and there was limited interest by other representatives and researchers from various institutions in Prague.

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