National Gallery's struggles continue

ON MARCH 1 the Slovak National Gallery (SNG) in Bratislava, the most prominent visual arts institution in Slovakia, passed a very sad tenth anniversary. On March 1, 2001 the gallery’s exhibition area known as ‘the bridging’ was ordered closed because of its poor condition. Since then no action has been taken to repair the bridging or otherwise renovate the SNG’s premises, except the renovation of the SNG's Esterházy Palace, even though two design competitions for an overall revamp of the gallery have been held. After the second competition in 2005, a winning design was announced, detailed plans were prepared and construction permits were even obtained. Nevertheless, the poor condition of the building remains unchanged and the SNG’s director-general says the closing of the bridging is now only one of several serious problems facing the gallery.

The empty bridging galleryThe empty bridging gallery (Source: The empty bridging gallery)

ON MARCH 1 the Slovak National Gallery (SNG) in Bratislava, the most prominent visual arts institution in Slovakia, passed a very sad tenth anniversary. On March 1, 2001 the gallery’s exhibition area known as ‘the bridging’ was ordered closed because of its poor condition. Since then no action has been taken to repair the bridging or otherwise renovate the SNG’s premises, except the renovation of the SNG's Esterházy Palace, even though two design competitions for an overall revamp of the gallery have been held. After the second competition in 2005, a winning design was announced, detailed plans were prepared and construction permits were even obtained. Nevertheless, the poor condition of the building remains unchanged and the SNG’s director-general says the closing of the bridging is now only one of several serious problems facing the gallery.

“From the viewpoint of the elapsed 10 years I regard the decision to close the bridging rather romantically; but at that time it was a pragmatic step,” Katarína Bajcúrová, the SNG’s director-general in 2001, said as she recalled water seeping down onto a painting by Mikuláš Galanda, a prominent Slovak artist .

Even though the bridging, designed by Slovak architect Vladimír Dedeček, had been highly appreciated as a work of art in itself, which provided excellent light conditions for exhibitions, changes in the project’s materials and poor-quality construction made it impossible to maintain a stable temperature and humidity. Later the bridging’s roof began to leak and “the water was always looking for new routes and thus it was impossible to predict which artwork would ‘get hell’ next”, Bajcúrová said.

The international jury for the second competition chose a project offered by the BKPŠ architectural studio for an overall reconstruction and modernisation of the gallery’s premises facing the Danube embankment. With the aim to create a multifunctional gallery meeting 21st-century European standards while respecting Dedeček’s original architectural ideas, the project planned to open the rather encapsulated building by connecting it with Bratislava’s pedestrian zone. Construction costs, at 2005 price levels, were calculated at €35 million, including VAT. But the modernisation project was scrapped in 2009 because of the economic crisis and a lack of funds.

“Everybody is talking about the deteriorating bridging, and they are right,” said Alexandra Kusá, the current director-general of the SNG. “But over these past 10 years, the bridging has become our smallest problem.”

Kusá said the SNG moved its artworks into temporary warehouses so that the current galleries could be refurbished but added that after five years even the best provisional space is no longer acceptable. She noted that the SNG building also lacks amenities that modern galleries should have, such as a café, space for cultural events, and similar accoutrements.

“We want nothing special,” Kusá emphasised to The Slovak Spectator.

Kusá and Bajcúrová believe that a big problem facing SNG’s management is the amount of time and energy that is undertaken after each parliamentary election to persuade the incoming culture minister and new cabinet about the gallery’s needs.

“We have a very low awareness not only of cultural needs and culture itself, but also a low awareness of the need for cultural continuity,” said Bajcúrová. “Each phase of our efforts crashed on the administrative hydra, which by the time it accepted the idea of modernisation was already leaving office.”

Kusá perceives interest from Daniel Krajcer, the current culture minister.

“At the moment I must say that our communication with the current Culture Ministry in terms of reconstruction has revived and is relatively intensive,” Kusá said. “I assume that the ministry is looking for ways to secure the necessary finances as the project is too big to be covered from the ministry's budget. Maybe if we could hold an ice hockey championship in the gallery then we would have already been reconstructed.”


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