Interview with Camille Hunt and Kacha Kastner, founder of the gallery Hunt Kastner in Prague
Prague is not the place that pops up in your mind at first if you think of contemporary art. Out of this need an American and a Canadian opened Hunt Kastner in 2005. Kacha Kaster came to Prague in 1991, she has family here. Camille Hunt is Canadian, who came originally to teach English, and was only planning to stay for a year maximum.
Can you tell us the story of the gallery?
We first came together in Prague, around 2004–5, working in a non-profit space called Futura, which Camille helped to establish and which still exists today as an important platform for contemporary art in Prague. During that time, it became apparent that while Prague had many independent, non-profit contemporary art spaces that were defining the contemporary art scene, there were no serious commercial galleries that were helping to develop artists’ careers at home or internationally. That was the impulse to open Hunt Kastner, the aim to fill this need.
What has motivated you to open a gallery together?
We thought we would be a good fit, bringing different skills but having the same aim and approach.
What is your background?
I studied history and Kacha studied economics and we have both worked outside the arts before deciding on this field. I began working as a gallerist without a gallery, a dealer in other words, in the mid 90s but was always looking for the right partner to start a gallery. In 2003 I co-founded Futura and finally in December 2005 Hunt Kastner with Kacha.
Kacha worked at the Soros Center for Contemporary Art (later the Center for Contemporary Art) and the Kampa Museum here in Prague, as well as at Futura before.
Tell us about your program and why you are focusing on the support of young Czech contemporary artists.
Our program focuses on presenting new work by our stable of represented artists which amounts to 16 but our program is not limited to only these artists. We also exhibit a number of interesting curated, group shows and have begun to exhibit work by a number of older generation artists from the region, those who have been particularly influential on the younger generation.
Last year we had a solo exhibition by Dora Mauer, who has been very influential in Hungary and continues to be a great inspiration to the younger generation, and this year we had a solo exhibition, which featured the hand-made samizdat type booklets by the Brno based artist Dalibor Chatrny (1925–2012), curated by two artists from Brno – Barbora Klimova and Filip Cenek.
Next year we plan an exhibition by Viktor Pivovarov, one of the founders of the Moscow Conceptual art movement and we have been including works by older generation artists in our group exhibitions since inception – i.e. Stanislav Kolibal, Eva Kmentova, and most recently we showed the photographic series of the seminal performance Laying Down Diapers at Sudomer (1970) by Zorka Saglova (1942–2012) as well as a fabulous tapesserie by Bohdam Mrazek (1931–2009).
Some of the younger artists we work with include Anna Hulacova, Eva Kotatkova, Dominik Lang, or Jiri Thyn, though even they have started to become an important influence on the students who are entering the acadamies – Thyn and Lang both head up ateliers and Anna Hulacova just started working as an assistant professor in the sculpture studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.
How do you decide to add a new artist?
We have been very slow to add new artists as this is a very big commitment. Essentially, if we see great work and are both convinced of their commitment in return, their promise as artists, then we offer them a show and if the working relationship is good then we go for it. Having said this, there are many great artists out there and we wish we could work with more.
Let’s talk about the location. Why did you choose this neighborhood?
We spent the frist 7 years in Prague 7 (Letna), very near to the Academy of Fine Arts and the Prague National Gallery at Veletrzni Palace. But the reason we opened there, was simply because the space was offered to us, it was in a convenient location, and we could afford it. When we moved to Zizkov two years ago, the space was chosen more or less for the same reasons. The neighborhood was a secondary factor for us, the most important was if the space suited our growing needs, and if we could afford it.
What does it mean to run a contemporary art gallery in Prague? What are the pros and cons?
Both the pros and cons have changed over the 10 years we have been in business. In the beginning one of the pros was that we were the only private gallery that was representing artists in a professional way and reaching out internationally – which made us unique.
On the downside, there was also no market for commercial galleries selling contemporary art in the Czech Republic at that time, very few existing collectors or institutions buying contemporary art and those that did went straight to the artist’s studios.
This has changed, there are now several more good commercial galleries that are helping to develop the contemporary art scene both at home and abroad, which makes it easier, but of course also means that we can’t sit back and relax too much.
What about institutional support? How do you seek their attention as a gallery?
As Kacha has said, there were and still are few local, national institutions who collect art in a concerted way and there was great resistance to buying through a gallery but this has improved over the last years, somewhat. Abroad, we have been able to place some work by our local artists in some prestigious public collections and will continue to do so.
How would you describe the role of a gallery in the art world today?
The gallery is essential in that it allows artists to focus on their artwork, not having to concern themselves (too much) with the nitty gritty and unavoidable administration, sales, promotion and very importantly finding the right opportunities and venues where to exhibit.
The gallery’s space also provides a platform for the artists to experiment and exhibit new work for the first time.
Tell us about a difficult moment and a happy moment in your career as a gallerist?
Hmmm, how long is this interview? There have been many of both but, of course, many more happy ones. I think we still can’t quite believe we are where we are today and that some of our artists are doing so well so I guess it’s rather one long happy moment for the most part.
What are your plans for the future? How do you see your gallery in a decade?
Long term plans, difficult to say but in the short term we’ll be very happy to fix up our courtyard where we have some extra storage and showroom spaces!
Hunt Kastner takes part in Liste–Art Fair Basel from June 13th to 18th, 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Dominik Lang.
Hunt Kastner has participated in the 2nd edition of Paris Internationale in Paris from October 19th to 23rd 2016.
Prague 3 – Zizkov
Tuesday to Friday: 1pm–6pm