Investing in Slovakia’s cultural future

How the Mal’ba art contest shapes artistic heritage

Giulia Rhodes


Alongside masterpieces by famous Italian artists, visitors to Milan’s Gallerie d’Italia can currently admire the work of some of tomorrow’s brightest talents from further afield.

Slovenská: New Generation, the gallery’s latest exhibition, showcases young Slovakian artists, all prize-winners in the country’s prestigious Mal’ba competition.

Set up in 2006 by the VUB Foundation – the charitable arm of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Slovakian subsidiary, VUB Banka – the competition is a full decade old and celebrating the occasion with its first international exhibition.

“We believed this kind of co-operation could contribute in a significant manner to the creation of new cultural values”



Photo: Ignacio Jaquotot, director of the International Subsidiary Banks Division, Intesa Sanpaolo

For Ignacio Jaquotot, director of the International Subsidiary Banks Division at Intesa Sanpaolo, the opportunity to share the entries with a wider audience is particularly welcomed. As the previous chief executive of VUB, he was involved in Mal’ba’s creation.

“I was lucky and honoured to participate in the preparation of this collection, born through a unique project intended to promote Slovak art,” he says.

By seeking out the country’s youngest and most promising artists – Mal’ba is open only to those under the age of 35 – VUB Foundation’s aim was to make a concrete investment in Slovakia’s cultural future.

“We had the idea to support and sponsor young talent. This was a unique project, requiring a strong partner,” he continues.

At the time, Slovakia’s visual arts scene was recovering from yet further consequences of the area’s complex political and economic history. Painting – a medium that was starting to attract the attention of curators and collectors – seemed the ideal focus.

The three winners share €20,000 each year, but the competition is about more than financial encouragement. Instead it helps to promote the work of the young entrants among the wider artistic, academic and media communities – as well as the general public – within Slovakia and beyond.

It is hoped not only that these artists will subsequently be able to devote themselves fully to their art – playing their part in the creative economy so valued by the Intesa Sanpaolo group – but that their work will help shape and grow a new artistic heritage.

“We believed this kind of co-operation could contribute in a significant manner to the creation of new cultural values,” explains Jaquotot.
The real success of the competition in breathing vitality and innovation into the burgeoning artistic scene is shown, he believes, in the increasing quantity and diversity of work submitted.

Its geographic provenance is widening, too, having initially been dominated by artists working in and around the capital, Bratislava.
The wealth of talent has left Jaquotot deeply impressed. “I have had time to study the works of young Slovak artists, to appreciate them and fall in love with them,” he says.
Chosen by a jury composed of international artists, curators, historians and professors – among them experts from London’s Tate Modern and the Rome Museum of Contemporary Art – the collection is clearly worthy of the attention of a wider public.

“Art connects nations.
Art belongs to everyone”
says Alexander Resch, chief executive of VUB Banka

Alexander Resch, chief executive of VUB Banka, is delighted by the opportunity to facilitate this expansion of cultural horizons. He believes artistic exchange will benefit not only the young talent behind the works and others seeking to follow in their footsteps, but also the audience for visual art in Italy.

“We are proud that this project has given Slovak artists a chance to become well-known and respected representatives of the fine arts,” he says. “I firmly believe they will catch the attention of the Italian artistic community, which would be great recognition for us all.

“Together with the artists – who have been extremely enthusiastic – I hope that the presentation of their works in this beautiful gallery, housing so many world-renowned artists in the cradle of the art world, will also help them succeed in other countries.”

The exhibition, he says, symbolises the international outlook of the artistic community as well as that of Intesa Sanpaolo. “It can be seen as a union of cultures and nations. Art connects nations. Art belongs to everyone.”

Slovenská: New Generation is at Gallerie d’Italia until October 23.

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