After a few years of preparatory activities and approval hunting, the Department of Art History and Theory, namely Martina Pachmanová, an art theoretician and former UMPRUM vice-rector, succeeded in gaining the accreditation for the post- graduate follow up program in English, granted by the Czech Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth in 2006.

 

It took Alan Záruba, a former VA tutor and graphic designer, and Hana Smělá, the Head of the MA Program, another year to promote VA, address prominent teachers and lecturers to join the program, and launch the VA course in summer 2007. At first, there were only 4 out of 23 UMPRUM studios in which VA students could gain their MFA degree in English, however, throughout the course of the VA program, more and more studios gradually joined VA and now VA students can study and gain their MFA degree in all 24 of UMPRUM studios.

 

Over the years of VA's existence, an essential part of the MA curriculum is also group consultations and meetings with the VA tutor. The first VA tutor was Alan Záruba, a prominent graphic designer working for renowned TV broadcasting companies. His meetings for all MA students from various studios were called Interdisciplinary Dialogues and their aim was to offer students time and space to discuss their work produced in their respective studios and become familiar with the Czech visual culture scene.

 

Since summer term 2008, the VA studio was tutored by Milena Dopitová, a well-established Czech conceptual artist, who followed up on Alan Záruba`s Interdisciplinary Dialogues, and held special Team Project consultations each week. Within these sessions Milena challenged all VA students to work outside of their comfort zone to develop work that was both conceptually strong and visually compelling. In this framework, graphic designers tried their hand at working with sound, or painters took on working with video. These efforts reached fruition in the end-of-semester exhibitions held at the school, in which an emphasis was put on the professional installation of the works. This combination of risk-taking, experimentation, and professionalism is what the VA program aims at, helping students develop into highly dynamic artists and designers who have a broad range of skills to draw on in their future careers. Apart from curating the end-of-semester exhibitions at UMPRUM, Milena also organized other VA group exhibitions in or outside of Prague (Doubice, Munich, Mikulov).

 

Milena Dopitová had two professor assistants. The first one was Conrad Armstrong, a visual artist, curator, and language and art teacher based in Prague, who graduated from the Intermedia studio of UMPRUM in 2010. He worked as the VA Assistant from 2011 to 2014 and he will be the VA tutor for the academic year 2019/2020. The second assistant was Rudolf Matějček, a visual artist, radio dj, art teacher, and web and graphic designer. He graduated from the Intermedia Studio in Pilsen and held the position from 2014 to 2016. In summer semester 2015 Milena Dopitová applied for the position of the head of Intermedia Studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU), won the fierce competition, and left the VA program together with Rudolf Matějček in June 2016.

 

After a long great period of Milena being the only tutor of the VA program, the concept of VA was amended, so instead of having one VA tutor for many years, since October 2017, the VA tutors only stay in the program for usually one academic year. Since then the VA tutors have been chosen from amongst Prague-based curators, activists, visual artists, and art theoreticians. By having two VA tutors during their two-year studies (3 tutors in three-year studies for Architecture students), VA students can experience different approaches and it's more likely that the meetings will be enjoyable and fitting for all VA students, no matter their background.

 

The VA tutor for the academic year 2016/2017 was Václav Janoščík, a prominent Czech curator and art theoretician, also a teacher of philosophy and media theory and contemporary art. He temporarily renamed the former Team Project and called it “VA/Very Anxious meetings”. He offered a radically open fomat of consultations that followed the needs of diverse group of VA students; he aimed at finding a compromise between practical and theoretical aspects of fine art education. His intention was to focus on art “appreciation”, self-awareness, critical thinking and even political issues with the emphasis on exhibition or project-based practice. He offered a broad variety of topics and forms of education. During the VA meetings, students read theoretical texts on various topics and met many guests. At the end of winter semester (January 2017) Václav also organized and curated an exhibition Draw Me In in GAMU gallery in Prague 1.

 

In academic year 2017/2018 the position of the VA tutor was held by Jimena Mendoza, who is a up-and-coming Prague-based Mexican visual artist, a VA graduate from Intermedia studio, and also a Professor Assistant at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague since 2018 (Studio of Sculpture). In her VA meetings she focused each week on a different topic, ranging from body art, performance, working in artist groups, collectivism, futuristic ideas and modernism in cinema, visions of new societies, archives and museums, and design questions. Apart from bringing various readings and books to the VA meetings, Jimena guided students through big and small Prague galleries, organized a field trip to Warsaw, Poland, invited guests to meetings, and finally curated the “Koruna” exhibition in the City Surfer Office Gallery in Prague 3 (April 2018).

 

The VA tutor in the academic year 2018/2019 was Milan Mikuláštík, a Czech Prague-based visual artist, social and political activist, an influential curator working in the NTK Gallery (and many other smaller institutions), a member of MINA and GUMA GUAR art groups, and a former Professor Assistant in Supermedia Studio at UMPRUM (now transformed to the Guest Artist Studio). Like his VA predecessors, Milan aimed at making the VA meetings diverse and suitable for all VA students from various fields of interest.  He not only gave guided tours of Prague`s remarkable architecture, dived into the political and historical context of the city while walking the streets of Prague, but he also took students to many significant Prague-based museums and galleries. Milan, as his predecessors, also curated a group exhibition of all VA students (34 students) in HYB4 gallery situated in Hybernská street in the centre of Prague (December 2018).

 

Since the academic year 2019/2020 the position of the VA tutor has been held by Conrad Armstrong. Conrad is an American artist and teacher who has lived and worked in Prague since 2004. Having initially studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, Conrad earned his MFA degree from the UMPRUM studio of Intermedia Confrontation in 2010. In his professional teaching life, he has worked with a range of ages and abilities, which included functioning as the VA assistant to Milena Dopitová from 2011 to 2014. His artistic pursuits in painting, drawing, sculpture, and performance involve elements of storytelling, exploration of the possibilities of association, and often aim to engage viewers on a playful and inquisitive level. Conrad frequently collaborates with Viktor Valášek as part of the painting duo CONVICT. He has exhibited widely in the Czech Republic and frequently pursues artistic endeavors in the United States. In addition to this, he is involved with the organizing of exhibitions at Villa P651 in Prague, where he aims to take an inclusive and experimental curatorial approach. In academic year 2019/2020 Conrad curated three VA exhibitions, two in Villa P651 and one group VA show called Love Connection in HYB4 Gallery in Prague 1 (May 2020). Due to the unstable times in coronavirus crisis and because of his qualities, he is – unlike other VA tutors since 2016 – staying with the VA program for one more academic year. 

 

 

 

People in VA

Martina Pachmanová

Alan Záruba

Hana Smělá

Milena Dopitová

Rudolf Matějček

Václav Janoščík

Jimena Mendoza

Milan Mikuláštík

Conrad Armtstrong