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Milan Knížák in 2007. Photo by Wikipedia user Che

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


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

Milan Knizak is the son of painter, musician and mathematics teacher[1] Karel Knížák from Doubravka u Plzně, nowadays part of Plzeň, and Julia Knížáková. His parents taught in Jarov (1932–1934)[2] and later in Blovice, close to Plzeň. 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 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 school (Gymnasium in Planá u Mariánských Lázní) and graduated in 1957. One of his schoolmates was "gallery gangster" Pavel Náprava (born 1938) known in the 1960s as a "thief with the academic title"[5] On several occasions the young Milan visited the studio of unofficial painter and war veteran Vladimír Modrý (1907–1976).

His first exhibition was in 1958 in Mariánské Lázně. Between 1957 and 1958 he attended the Pedagogical University in Prague, majoring in art education – Russian language. He described that choice as a compromise between the wishes of his parents and his desire to be a painter. He later dropped out, taking a job as an assistant worker at the Prague exhibition grounds. Some time after, he passed the entrance exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, but eventually abandoned his studies there as well. He joined the mathematical analysis course at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics in Prague, but interrupted his studies there after a year.

Aktual and public art (1960–1975)

At the beginning of the 1960s, he began creating happenings, ceremonies and installations on busy or calm streets or in the courtyards of Prague.

Together with his friends he founded a group of contemporary art, "Aktual Art". Sometime around 1966 the word "art" was dropped from the name and the group became simply known as Aktual. Some of Aktual's songs were played by the band The Plastic People of the Universe, whose members became, somewhat against their will, dissidents during the political process in the autumn of 1976.

He was a member of Fluxus, an international (anti-)artistic community of music, actions, poetry, objects and events. Milan Knížák became the director of Fluxus East in 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 called "New World") and the "Demonstration for Oneself" (both in 1964). As director of Fluxus East, he helped organize Fluxus festivals in Vilnius (1966), Prague (1966), Budapest (1969), and Poznań (1977).

Fluxus festival in Prague (1966)

In the 60s Milan Knížák lived in a street inside Novy Svět. amd was visited there by figures such as 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, and he participated in 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 galleries throughout the East bloc, f.e. Kraków in Poland, Budapest in Hungary but also in capitalist Austria. In 1979 he received a fellowship from the DAAD in West Berlin, where he meet with artists Wolf Vostell and Czech poet in exile Jiří Kolář. In West Berlin he cooperated on one avant-garde film and created the automobile cycle of collages for the Volkswagen trust.

Political activities

During the communist era he was under police surveillance and called an "Enemy of the State". He was also arrested during an event with the band The Plastic People of the Universe. In 1998 he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate as an independent. Milan Knížák was the 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]


Milan Knížák is a professor of intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague since 1990.[14] His pupils have included Jana Šindelová.[15]


  1. "SPÁLENOPOŘÍČSKÝ ZPRAVODAJ". Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  2. Chronicle of Jarov Archived 19 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  3. "Životopis – Milan Knížá". Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  4. Ing. Richard Švandrlík. "Hamelika – Osídlování Mariánských Lázní v roce 1945". Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  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 "Milan Knížák: "Spolu s malířem Modrým sdílím strach z duchovní lůzy"". Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
  8. Volf, Petr: Hermafrodit Milan Knížák, 1998
  10. "Novým českým ministrem obrany byl jmenován Jaroslav Tvrdík". Archived from the original on 29 January 2005. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
  11. Sběratel Kreissl daroval NG plátna připisovaná Rodčenkovi na kultura. idnes. cz
  12. "The nouveau fakes: Russian avant-garde forgeries". The Independent. 16 August 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  13. "Týden v kultuře". Česká televize. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  14. "AVU". Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  15. "Šindelová Jana | Hollar". Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  16. "Ateliéry Avu: Škola Intermediální Tvorby Milana Knižáka – Artyčok.Tv". Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  17. Milan Knížák's books: Milan Knizak: Books
  18. Milan Knížák on artlist: Milan Knížák — Artlist — databáze současného umění

External links

  • Milan Knizak opens solo exhibition at Manes Gallery – Czech Radio
  • Videoreports with Milan Knížák on Artycok.TV