Milan Knížák

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Milan Knížák
Milan Knížák.jpg
Photo from one the contemporary Milan Knizak's protests against location and politicization of new National Library in Prague.
Born (1940-04-19)19 April 1940
Plzeň, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Nationality Czech
Education Academy of Fine Arts, Prague
Known for Performances, sculpture, visual art, aesthetics, art philosophy
Awards Recipient of the Medal of Merit Czech Republic – 28 October 2010

Milan Knížák (Czech: [ˈmɪlan ˈkɲiːʒaːk]; born 19 April 1940) is a Czech performance artist, sculptor, musician, installation artist, dissident, graphic artist, art theorist and pedagogue of art.


Childhood and early life in the Protectorate and in the former Sudetenland (1940–1960)

Milan Knizak is the son of the painter, musician and teacher of mathematics[1] Karel Knížák from Doubravka u Plzně, nowadays part of the town Plzeň, and Julia Knížáková. The parents taught in Jarov (1932–1934)[2] and later in Blovice close to Pilsen. Milan Knížák was born in Plzeň on 19 April 1940. In 1945,[3] after the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia[4] the family moved to the Mariánské Lázně, a spa town town in the former Sudetenland, close to the German border. There, his father played violin in a spa orchestra and Milan attended primary school, where he was interested in music and literature. He also took piano, trumpet and guitar lessons.

Studies and beginnings (1955–1965)

He started painting at fourteen. He attended secondary/high- school (Gymnasium in Planá u Mariánských Lázní) and graduated in 1957. One of his schoolmate was gallery gangster MUDr. Pavel Náprava (born 1938) known in the 1960s like a "thief with the academic title"[5] On several occasions young Milan visited the studio of the unofficial painter and war veteran Vladimír Modrý (1907–1976). Later he wrote /in his diaries from US[6]/ about movie Fantastic voyage that its scenes reminded him the paintings by Vladimir Modrý. In one interview Milan Knížák said about this period:

“I share with Modrý the fear from the spirit of mob”[7]

From his childhood in Mariánské Lázně is known a story from one empty house. One day he appeared a secret garret warehouse of the quirts.[8] His first exhibition was in 1958 in Mariánské Lázně. In the period of 1957–1958 He attended the Pedagogical University in Prague, majoring in art education – Russian language. He said it was a compromise between the wishes of his parents and his desire to be a painter, later he dropped out. Then he became assistant worker in Prague exhibition grounds. He later passed the exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where he also later abandoned. Then he studied the mathematical analysis of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics in Prague. This studies after the first year was interrupted.

Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1960–1989)

Actual and public art (1960–1975)

At the beginning of the 1960s, he created his first activity – happenings, ceremonies, installations and various environments on the busy or calm streets or in courtyards of Prague.

Together with his friends he founded a group of contemporary art (Actual Art). Sometime around 1966 the word "art" was dropped from the name and group was called poor "AKTUAL". Already known and also documented are their actions in the part of old Prague called New World, such as: "Demonstration of One" (1964). Some of AKTUAL´s songs were remastered by unofficial musical group The Plastic People of the Universe, which members became, somewhat against their will, dissidents during political process in the autumn of the year 1976.

He was a member of Fluxus, an international (anti-)artistic community of music, actions, poetry, objects and events. Milan Knížák was director of Fluxus East from the year 1965. He is known for organising and performing the first happenings and concerts in Czechoslovakia: e.g. A Walk around Novy Svět (The part of old Prague is called "New World") and the Demonstration for Oneself (both 1964). Later he had contacts with Fluxus since 1965, the first contact mediated Czech philosopher Jindřich Chalupecký. Knížák was promoted to "Director Fluxus East" by director George Maciunas about 1965. In the countries of former Eastern bloc there were managed these activities: Fluxus festivals in Vilnius (1966), Prague (1966), Budapest (1969), and Poznań (1977).

Fluxus festival in Prague (1966)

In the 60 years Milan Knížák lived in the street directly in the New World. There was also visited by an American beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg or minimal artist Joseph Kosuth. In October 1966, Milan Knížák organised the first Fluxus concert in Czechoslovakia in Prague. in which he appeared together with Ben Vautier, Jeff Berner, Alison Knowles, Serge Oldenbourg and Dick Higgins. George Maciunas invited Knížák to the US in 1965. He had a visa in 1968. He participated in the Fluxus events there.

He realised his Lying Ceremony in New Brunswick and the "Difficult Ceremony" in New York. George Maciunas prepared the publication of Knížák's collected works as a Fluxus Edition. He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1970. His works was exhibited in the galleries in the East bloc, f.e. Kraków in Poland, Budapest in Hungary but also in capitalistic Austria. In 1979 he received a fellowship from the DAAD to West Berlin, where he meet with artists Wolf Vostell and Czech poet in emigrationJiří Kolář. In West Berlin he cooperated like a designer on one avantgard film and created the automobile cycle of collages for the trust of Volkswagen.

Political activities

During the communist era he was under police surveillance and called "Enemy of the State". He was also arrested during an event with the music band The Plastic People of the Universe. In 1998 he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate /independent, supported by the ODS/. Milan Knížák was director of the Czech National Gallery in Prague between 1999 and 2011.

In 2010 he became a recipient of the Medal of Merit.

"I am a controversial figure, and as a controversial figure I received this award. And I received it from the controversial President Klaus. Are you satisfied with that?"[9]


His post of general director of the National Gallery in Prague Milan Knizak has held for over ten years. In this time period he was criticised by artists David Černý, Jiří David, group Guma guar and Rafani or the organizers of the first Prague Biennale in 2005, Giancarlo Politi and magazine Flash Art. Criticism of them in particular contains Knizak's disregard of current artistic trends and Milan Knizak's opponents:

  • 2000 leaving of Katarína Rusnáková
  • In January 2000, culminated a dispute between the National Gallery and the "Center of Franz Kafka", represented by Marta Železná.
  • In 2000 and 2001, Milan Knížák acquired for the National Gallery a number of pieces, including a unique collection of 1250 Anatolian carpets and 156 objects from Asia; all of these were gifts from the German collector Rainer Kreissl. In 2001 Kreissl gave the Gallery four paintings supposedly by Alexander Rodchenko.[10] Soon after an expert examination proved that they were worthless fakes, which is, however, quite common among russian avant-garde works.[11][12]
  • From his friend, Knížák bought for the Gallery a conceptual art sculpture "Auto" by Joseph Beuys for 500,000 euros. The purchase was investigated by police as overpriced and not according to the policies of the Gallery.[13]
  • 2000, The Jindřich Chalupecký Award. After a dispute between Milan Knížák and David Černý of Černý's statues placement in the Veletržní Palác Laureate David Černý was leading out by guards on the street Dukelských hrdinů. Václav Havel was forced to pass the price on the sidewalk in front of the palace (now there is open air mammoth sculpture gallery) as David Černý refused to enter to the National Gallery as long as it is led by Milan Knížák. Václav Havel said the likeness about A Muhammad and the Mount. Later The Jindřich Chalupecký Award was removed from Prague to Brno.
  • 2002, a dispute between Josef Lada's copyright holders and artist Tomáš Vaněk. Milan Knížák decided Vaněk's pictures cover by white textiles /pictures were sprayed on the walls/ until the dispute will be resolved.
  • 2004 the group Rafani visiting the Veletržní palác and publicly shit on the floor of the exhibition of Czech and Slovak Art of the 1960s like a protest against the leadership of the National Gallery in Prague. Their event was described by themselves like a performance. Milan Knížák talking about them like: "Rafani are the largest convention under the sun. They are so careful ...".
  • 2007 Milan Knizak's own price for young artist /younger than 33 years/ called "cena 333" (The Award 333) is awarded by the National Gallery. CEZ Foundation supports it. Prize was awarded the group of Ztohoven. Milan Knížák appreciated their risky intervention in the Czech Television, sometimes erroneously called such as hacking, in which illegally broke into the private property of Czech Radiocommunications, climbed into one of the transmitters and over installed cameras they entered into the live broadcast like a very original atomic explosion.
  • 2008, Group "Time for a change" wanted a new international competition for Milan Knížák's post. The main representative of this requirement was artist Jiří David. Milan Knížák described him like a mentally disturbed person with a large inner paranoia.


Milan Knížák is a professor of intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague since 1990.[14]

  • 1998: École cantonale d'art de Lausanne (ECAL), Lausanne, Switzerland – lectures, lecture on history of performance art
  • 1997: Centre Georges Pompidou, Domaine de Boisbuchet, France – extension and pedagogy
  • 1991, 1992: Vitra Museum, Weil am Rhein, BRD – lectures
  • 1991: Sommerakademie Berlin, BRD – pedagogy
  • 1990 -1997: Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, chancellor and professor of intermedia
  • since 1989: professor of intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague[15]
  • 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996: Inter. Sommerakademie Salzburg, Rakousko – pedagogy and lectures
  • 1983: HfBK Hamburg, BRD – lectures on art
  • 1969: University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA + UCLA, Los Angeles, USA – lectures on performance art



  • 1965: Fashion, specification: Cut the coat along its entire length. Wear each half separately.
  • 1965: Cat, specification: Get a cat.
  • 1965–1970: Killing the Books, specification: by shooting, by burning, by drowning, by cutting, by gluing, by painting white, or red, or black...
  • 1968: Lying Ceremony: specification: Blindfolded people lie on the ground for a long time. New York, New Brunswick. USA.


  1. "SPÁLENOPOŘÍČSKÝ ZPRAVODAJ". Retrieved 19 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Chronicle of Jarov
  3. "Životopis – Milan Knížá". Retrieved 26 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Ing. Richard Švandrlík. "Hamelika – Osídlování Mariánských Lázní v roce 1945". Retrieved 26 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Glückselig, Josef: gangsteři v galeriích, s.159, Magnet 7, 1969
  6. Milan Kňížák: Cestopisy IV., p.158, Radost, Praha, 1990
  7. Vladimír Modrý 2004
  8. Volf, Petr: Hermafrodit Milan Knížák, 1998
  9. Highest state award for Milan Knizak,
  10. [1]
  11. Sběratel Kreissl daroval NG plátna připisovaná Rodčenkovi na kultura. idnes. cz
  14. "AVU". Retrieved 30 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Ateliéry Avu: Škola Intermediální Tvorby Milana Knižáka – Artyčok.Tv". Retrieved 26 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links