Michal Blažek

* 1955

  • “When I was at grammar school, they told me they could recommend me for university only after a year of practical experience. When I tried to apply to the Academy for the third time, it didn’t seem to matter any more. I later found out why: Helsinki was being prepared, and the Communists wanted to brag at the conference that they even allowed the children of expelled party members to study. When I was accepted to the Academy on the third try, they summoned me and two friends to the student affairs department and asked: ‘Were your fathers expelled from the Party?” We tried to dodge the questions as best we could: ‘We don’t know, we’d have to ask...’ And the student coordinator said: ‘No, don’t worry! We need it, we won’t throw you out, on the contrary!’ That had me staring, how things kept changing...”

  • “The Communists had it planned out nicely economically: they worked out that we had five thousand artists here, they reckoned that the average pay was two thousand crowns a month, they came up with a law that for every construction, half a percentage had to be spent for artistic activities, and they calculated that artists can thus earn ten million crowns. When they divided ten million by the number of artists, it worked out to two thousand, which was the average pay. But of those ten million, nine were taken by the two hundred members of the Union of Visual Artists [UVA], and one million was left for the other five thousand people. [Q: It would probably be good to point out that the union decided about everything, right? You couldn’t just organise your own exhibition...] You could do whatever you wanted to, but you couldn’t exhibit in all galleries. In Brno there was the Socialist Youth Union club Trněný, where they held exhibitions, the cultural secretary for Prague 10 organised exhibitions in the cultural centre... [Q: And when you wanted to buy art equipment?] You could, but there was an awful lack of it. The UVA members knew what would be in stock, they bought it up, and there’d be nothing left for you. You couldn’t even get plaster back then! When I came to Holland, I said that for me, democracy means being able to get plaster. There was no plaster! You wanted to make statues, but you couldn’t because there wasn’t any plaster to be had. Say for a month.”

  • “We were a fellowship of people who’d said to themselves: ‘So as not to argue, we won’t talk about art at all.’ One person did this, the other that, and I pretty much didn’t like anything of what the others did. The one exception was Pepa Žáček, and him and I kept the whole thing up the whole time, but I did it for the others too. But the Ševčíks were focused on current trends, and they valued people who were able to spruce them up the fastest. First they brought some magazines, they said, this is how it’s done, and they lauded the artist who did it like that all the way to the heavens. I wrote about it in the tenth issue of Respekt in 1990. We built up a wide-ranging resistance against the union, and suddenly the Tvrdohlavýs withdrew and started doing exhibitions. The UVA secretary was said to have laughed with joy that we’d lost our unity.”

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„During totalitarianism, I said that democracy meant to me the possibility of getting plaster“

Michal Blažek (2015)
Michal Blažek (2015)

Michal Blažek (born 19 November 1955 in Prague) comes from an artistic family, and after graduating from secondary school he wanted to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU). However, the first two years he applied he was refused for political reasons, and so he found employment at Geodézie, and later underwent a failed emigration attempt with a group of young artists. Due to preparations for the Helsinki conference, where the Communist regime wanted to show its openness to the children of former party members, he was allowed to study at the sculpture studio at AVU from 1977 to 1983. Before the Velvet Revolution he initiated a petition for improving the situation on the Czechoslovak fine arts scene, and he became director of the independent exhibition gallery U Řečických. At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s he worked as editor-in-chief of the art and music magazine Konzerva (meaning Tin Can). From 1993 to 1995, he was employed as an assistant professor at AVU, since 1995 he has earned a living as a restorer and sculptor. As a restorer, he is part of an international project to renew one temple of the Angkor complex. Currently, he publishes Sochařský zpravodaj (Sculpting Reporter), which he sees as a means of public debate about the future direction of the sculpture studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.