She studied composition, plays the piano and saxophone, and worked in marketing or as a producer. She subsequently became a curator. Now the British art historian Julia Tatiana Bailey has another, so far most important, role waiting for her. From January 1, she will be the director of the Prague Rudolfinum Gallery. He will replace Petr Nedom, who held the position for 30 years.
This Monday, the Czech Philharmonic announced a change in the management of one of the most important Czech galleries, which manages a budget of more than twenty million euros and is visited by tens of thousands of people every year. It is located in a Neo-Renaissance building on the Vltava embankment, and the Rudolfinum Gallery falls under it.
The difference is that the now 72-year-old Nedoma was first and foremost an art historian and curator. He prepared many exhibitions here himself. Although the successor will keep his team, she perceives her role differently. “Once every two years, I would like to prepare an exhibition here as a curator, but my main mission will be to manage the institution and bring the best artists and curators here,” says the new boss, who does not have a fixed mandate.
At Monday’s meeting with journalists, she first said a few sentences in Czech, apologizing that she was just learning the language, after which she switched to English. She recalled that she worked at the National Gallery in Prague for two years and still lives in the Czech capital. “Prague has the potential to become an important center of the world of fine arts. I will work to ensure that Czech and foreign artists and curators meet in the Rudolfinum, which can also help Czech artists to the world,” he believes.
The public can assess the results of her work in two years at the earliest. “2024 will be a transitional year, the program is largely finished and prepared by the former management,” he says, specifically mentioning the group exhibition in which the South African artist William Kentridge will participate with the Czech painter Hynk Martinec.
Julia Bailey uses her middle name after her grandmother, a Russian artist, she said on the podcast. She studied composition in London. For ten years she worked as a production or “marketer”, among others for the Victoria and Albert Museum or the Royal Academy of Arts in London. As she became more and more interested in fine arts, she studied them in Washington and London. In 2015, she received her doctorate for an art historical thesis on the reception of Soviet works in the West in the 20th century. “Of course, moving from the world of marketing to curating was difficult. When I decided to do it about ten years ago, it took a lot of strength,” she admits today.
Julia Tatiana Bailey will replace Petr Nedom at the head of Galerie Rudolfinum. | Photo: CTK
In the same year, she joined the most respected British gallery of contemporary art, Tate Modern, as an assistant curator. She helped with the acquisitions of Eastern European art or the exhibition Soul of a Nation, which in 2017 mapped black art in the US from the 1960s to the 1980s. It was conceived by curators Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley.
From London, Julia Tatiana Bailey moved to the National Gallery in Prague, where in 2019 she started working in the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art. She prepared exhibitions of works by Albert Giacometti and Viktor Pivovarov there, as well as the Prague version of Stanislav Kolíbal’s project for the Venice Biennale. The English woman lasted two years at the gallery, which at the time was shaking in terms of personnel after director Jiří Fajt was fired by the Minister of Culture. It ended during the pandemic.
“Since then, I have stayed in Prague, but I have traveled a lot. For the Karolinum publishing house, I have prepared English editions of about ten books on Czech art, for example on Bohumil Kubišt or on Art Nouveau,” she adds. As a curator, she most recently presented Mihael Milunović, a Serbian painter living in Paris, at the new Steinhauser Gallery in Bratislava.
Although Julia Tatiana Bailey has a wealth of experience, on the other hand, she has never managed a gallery, she does not speak Czech at all, and instead of contemporary art, to which the Rudolfinum is dedicated, she specializes in the 20th century. “Of course, I feel certain concerns, on the other hand, I have already led larger teams and managed significantly larger budgets. I take the fact that I have tried so many professions as an advantage. If now I will have marketers, curators, people specializing in educational programs in my team or finance, I don’t have to just blindly rely on what they tell me, because I have experience in all those areas myself,” he argues.
The Rudolfinum Gallery is incorporated under the Czech Philharmonic, and received 22.7 million crowns from the Ministry of Culture last year. The rest has to be raised from sponsors. According to the orchestra’s annual report, in 2022 the gallery’s own revenues amounted to 5.2 million. “I feel the pressure on public finances. My goal will be to maintain the gallery’s budget, but at the same time try to increase its income and develop attendance, all while maintaining free admission,” says the incoming director. Since 2019, thanks to sponsors, the gallery allows free entry to all exhibitions.
Julia Tatiana Bailey first studied composition, then art history. | Photo: CTK
Julia Tatiana Bailey was selected by a committee that, in addition to outgoing director Petr Nedoma, included Helena Musilová from the Ministry of Culture, Polish curator Hanna Wróblewska, director of the Slovak National Gallery Alexandra Kusá, and musician Vladimir 518, who, in addition to rap, deals with architecture and typography.
The selection procedure had two rounds, 14 candidates applied for the first. Five finalists remained. Their names were not published by the ministry with the Czech Philharmonic, just as they did not initiate a public debate about what Rudolfin’s role should be.
The exhibition institution operates on the principle of a German kunsthalle, which means that it does not manage its own collection. It focuses on contemporary Czech and foreign art, as introduced by Petr Nedoma when he took office in January 1994. The Brno art historian, who started out on the unofficial scene under communism, was the first to organize an exhibition of Soviet art from the Stalinist era in the Rudolfinum, where members of the Communist Party of the Czech Republic humorously had free entry after presenting their party card.
The first director of the institution soon set up a strategy where the gallery started organizing three to four major exhibitions a year. As early as 1995, people were queuing here for the works of the then-forgotten Josef Váchal. In the end, they were seen by tens of thousands of visitors.
Nedoma was an active director, often the author or curator of local projects. He completed internships in the Netherlands and France, toured world institutions and built up contacts, which he utilized all the more easily because the Rudolfinum Gallery had no past and did not have to define itself or connect to anything. On the other hand, the Czech Republic enjoyed the reputation of a poorer country from Eastern Europe at the time. Nedoma was one of those who helped to change this perception.
A picture from the exhibition of works by František Drtikol in the Rudolfinum Gallery in 1998. | Photo: CTK
At the Rudolfinum, he organized individual, collective and thematic exhibitions that explored motifs such as identity and placed Czech art in an international context. Decadence Now from 2010 or projects focused on Great Britain and members of the informal Young British Artists group such as Damien Hirst, the Chapman brothers or Mat Collishaw were among the most requested group works.
The gallery gradually introduced the Czechs to the work of American photographers Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin, French sculptor Louise Bourgeois, German painter Georg Baselitz, American photographer David LaChapelle, and in recent years, for example, Arthur Jaffa from the USA, who then won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. Until the month before last, a joint installation by the world-famous Brian Eno and the Czech Jiří Příhoda could be seen in the Rudolfinum, where the audience could spend the night as part of a special event.
Especially in the early days, the Rudolfinum also initiated retrospectives of older Czech authors, who at that time were not covered by the National Gallery, namely Mikuláš Medek and Alén Diviš. Of the artists living here, Petr Nikl, František Skála and Krištof Kintera had major exhibitions here, whose works were visited by a record 161,000 people in 2017.
In three decades, not only the interior has changed, where the former small gallery has been replaced by the so-called Artpark oriented towards discussions and educational programs. The imaginary map of the Prague art world was also changing, to which the Museum Kampa, the Dox Contemporary Art Center and, most recently, the Prague Kunsthalle, were added in the new millennium.
In the same way, Nedom’s position developed. When the then director of the Czech Philharmonic, Vladimír Darjanin, wanted to recall him in 2009, a petition with thousands of signatures from experts and artists was created in Nedom’s support. Darjanin backed down, and the dispute only had a strange bureaucratic outcome, when the Rudolfinum Gallery became part of the neighboring Museum of Applied Arts for two years, before returning to the Czech Philharmonic.
Last year, on the other hand, part of the art scene opposed Nedom as a result of his dispute with the curator David Korecký. An open letter was created requesting that a competition be announced for the post.
In the end, Nedoma remained the head of the gallery for three decades, which is unusual, but not unique. Helena Koenigsmarková headed the Museum of Applied Arts even longer, from 1990, while Ondřej Hrab headed the Archa Theater from 1994 and Michal Lukeš headed the National Museum from 2002.
František Skála at an exhibition of his works in the Rudolfinum Gallery, 2004. | Photo: CTK
Nedoma faced criticism from time to time, for example when in 2005 activist Mirek Vodrážka scolded him for not organizing more independent exhibitions of Czech female artists. Ten years later, Michal Novotný, today’s director of the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art of the National Gallery, criticized the Rudolfinum Gallery for not working with artists, not creating a new perspective on their works, and not choosing the most relevant ones.
Nedoma has organized 120 exhibitions in his three decades at the helm of the gallery, which were visited by 1.6 million visitors until the month before last. He also experienced an unusual situation when his wife, economist Anne-Marie Nedoma, became the temporary director of the National Gallery in autumn 2019. For a year and a quarter, the couple managed two important art institutions managed by the state.