Mine is yours – Interview with Richard Bakes

Interview with Richard Bakes, one of the owners of Berlinskej Model, Prague and managing director of SUMO.

This autumn, Prague contemporary art galleries will be hosting exhibitions in cooperation with partner institutions from abroad. The SUMO international gallery show will open on the first weekend of September with a series of openings and related programs. The exhibitions and side events will then continue according to the programs of the individual galleries, which will be hosting their foreign partners until mid-October.

This year marks the second edition of SUMO. How was the first one? What difficulties and challenges did your team have to face? 

Despite the fact that we struggled with covid last year, and except for a few guests who did not come, everything went miraculously great. Hopefully this year more people from abroad will come thanks to the vaccination – it is our goal to connect the Czech art scene with galleries and artists from abroad.

In 2019 the Alliance of Czech Contemporary Art Galleries (ACCAG) organized FOAF. What is the difference between FOAF and SUMO?

We tried to cooperate as ACCAG with the Polish FOAF platform, but wanted to organize something completely new and in our own way, so we realized the event under the new name SUMO. Although the  idea is similar in that each gallery invites a partner from abroad, the rules are looser than with FOAF,  as you just have to collaborate with a foreign partner, it can be an institution or just a platform and the time frame of the exhibition is also very flexible. There are similar events in other countries too, I think the idea emerged in London (Condo).

Do you think that the sharing economy business model in the art market will be able to overwrite the mega art events (art fairs, biennials etc)? Why is your event more interesting than an art fair?

In my opinion, the events that have a chance to survive in the future will be small, more professionally focused events with a clear goal and will be more personal in nature. In the case of SUMO, it is not only about business, but also about educating the Czech cultural public about what is happening abroad, and the event will certainly be interesting for art school students.

The visitors are sure to be mainly from Czech Republic. How are you planning to compensate for the lack of foreign collectors?

The event is not only aimed at collectors, but at the general public. At the same time, we cannot complain about the lack of collectors in Czech Republic now. During the pandemic, the interest in collecting art both for investment and pleasure has skyrocketed, and even people who were not so interested in art before started to collect.

Digital technology seems to be becoming the dominant medium for the art sphere. How do you see the future of the online market?

Online sales will definitely go up, that’s the trend and the NFT has shaken things up a bit. But people will still want to see art “live”, meet the gallerist and talk to the artist. Just as people still like paper books, analogue photos or LPs they will still want to buy in person at galleries or studios. At the same time, I think people are tired of digital, just as they were tired of machines at the advent of the industrial revolution.

Eight galleries were invited to this edition of SUMO, can you share the idea behind the selection process? How are the galleries selected and how spread out will the event be?

The choice of foreign partner institutions is up to each Czech gallery. In Berlinskej Model, we invite projects we personally like, it’s easy, and we always try to include local authors from Czech Republic. Of course, we are looking for realistic situations, for example a gallery from Japan would be too difficult for us to invite. This year we have a project entitled Like a Little Disaster from Italy which is close by.

How is the programme shaping up for 2021?

This year’s programme will last a whole month and will include lectures by foreign guests, performances and guided tours of collectors and galleries. The program is available here: https://sumoprague.cz/

What are you most looking forward to seeing at SUMO this year? / Which artists have particularly attracted your eye?

It’s hard to single out one name or action. I’m always happy when an event is done comprehensively and everything works as it should, so if we can make this happen again, I’ll be happy. I would recommend spectators to follow the programme and really go through everything, I’m sure it is achievable. Among the foreign names worth paying attention to Lucia Leuci, Kris Lemsalu, Botond Keresztesi, Mary-Audrey Ramirez and Arianne Foks. The lectures by Thale Fastvold from the Fotograf Gallery in Norway and Anya Harisson from MO.CO. Montpellier Contemporain in France will certainly be interesting. 

On the topic of The Odd Year II, which are your must-see shows, and which parties can’t be missed?

All galleries have selected really interesting SUMO wrestlers so I recommend to go through everything!

What is unique about your city? 

Prague is full of interesting architecture, even from the modern period, there are many interesting contemporary art galleries, you can bike or walk everywhere in the centre, it’s safe. For exploring, I recommend a local guide, ideally someone from one of the galleries hosting SUMO 🙂

What are your favourite spots for dinner and a drink?

My favourite spots are in Letná (Holešovice), because we have a gallery here and I live nearby. I like to cook at home, but I prefer to go for a beer to a simple working-class pub called “Na sekyrce” where they serve the best Pilsner. On the same street is small bistro Mr. HotDog where you can have a mixed drink with your sausage. In Prague, gastronomy is on the rise, so both in Žižkov and Letná, where Sumo takes place, visitors can choose from several world cuisines.

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