Olga Dvořáková: Making a market for modern art

Olga Dvořáková (34), the owner and curator of Gallery Art Factory, has made her mark in the art business, where fierce competition and the unrelenting dictate of money rule. Read how she did it.

For the third year you are organizing the Sculpture Grande project, an exhibition of large-sized sculptures on Wenceslas Square. You have brought art to the people at a time when your colleagues are complaining about a stagnating art market. How did you do it?
You’re right, people don’t visit galleries too much. But I don’t like sulking in a corner, so I’ve chosen an aggressive, assertive approach. I think it’s better to hold your head up with a smile on the street and boldly go about your business. So my solution was to use Prague’s most dynamic boulevard, Wenceslas Square. Since people weren’t going to the gallery, I brought sculpture to them, to the street.

Many people stopped to look at the sculptures. Some of them liked them, while others said they were an eyesore in the historical center. How do you handle criticism?
I understand that not everyone likes it. Normal people who don’t go to galleries don’t expect to see sculptures on the streets, but it’s great to see the reactions, since every day hundreds of thousands of people pass through Wenceslas Square. Contemporary art is provocative and it gives people a chance to form opinions. And if criticism comes from someone I respect, it helps me engage in some crucial self-reflection.

What was your greatest mistake, and what did you learn from it?
There have been so many! I wish there had been only one and I had learned a lot from it. For example, when I was a newcomer to the art business, I thought that if the art was of high quality it would sell. Now I know that the key to success is marketing, which helps make people aware of an exhibition, defines a target group, and puts forth an attractive presentation.

Career highlights
1993 graduated from the Charles University School of Philosophy
1994-99 worked at the Dorotheum Praha auction house, first responsible for auctions and then became the auctioneer
1999-2001 interned at the Philips auction house in Sydney, which focuses on contemporary art
2002 together with Zora Carrier founded Gallery Art Factory (GAF), which presents contemporary art and sometimes controversial projects such as the Streetart-Fanty exhibition and the Pal Fiction Videoart Festival
2005 from 21 June to 30 Sept., GAF and Dvořáková organize the 3rd annual Sculpture Grande project, an exhibition of large sculptural installations and performances on Wenceslas Square in Prague

How did you, with your humanities education, acquire your managerial know-how?
On the job. I discovered that the art business is a lot different from other types of business. You can’t just show some sexy advertising on TV and expect customers to come swarming. A gallery operator has to come to terms with not selling too much as she’s creating the firm’s trademark. We use exhibitions like Sculpture Grande or controversial projects like “Tento měsíc menstruují” (I’m Menstruating This Month). Making people aware of a brand can take five years, as people gradually come to see you as trendy.

You are gallery curator and owner in one. Does this bring you any advantages?
As the gallery’s owner I currently have 50 projects from different curators on my desk – they’re just waiting and hoping the gallery will have enough money for their ideas. Because I’m also the curator, I try to undertake projects that I am certain can be realized. I don’t like waiting for things – time goes too quickly.

How big is your team?
The permanent team is very small. I have a business partner who lives in Chicago and an office manager in the Prague gallery. We work with external media colleagues and about 20 external curators.

Can you recall your time of greatest stress?
Huge projects like Sculpture Grande, where the Lord Mayor and other VIPs are present, bring many times the stress. This year nine huge sculptures were specially made for this occasion – for example, fifty-ton concrete pillars that were poured at the last minute. The opening was on Tuesday and on Sunday I learned that the concrete wasn’t drying properly. The stress was terrible, and on top of that I have a new-born baby, so I solved the problem from the birthing hospital over my mobile phone.

Olga Dvořáková

You have three children, the youngest only a few weeks old. How do you set your priorities with respect to work, obligations, and family?
Intuitively. Sometimes work comes first and my family must accept that I have to go to set up sculptures on Wenceslas Square at night or attend an opening. Sometimes I spend more time with my family. Also, I think setting a good personal example is the best way to bring up children.

Have you found yourself in crises in your profession that made you want to just scrap it all?
It was very traumatic when my gallery partner followed her husband to the US. It was difficult for me, because the person I worked with every day left. On the other hand, now we have attractive possibilities ahead of us – she lives in Chicago, where we’re setting up a Gallery Art Factory branch – we’re trying to spread Czech contemporary art to the US. If we succeed, we’ll feel that we’ve met a great professional challenge.

What traits do you most appreciate in business?
Loyalty. Also, the art of arguing, and experience, as they move you ahead. I also appreciate humility and perspective.

What’s the most interesting part of being a gallery owner?
I work with the youngest, the most contemporary art, which passes on all the emotions you can think of. This art is often incomprehensible, but it teaches us tolerance for everything we might not understand, but which someone has put a lot of work into.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *