Black Wall
Black Wall
Black Wall
Black Wall
Black Wall
To: Institutions From: Authors of Compensation Portraits 01. 06. 2008


we are sending you several copies of the publication resulting from the project REPRESENTING THE NATION, which we prepared for the exhibition ITCA 2008. 
We hope that you and your colleagues find this publication interesting.


 Isabela Grosseova and Jesper Alvaer 

If you wish to receive more copies or to send us your valuable comments, write to: 

What is a Museum
Na Kampe 512/11, 118 00 Prague 1 

Tel: 775 136 020 (answering machine)

Project is installed and the main distribution site is at the Veletržní palác, ITCA 2008

Press release

Jesper Alvaer / Isabela Grosseová, ITCA 2008

Prepared for the exhibition:
I T C A 2 0 0 8 International Triennale of Contemporary Art
National Gallery in Prague, Fair Trade Palace, 4th floor, 3. 6. – 14. 9. 2008
Curator: Tomáš Vlček


Representing the Nation / Compensation Portraits

A comprehensive and adopted survey of institutional practice in the Czech Republic, relating to Fine Art and our designated state supported museums and galleries (Association of Czech Galleries). A collection of director’s statements ranging from ‘cultural confinement’, to ‘all the art that is fit to show’ and many more classics from the canon of the so-called institutional critique. The work has been compiled by the artists Isabela Grosseova and Jesper Alvaer for the occasion of the ITCA in the NG in Prague and the topic, location and format make the Representing the Nation / Compensation Portraits a timely contribution to the long ‘status quo’ of the intricate debate around the management and direction of the state supported galleries, especially the long term discussion around the National gallery in Prague itself.

This bilingual publication, covering 60 pages in an offset newspaper format, including academic and more prose-like texts, translated for the first time to Czech language and available for students and scholars alike. Representing the Nation / Compensation Portraits is as the title indicate, portraits of the institutions themselves and voiced by the directors. But these progressive voices are not likely to be the true and original statements from our directors in the regions, or?

‘Compensation Portraits’ is a title taken from the 1942 work of the French / American artist Marcel Duchamp, which is as well used by the organizers of the ITCA as a ‘leitmotif artists’ for their structuring of the curatorial concepts. ‘Compensation Portraits’ seems in this transferred setting, to use appropriated text as readymade, thus displaying ‘discourse’ (or lack of it?!) as the actual work in the formal installation in the ITCA exhibition. This makes Representing the Nation / Compensation Portraits ideal to operate as a Prague (and Czech) site-specific work which context address a more general cultural policy and political situation.

One of the themes working as a backdrop for several of the statements in Representing the Nation / Compensation Portraits, is the disappearance of the ‘formerly known as society’ as well as the limited understanding of ‘transition’ which rhetorically means to be ‘catching up with the west’, while not challenging a more profound change in the nature of our societies, including the west.

Representing the Nation / Compensation Portraits was printed in 5000 copies and is available free of charge, both in the 4th floor installation of the ITCA in the Veletrizni Palac, but can as well be read and downloaded from this link:


The installation in the Veletrizni Palac includes, beside the free distribution of the publication, a ‘Black Wall,’ which is a ‘remake’ from the constructivist 1920s’practice and materialized from the text of the director of the Gallery in Nachod, specializing in Russian art. A special Guest appearance from the Serbian artist Rasa Todosijevic which is participating with his 1970s’ project “Edinburgh Statement – Who Profits from Art, and Who Gains From it Honestly?” installed as a sound piece.

For additional information, copies of the publication or press images,
please contact

Isabela Grosseova / Jesper Alvaer / +420 776776508 / / +420 608302910

From: Jiří David 02. 06. 2008

Thanks for the info but I am not interested in any project which legitimize the Nat. Gallery institution led by its current leadership in any form (hence the seemingly subversive)! 

Bye, Jiri David

2. 6. 2008

Dear Jiri, thank you for your reply! We will include it on the “Black Wall” which is a part of the project. Maybe your students would find the publication interesting and educative, since it is basically a collection of texts addressing our problem.
All best, Jesper

From: Pedro Penilo 02. 06. 2008

Hi! Thanks for the information. I wish you success with the project and I will read with great interest.

From: Marta Smolíková 04. 06. 2008

I want to publish this at, but I’m quite confused. The press release – Czech is not identical to English and your role in the project is not clear to me, not even what you mean by compensation portrait, is this a reference to surrealism?

What exactly is What is a Museum, some kind of organization? (it has an address in Prague..) and this organization published it? No publisher or editor are mentioned, and it’s impossible to find out, as it has no ISBN which is a pity, this way it will hardly get into book catalogues – with its edition and english translation.

Anyway it’s great that it was put together.

Thanks for explanation.
Marta Smolíková
ProCulture Director
Otevřená společnost o.p.s.
Seifertova 47
130 00 Praha 3

4. 6. 2008


the answers:
- we are the editors and publishers. Compenastion portrait refers to Marcel Duchamp work, it is a hint to decode the entire project. (,,905074,00.html)
more in the book: The Intangibilities of form (
- What is a Museum is our address to receive submissions and reactions, it’s us, not an organization, the adress is Na Kampe 512/11, 118 00 Praha 1.
- the translation differs because it’s Jesper who writes the English and me who writes the Czech, it’s a free translation.
- we will be happy to meet you and explain how to understand and read the publication, if you want to. But basically they’re fundamental texts of institutional criticism modified to statements made by directors and curators of Czech museums and galeries.
- real author’s names are given in the imprint after each name of czech directors, which serves as a decent hint. We want the publication and statements to look trustworthy and coming from our environement. No one knows so far that these are real statements. Only the director Vykoukal from Cheb wrote today that he received a praising congratulation for his progressive attitude from his coleague. It is therefore important for us to keep the fictional spirit of the publication in secrecy until the theme won’t open itself in a natural way. Reactions are on display in the NG/ITCA2008 space and we are starting to work on replies to directors and on opening the discussion up.

So far for basic explanation.
Thank you for the interest,
Isabela Grosseova (a Jesper Alvaer)

4. 6. 2008

It doesn’t flow from your publication neither from the press release that you are editors and publishers. I do not want to be rude but taking it pragmatically, I see the photographs as compensation portraits and texts of directors seem to me as their own texts and not fiction, which is after all what you say in the press release, althought it sounds weird, manipulated and therefore untrustworthy to me. But this probably wasn’t the aim of the publication, that would be a waste of paper. I think that an extraordinally culturally educated human being focused on theatre, dance and film will not notice anything weird.

Marcel Duchamp in Guardian is of course the first Google link you will get if you want to make sure that it indeed is a term and not a random fake (to make it sound ‘interesting’). But if you are sourcing Duchamp, one article and a book respectively, which were read only by a few here (surely not the same amount as was the book’s edition like you say) it would be appropriate to inform about it, what it is and how you mean it.

To investigate something that can be said normally can be described as a waste of time, to be sincere. And not that I wouldn’t have a sense of humor. I think that knowing the context of things would only do good in the sense of fullness of understanding and comprehension. Honestly there remains a question for me, what was this about to say.


4. 6. 2008


thank you for your comments. We basically want to achieve a moment when the texts are being actually read – by institutions, by students and so on. Programmes of galleries are not really promoted and nowadays we’ve never read a clearly defined statement covering institution’s kind of work and orientation. We think that texts in our publication that we published are interesting, inspiring and fundamental.

With Duchamp it is not crucial to know where and how did people find out about his Compensation Portraits from 1942, I only sent you a source where it is described well and on which basis we decided to refer to this kind of approach in the name of our project.

Greetings, Isabela Grosseova

4. 6. 2008

It’s okay with Duchamp but I had to write you to make sure I had the same thoughts as you did, and this was useless, I prefered to ask about the surrealism, because it seemed to me that if there was a connotation to the article, it would be fair to say it straight.

Regarding the definition how institutions are working, this is actually defined, especially in those galleries you focused on. And I would really welcome if someone did the work to search for it and publish its comparison, or to comment or criticise it, even if from the perspective of an artist and not an art historian or theorist but this is whistling in the wind, sure, we might see a tornado, it might be a nice event, someone will be delighter, but afterwards the air will become still again.


4. 6. 2008

Yes, it would be tremendous if reactions became this big that positions of institutions that present and collect art in Czech would draw some attention to themselves.
We worked on this project since last December, we visited all the directors and curators, recorded interviews on the theme of their position in the world and in art. We foraged for the questions they have, where they search for their answers and what are their aims. We found many interesting impulses but we also wanted to make a further step. We stated that many galleries and museums have problems of many kinds and that they have no idea how to dela with them. Especially those regarding current tendencies in the world, contemporary art and discursus. We are also trying to educate ourselves this way. Something was born based on our capacities (financial, intelectual, temporal, etc.) and now we will put our efforts to cultivate it on the basis of public impulses.
All the material we gathered for the project is at disposal.

Greetings, Isabela Grosseova

5. 6. 2008

I am honestly more interested in those materials you collected and particular conclusions. Everyone has problems and it is in the Czech nature to dig in them without naming them properly and finding the way out of them. And then again, these solutions interest me. I’m quite busy now but call me next week, please, I would like to meet you.

marta smolíková

From: Tomáš Fassati 05. 06. 2008


thank you for sending the material. It is an interesting reading. If you receive any written reactions we will be glad if you provide us with them. We would like to give some space to your work in the bulletin Museum, Art and Society. Could you please write a short text acting like an introduction for an uninitiated reader and another one that would shortly summarize your overall learnings from your research? Can you tell me if this research was prepared in the frame of some grant? Will there be some written evaluation, review, opponenture? I am really interested in this. In our part there are a few mistakes – for example we were not bound to any fund or contemporary art centre, also there was no advisory board discussing our future.
Question: Why there is so little about National Gallery which is so big?
What did you say about the article in the mag. Atelier about your event in Karlín?

I wanted to see your exhibition at Smíchov in Prague 5 but I didn’t manage to. Do you have a catalogue?

6. 6. 2008

Dear Mr. Fassati,

thank you for your message and your interest about publishing on the bulletin’s website. Respecting the research conclusions, we don’t find ourselves competent enough to make any. But it would be more than interesting if anyone wanted to work on at least one/his own institution, or the whole. We have plenty of material, interview recordings etc. Marta Smolíková expressed some interest in seeing the material…

The project presented as it is epitomizes a phase to which we came to based on our limited abilities and possibilities (temporal, financial and intelectual). We presented text in this form, because we think that the situation in which Czech institutions are now deserves wider sources of knowledge. We enriched our quite closed world of art and we hope that reader’s reactions as well as those from you, directors and curators, will be another interesting step in the process of finding how to publicly describe the state of your being and thinking.
Respecting the nature of our approach, we decided to open and initiate eventual reactions and discussions during the exhibition ITCA 2008 itself.

In the National Gallery installation we created a Black Wall for this purpose (see text in publication Representing the Nation, page 57, The Gallery of Fine Arts in Náchod). It is actually a notice board intended for publishing updated information, reader’s reactions as well as those of directors’ and curators’ of respective institutions mentioned in the publication. There are reader’s and institution’s reaction at disposal. I will be out of Prague for few days, but afterwards I can send you these reactions throught e-mail, if you are interested.
and about NG not getting more space… I don’t know, it is well balanced this way, we focused on directors and curators of younger to contemporary collections.

I don’t know anything about reviews, not even about the one in Atelier about Karlín art education, but I will have a look, thank you.

It wasn’t in the frame of a grant – it was disengaged from any dependance on other subjects.

There was no catalogue on Smíchov, but there will be one photograph in Atelier. And I think there is a press release on the Meet Factory website.

I am enclosing some photographs from the installation.

The project that we initiated with our interest in the situation in the field of current official art presentation exists within the frame of ITCA exhibition independently. Right now we are already working on distribution of the publication and submissions updating.

Therefore we thank you in advance for your eventual next submission, that would be about factual mistakes or become your personal manifesto!

Keep in touch and greetings,
Isabela Grosseová (a Jesper Alvaer)

1. 7. 2008

I’m only on my computer for a minute, so I’m sending you my quick reaction on REPRESENTING THE NATION:

I did not point the small extent of National Gallery presentation out in chance. It’s place in the given theme is fundamental and it is therefore essential to pay a decent attention to it. If you are interested in this, you’ve been surely acquainted by the great amount of public discussion on the theme of how National Gallery works, that takes place from time to time on pages of not only specialised press. It is not possible to bypass this discussion. It was perfectly described by one acknowledged visitor of our museum after I gave him the REPRESENTING THE NATION paper to read:

The prevalent part of public criticizes the director Knižák, although he doesn’t deserve it. The public doesn’t know that Mr. Knížák himself made sure that NG had a democratic advisory board, in which major figures of Czech public life take part including some art historians. He submits his annual report to this board and he is ready for his callback suggestion when his report does not fulfill the advisory boars’s expectations. This step wittily rejects any future criticism of Mr. Knížák’s autocratic leadership of the national top institution. He fought other criticism pointing out his interferences with scientific gallery works of art history by appointing the deputy director for scientific work and in terms of world wide trend of lifetime education he applied for extramural studies of Art History and Theory, because it is known that he enjoys working in the art environement and that he would like to become a qualified curator in the future. Mr. Knížák is a competent manager and knows very well that without making these steps it is impossible to survive in a really real democratic society.

So I don’t know, I am not quite as informed as this man but his thoughts sound very logic to me.

Sincerely, Tomáš Fassati

3. 7. 2008

Dear Mr. Fassati,
thank you for your submission. I am enclosing our press release we just wrote with Jesper Alvaer. It is just another step to open the discussion up and it is more open and less secretive project description. Maybe you could use this press release as an introduction in the Museum, art and society bulletin, if you still wish to publish it.

Sincerely, Isabela Grosseova

P.S.: I also enclose the director Vykoukal’s letter, it is also a very interesting comment.

From: Jiří Vykoukal, Galerie výtvarného umění v Chebu 03. 07. 2008

Dear colleague,

I opened my mail a little while ago and between numerous SPAMs recommending anything possible and impossible I found your PDF with text that I learnt also a little while ago is being spread in printed form at the Triennial of Contemporary Art held by the National Gallery.
If I understood the text clearly, it is supposed to be some kind of an interview record, that you and your English speaking colleague led with us, directors of Czech art museums, at the beginning of the year, yes?
If this is true, please do tell me, for the sake of God, where do all these sentences that are being put into my mouth in a so called statement come from? And because this text is presented in a form, that looks like my personal confession to the current world situation and who knows what else, why no one asked me, if I am willing to accept it in this way, before publishing it?
Did I really say all the things, that are written there? I am completely horrified by myself! I seem more radical than Egon Bondy, in admiring words of my colleague that called me a little while ago, while I always thought that I was a stubborn conservative with slight monarchist tendencies and with a profound grief upon the end of Austria-Hungary deep in soul. Well well.

With a friendly greeting,
Jiří Vykoukal
The Gallery of Fine Arts in Cheb

10. 7. 2008

Dear Mr. Director,

thank you for your message and we are sorry to put you in the state of slight surprise.

During material gatherings from our visits of individual institutions the entire project sublimed to a publication that includes statement created intuitively and named by us as Compensation portraits. Regarding the characteristic of our approach, we decided to open and initiate eventual reactions and discussions during the exhibition ITCA 2008 itself.
In the National Gallery installation we created a Black Wall for this purpose (see text in publication Representing the Nation, page 57, The Gallery of Fine Arts in Náchod). It is actually a notice board intended for publishing updated information, reader’s reactions as well as those of directors’ and curators’ of respective institutions mentioned in the publication.

I am enclosing a few photographs from the installation. Also we sent three printed publications, because digital PDF is not easy to read, especially with this amount of text.

The project that we initiated with our interest in the situation in the field of current official art presentation exists within the frame of ITCA exhibition. Right now we are already working on distribution of the publication and submissions updating.

Therefore we thank you in advance for your eventual next submission.

Stay in touch, with greetings,
Isabela Grosseová (and Jesper Alvaer)

From: Tomás Fassati 15. 07. 2008

So I finally checked it out, sure it’s enought for introduction, but I think it would be a little bit too premature to republish it in our bulletin, while there is still chance to produce more discussion until the end of the triennial. Any larger discussion would be crucial for further publishing. Reactions should be at the level of witty happening or should be pragmatic. This didn’t quite happen so far. Let’s wait a little.
Sincerely, Tomáč Fassati

From: Milan Knížák, Národní galerie v Praze 14. 08. 2008

Everything that
I was supposed to say
is a lie.
It was invented by
the authors I. G. J. A.

Milan Knížák

To: Institutions From: Authors of Compensation portraits 22. 10. 2009

Dear Ms. ……………………., Dear Mr. ………………………..,

We are writing you regarding the project Representing the Nation prepared within the frame of ITCA in the National Gallery in Prague in 2008.

You probably noticed that publications of the same name contained various texts and statements of directors of art galleries and museums, which didn’t match credited authors and institutions that they pretend to stand for. Published texts about art, exhibitions, museums and politics were thematically bound to activities of institutions presented in the publication in a wider cultural context.

Curator Tomáš Pospiszyl invited us now to present a new part of the project Representing the Nation at the collective exhibition Formats of the transformation – Identity in DUMB, that will be launched on 17th November 2009.

For this occasion we are preparing a new reedited version of publication called ERRATUM and we want to offer you some space in the installation, and to challenge you to make your own statement to the context in which the misinterpretation of your previous statements appeared and which we called Compensation portraits.

We will be more than happy if you use this opportunity to publish your opinions, notes and corrections, because this will be exactly what the new publication ERRATUM wants to cover. We will publish names of authors of texts used in it, we will describe all the changes we worked into those texts to make them appear authentic and trustworthy in the Czech environement.

Thank you for your attention. We welcome questions, comments and criticism!

Isabela Grosseová and Jesper Alvaer

From: Marek Pokorný, Moravská galerie v Brně 22. 10. 2009


in this context I am in no need to express my attitudes. In a way we talked about them during our meeting, so it is possible to dig them up from the records – althought I didn’t use this edgy theoretical/critical apparatus in our discussion, my thoughts about museum institutions and art scene come from a similar radius of questions and their way of reflection. Publishing translations was in my eyes useful and authentic statements from us interviewed weren’t lacking in no way.


Marek Pokorný

From: Tomás Fassati, Muzeum umění a designu Benešov 22. 10. 2009

I hope to find some time for you.
Tomáš Fassati

From: Jaroslava Michalcová, Galerie moderního umění v Roudnici nad Labem 23. 10. 2009

Dear Ms. Grosseová,

Ms. Hlaváčková is not employed in our gallery anymore, since 2008 PhDr. Alena Potůčková is the new director now. I forwarded your e-mail.


Jaroslava Michalcová
public relation curator

From: Alica Štefančíková, Galerie Benedikta Rejta v Lounech 27. 10. 2009

Not interested

From: Milan Knížák, Národní galerie v Praze 29. 10. 2009

Dear Mrs. Grosseová and dear Mr. Alvaer,
Professor thanks for your letter and regaring your thing wishes to tell you the following:

The project that you prepared underwhelmed me and also the public. I am not interested to waste my time and energy with explaining rubbish that you wrote there on your own.
Milan Knížák

That is all. Thank you for understanding and I greet you,
Marcela Špačková
National Gallery secretariatial services in Prague

29. 10. 2009

Dear Professor,

Thank you for your answer.
We see now that the edited version of the publication will be very useful, it seems that it is not quite clear that texts which make the body of Compensation portraits are translations of known essays or interviews in the field of theory of institutional practice.
To be concrete, your portrait is a conversation between Charles Harrison and Seth Siegelaub called On Exhibitions and the World at Large. Charles Harrison and Seth Siegelaub, 1969. Conversation is adjusted to Prague environement instead of that of New York, as well as alleged examples are always changed to local art course of events examples, especially to the context of ITCA and National Gallery itself. Even our publication Representing the Nation is mentioned in it.
Other authors we used were: Boris Buden, Jonathan Vickery, Simon Sheikh, Stevan Vuković, Nina Möntmann, Brian Holmes, Branka Ćurčić, Adrian Piper, Tirdad Zolghadr, Robert Smithson, Allan Kaprow , Suzana Milevska, Dušan Grlja, Jelena Vesić, Prelom kolektiv, Gerald Raunig, Marius Babias, Helio Oiticica, Katya Sander, Ana Devič, Maria Hlavajova , Ljubomir Bratić, Hans Haacke, Kenneth Hudson, Julian Stallabrass, Ekaterina Degot.

Isabela Grosseová a Jesper

29. 10. 2009

Dear Mrs. Grosseová and dear Mr. Alvaer,
thank you for these explaining additions, to which Professor noted that it delighted him, but that it will not change his attitude because he knows very well that a New York life is very different to that in Prague and cannot be interchanged.
Marcela Špačková

30. 10. 2009

Dear Ms. Spackova,
thank you for forwarding our message and your reply,
have a nice day,
Isabela g.

30. 10. 2009

Kind Mrs. G,
you are welcome and too, have a nice day!
M. Š.