With generations of art collectors behind him, Matyaš Kodl is now moving Prague’s contemporary art scene forward with the Kodl Contemporary, the newly opened contemporary arm to the Kodl Gallery which is hosting the country’s largest art auctions.

After attending high school Lycée français de Prague, he moved to the south of France on a scholarship as his first significant step in pursuing his interest in art, which was followed by working and studying at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, along with working in New York.

What was the biggest turning point in your life?

“Well, it’s difficult to say because I still hope there will be some other turning points in my life! But so far, I would say it would be when I finished A levels at the French high school in Prague and I managed to get a scholarship from the French government for further studies in France. This was a turning point in that I was able to move to another country for a longer period of time to get more independence financially and psychologically from my surroundings. It really opened my mind, and I ended up staying and working there for over three years.”

Why did you choose the MABLIM program at AAU?

“I had several reasons. I would say the most important was the combination between more business oriented subjects and the law focus of the program. From my previous work experience I knew it’s always good to know at least the basics of business and contract law.”

Can you recall your first AAU memory?

“I came a little bit late for my first lecture, and I sat in one free place and became friends with the person who was sitting beside me almost immediately. The whole impression felt very similar the Sotheby’s Institute because it was an English speaking environment, with international people, even the classes were a little bit similar. It was a familiar connection from the first moment.”

Something surprising that you learned at Sotheby's?

“I would say the level of care there is for each piece of art, there are always a lot of people taking care of just one artwork. You would think that making exhibitions or auctions is just taking and moving the art – but actually the whole process is much more extensive. There are different parts of the team that take care of paintings, such as for the physical care and restoration, frames and the paper due diligence. People who work in the banking industry actually work a lot at Sotheby’s because they have applied the same techniques in purchasing companies or other financial assets.”

Applying art industry models from London and New York to Prague?

“I’m trying to copy and paste as much as I can! They have a lot more experience there, in New York they’ve run auction houses for almost 250 years now. What we apply in our gallery is the same level of expertise; how we care for the paintings, how we approve the authenticity which is crucial part of the work, focusing on the quality on the artwork and artists rather than quantity, trying to make an entertaining exhibition or auction program, and making sure that there is always something for our clients to follow.”

Do you think the art world can be seen as exclusive?

“Well, it’s certainly true from one point of view that collectors, from my experience in London or New York and even here, are somehow an exclusive part of society. I think this elitist view of the art is more a prejudice though, because anyone can go to an exhibition and see the paintings. Many think that they have to study or be educated to just be able to look at the paintings, I know from my experience that it’s not true… It’s better to not be educated and go see the exhibitions because you are then not biased by anything – you are just looking at the art as it is. Either you like it or you don’t, or there is something that catches your attention. In this way it’s better to not go prepared for that. People often ask me how to go about educating themselves for exhibitions, but there is not much to it other than just going and to train your eye.”

How can art galleries evolve to be more inclusive and multi-use?

“London is doing a good job of public art installations, particularly the Tate Modern, and in New York even more. It is part of the daily life there, wherever you go you will pass one sculpture somewhere on the street. In Prague it is less, but with the increasing number of tourists there will be an increase of appreciation. Meetfactory is approaching this more inclusive western style and philosophy of exhibition spaces. It’s all a question of the local mindshift too, and Prague has evolved a lot the past years.

In the case of Kodl Contemporary for instance, we have shows where artists can also comment on their works. We are also preparing a seminar about art business in the cooperation with the National Theater. We plan to offer more of these kinds of projects.

We try to present our art and artists in an easy way, and have made videos about our artists to give them an opportunity to present themselves and their story all from their ateliers. This connects much easier the broader society to the topic.”

With so many mediums of communication today, and so much information, how does art still play an important medium?

“For conveying messages and opinions, I think it’s a great tool and connector, because everyone can have his or her own opinion about it. I don’t think that visual arts are as interested in conveying a social or political message as they were before, although there still are some artists who are engaged. I don’t think politics should be directly connected to art itself, there should be a little bit of a barrier between the two because then art is creation for itself, whereas politically engaged art is more of a creation for some specific purpose.”

How has communism influenced Czech art?

“Under the communist regime, there was the one official communist art style which basically has no value nowadays. Then, there was this underground, unofficial artistic community; their art is interesting because to a certain extent they were able to follow the western trends. Medek is an example, he was greatly persecuted by the regime, but he was able to sell his art work to western countries and now his art is in galleries in Australia and Canada. These artists managed somehow to follow the abstract expressionism like the US painters in protest to the general communist style, but these are exceptions, most were pushed down and weren’t able to express freely.”

What does Czech art have to offer other continental art?

“The specificity of Czech art is that under communism, it was erased from the map. Now, artists have the ability to get exposure and are gaining in value. Picasso and Filla were painting at a similar time with a similar style. Filla lived in Paris and met with Picasso, but no one really knew about him because all his work was stuck in Czechoslovakia under the communist regime. Picasso paintings went up in value whereas Filla’s didn’t increase, the price gap between them is really huge considering they were all part of the same artistic groups and this goes for many Eastern European artists.”

You mentioned an overlooked period after 1989 and into the early 2000s, of which the art isn’t really considered historic nor modern. Can you comment?

“These are the artists who are in their 30s and 40s now, and although they grew up in the old regime, most of their active career has been in the free world like how it was in the 1920’s in Czechoslovakia. This was a unique situation to have almost a century later they were only then able to catch up with the international art scene. Now we are able to host Czech artists who study and work with big German artists.”

Is there a particularly special piece of art to you?

“There was a painting I got from my father when I was a child for my birthday, I was ten years old maybe. It was a landscape painting by a Czech artist. It’s a painting I still really like a lot nowadays because it reminds me of my childhood and the memories I have of the countryside where I spent part of my time as a child.”

If you could have any artwork in your home, what would it be?

“Van Gogh from the French period where he stayed in the south of France because this is the region where I also studied and I like this period of his work. Or, it would be a Braque, painted near Collioure which a little town on the French Mediterranean cost that I had a chance to visit. Both painters managed to express the intensive and warm colors of this region and personally I like the energy these paintings reflect.”

Is there a difference between an artists’ work and an artists’ story to you?

“The artists always put their story in the artwork, it’s almost impossible to avoid it. It’s true that with the artists who are not alive anymore, it’s more difficult to distinguish their own character behind the painting. Once you know the history of their lives, I think it even opens your eyes to understand it better.”

If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?

“Van Gogh. He’s one of the artists I really like a lot and I had a chance to work with his paintings in London and I think he had a really interesting personality and I would like to know him more and his character. His paintings are very wild and there are lots of stories about him, but I wonder at point these stories are true or made up. I know it sounds cliche, but I think his work is really important.”

Do you have any upcoming travel desires?

“Since the weather is getting better, I would like to go north to Copenhagen. I’ve heard good stories about the city, the art and museums.”

If you had an afternoon off with no wifi in Prague, where would you go?

“Assuming the weather is nice, I would go to Petrin. It sounds cliche, but it’s nice to sit and enjoy the view. I actually do do this, even if I have wifi, I turn it off.”

What’s the best thing you’ve bought from an art gallery gift shop?

“There is one thing I really like which I bought from the Tate in London – this book about the end of the 19th century to present day art with subsections which allowed one to scroll through the most significant styles and figures. It gives a very clear idea of 150 years of art in one tiny book.”

Auction houses are a very serious place, but do you have any funny stories?

“Well, we do our best to make sure nothing wrong happens! On a regular basis, there are over 400 people in a room at our auctions in Zofin Palace, and then there are also phone bidders. From an organizational point of view it is very stressful.

Once, I was bidding for a client of our’s who was on the phone, and the painting being bidded up was getting into pretty significant sums of money, and then I lost him on the line. It was about 200,000 Euros and I was about to bid for 220,000 Euros. He said “okay, let me think maybe”, and then I lost the signal, and the auctioneer was waiting for me to make the bid with just a few seconds left to decide. I could hear some noises then a “yes” so I waved my hand and the lot went to us. I lost the guy again, and called him back after. Fortunately, he was okay with it, apparently he was travelling somewhere in Switzerland and he went through a tunnel just at the moment when we were bidding. Timing is always important.”

Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you have for the Kodl Gallery?

“Yes, of course! We organize twice a year the auctions. The upcoming auction will be held on 27th May, but the exhibition of all of the artworks will be open already starting the 30th April. Apart of the auctions, I am organizing the Summer Art Salon, which is the exhibition of the contemporary art. The Summer Art Salon will start on 22nd June and will run through the end of September. So there is always something going on in the gallery! We post all our news on Facebook and Instagram.”

Publication date: April 16, 2018