Tate, Guggenheim and MoMA directors condemn Polish museum head to resign

Some of the world’s top museum directors have condemned the sudden resignation of Jarosław Suchan from his post as director of the Muzeum Sztuki. in Lodz, Poland, at the end of April, in a move many believe is politically motivated. The institute had run the institution since 2006, but Suchan’s contract was not renewed in November by Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party. Instead, he was appointed acting director. In April, Suchan was attending a meeting with Jarosław Sellin, the country’s deputy culture minister, when he was “suddenly told” that he had been fired. “I got no explanation,” Suchan says. “It was quite shocking.”

The Polish government replaced him with the artist Andrzej Biernacki. In a letter to Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture, Piotr Gliński, Richard Armstrong — the director of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum — described Suchan’s removal as a “shock to the museum community worldwide.” He noted how the Guggenheim has maintained “excellent relations and intensive partnerships” with the Muzeum Sztuki for a long time, largely facilitated by Suchan, who has played a “crucial role in raising the international profile” 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, the director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, described Suchan as a “distinguished scholar and widely respected colleague” who “has done so much to promote modern and contemporary Polish art.” international recognition it deserves.” Suchan has built relationships with the MoMA and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, organizing traveling exhibitions and loans. The director of the Tate, Maria Balshaw, says she “stands with all directors of the Bizot Group” [of the world’s leading museums]” and “condemns this dismissal”.

Suchan is the latest victim in what critics say is an attempt by the Polish government to exert more control over museums. Armstrong says the recent departure of the directors of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art (Hanna Wróblewska) and the National Museum, Warsaw (Agnieszka Morawińska), followed by Suchan’s resignation, “indicate the wrong move by the government to reduce these museums to the status of ideological puppets”.

Reflecting on the Polish government’s stance on art and culture, Warsaw-born artist Michał Frydrych says: “There is certainly pressure to force people to adhere to official policies. The tools for this are many, mainly job losses, but sometimes there are more drastic measures, such as attempts to stifle the voices of artists through state-led lawsuits or draconian fines. We are setting up an anti-censorship fund for artists and workers in the cultural sector. All is not lost. Some countermeasures have been realized; for example, many curators and artists work within informal networks.”

A narrowing focus on national and local artists

Suchan’s replacement, Biernacki, has been running the private Browarna Gallery in Łowicz since 1991, although he has no experience running a public institution. In an interview with the Polish news organization Wyborcza, Biernacki says he plans to shift the focus of the Muzeum Sztuki’s collection from international to Polish artists, especially those from Łódź. “No one has said that you should only engage in eco-friendly, gender, or queer art promoted by Western cultural institutions,” he said.

The Polish government has appointed the artist Andrzej Biernacki, who has no museum experience gov.pl

His appointment has infuriated the Polish contemporary art community, who described Biernacki in an open letter as “a rambunctious publicist and gallery owner in one, a person with a complete lack of museum experience and management”. They add: “What is the rational reason behind an avant-garde institution to be governed by a person who condemns and undermines the meaning of change, experiment and social consciousness in art, for whom the avant-garde tradition is at most a distraction? The decision, they say, “endangers our country’s position as an active body in Europe and the world. Such a policy of isolation […] promote the degeneration of the Polish cultural heritage. History repeats itself.” Biernacki tells the art newspaper: “I don’t want to refer to existing quotes that have been 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 dealing with now in Poland is not just a local phenomenon; this is an element of something much broader,” he says. “There are two tectonic plates that are crashing right now. One is created by this neoliberal hegemony and the other is defined by populist politics. Even in those countries where democracy is much stronger and much more rooted in history, you see dangerous tendencies.”

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