Pavlína Morganová

Secret Exhibition in the National Gallery in Prague

Keywords: drawing installation painting self-organized semi-public event

In 1985, a practically unknown, one-day nameless exhibition was held at the Prague City Library, which was then used to exhibit the modern and contemporary collections of the National Gallery in Prague. This is an example of a secret exhibition parasitizing on the facilities of an official art institution. Other such exhibitions took place in the Czech milieu such as A White Space in a White Space that Jiří Valoch allowed in 1974 at the House of Art in Brno. The secret exhibition at the Prague City Library was mediated by Jiří Kovanda, who worked as the depository administrator at the National Gallery. He allowed himself and other artists actively taking part in the mid 1980s in many alternative “grey zone” exhibitions, to install their latest works in the gallery’s exclusive spaces.

Kovanda presented closely next to each other a number of expressive paintings and a few objects. Margita Titlová Ylovsky and Václav Stratil exhibited their large-format drawings, Vladimír Merta presented his now lost monumental graphite drawing on several hardboards and an object from his Advertisement for Infinity series (1985). Unique photographs from Merta’s archive capture the exhibition’s installation as well as the moment in which the artists are lying on the floor, taking in the atmosphere of the National Gallery and of their subversive act. In viewing the photo-documentation it is also hard to believe that only Jiří Kovanda and Karel Miler, who worked with him, knew of the exhibition inside the gallery, that it lasted only one day or two, and was attended by roughly twenty people. They came on the pretext of visiting Kovanda in the depository; he then led them through a back door to the exhibition spaces.

Kovanda had previously organized a secret exhibition at the Prague City Library in 1979 when he had exhibited with Lumír Hladík and Petr Měřička, both of whom were also emerging artists at that time. He made use of the same principle later in 1985. Between two exhibition projects he managed to smuggle artworks and a few visitors into the empty gallery space. In 1979, the exhibition was more of an inconspicuous conceptual nature – Kovanda exhibited Installation 5 / Glass Panels in an Empty Gallery and Lumír Hladík installed Paper Birds Drinking Water. The works thus were invisible site-specific interventions of sorts. In 1985, however, the artists installed in the empty gallery larger collections of quite striking works. Although by that time they were allowed to exhibit regularly in alternative spaces, the possibility of exhibiting in a pure gallery space, especially in Prague, continued to be a unique opportunity. When Lumír Hladík recalled the first secret exhibition, he said that behind it all was the desire to experience a “gallery’s light”. He thus attested to the idea that the need to exhibit in the neutral environment of a gallery’s “white cube” was, despite official restrictions, one of the basic impulses for the art scene in the second half of the 20th century.



Pavlína Morganová – Terezie Nekvindová – Dagmar Svatošová, Výstava jako médium. České umění 1957−1999, AVU, Prague 2020, pp. 96-97.

Vladimír Merta, exh. cat., Václav Špála Gallery, Praha 1994.

Date: 1985

Participants: Jiří Kovanda (1953), Margita Titlová Ylovsky (1957), Václav Stratil (1950), Vladimír Merta (1957)

Location: National Gallery in Prague, Municipal Library, Prague