Tate, Guggenheim and MoMA directors condemn ousting of Polish museum director
Some of the world’s top museum directors have condemned the sudden dismissal of Jarosław Suchan from his post as director of the Sztuki Museum in Lodz, Poland, in late April, in a move many say was politically motivated. Having headed the institution since 2006, Suchan’s contract was not renewed by Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party in November. He was instead named acting director. In April, Suchan attended a meeting with Jarosław Sellin, the country’s deputy culture minister, when he was “suddenly informed” that he had been fired. “I got no explanation,” Suchan said. “It was quite shocking.”
The Polish government replaced him with artist Andrzej Biernacki. In a letter sent to Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński, Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, described Suchan’s dismissal as “a shock to the museum community around the world. “. He noted how the Guggenheim has “long maintained excellent relations and intensive partnerships” with the Muzeum Sztuki, in large measure facilitated by Suchan, who played a “vital role in enhancing the international visibility” of the Polish institution and the city of Łódź. .
[Jarosław Suchan has] done so much to give modern and contemporary Polish art the international recognition it deserves
Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA
In another letter to Gliński, Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, described Suchan as a “distinguished scholar and highly respected colleague” who has “done so much to give art modern and contemporary Polish culture the international recognition it deserves.” Suchan has established relationships with MoMA and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, organizing traveling exhibitions and loan exchanges. The director of the Tate, Maria Balshaw, says she “stands with all the directors of the Bizot group [of the world’s leading museums]and “condemns this dismissal”.
Suchan is the latest victim of what critics say is the Polish government’s attempt to exert greater control over museums. Armstrong claims that the recent departure of the directors of the Zachęta National Art Gallery (Hanna Wróblewska) and the National Museum, Warsaw (Agnieszka Morawińska), followed by Suchan’s dismissal, “indicate the government’s mistaken decision to reduce these museums to the status of ideological puppets”.
Warsaw-born artist Michał Frydrych reflects on the Polish government’s stance on arts and culture, saying, “There is definitely pressure for people to conform to official policies. The tools for this are manifold, primarily job loss, but sometimes there are more drastic measures such as attempts to stifle artists’ voices via state-led litigation or draconian fines. We are in the process of setting up an anti-censorship fund for artists and workers in the cultural sector. All is not lost. Some countermeasures materialized; for example, many curators and artists work within informal networks.
An increasingly restricted focus on national and local artists
Suchan’s replacement, Biernacki, has run the private Browarna Gallery in Łowicz since 1991, although he has no experience in running a public institution. In an interview with Polish news agency Wyborcza, Biernacki said he intended to reorient the Muzeum Sztuki collection from international artists to Polish artists, especially those from Łódź. “No one said that you should only deal with pro-environmental, gender or queer art promoted by Western cultural institutions,” he said.
His appointment angered Poland’s contemporary art community, which in an open letter described Biernacki as “a brash publicist and gallerist in one, a person with a complete lack of experience and museum management”. They add: “What is the rational reason why an avant-garde institution is governed by a person who condemns and undermines the sense of change, experimentation and social consciousness in art, for whom tradition avant-garde is at most a distraction? The decision, they say, “jeopardizes our country’s position as an active body in Europe and globally. Such a policy of isolation […] promote the degeneration of Polish cultural heritage. History repeats itself.” Biernacki says The arts journal: “I don’t want to refer to existing quotes taken out of context.”
Suchan, meanwhile, says he is not optimistic about the future of the cultural scene in Poland and beyond. “What we are facing right now in Poland is not just a local phenomenon; it’s part of something much larger,” he says. “There are two tectonic plates collapsing right now. One is created by this neoliberal hegemony and the other is defined by populist politics. Even in countries where democracy is much stronger and much more entrenched in history, you see dangerous trends.