After elections, Poland’s art world calls for change | ET REALITY

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Just weeks after becoming Poland’s culture minister in 2015, Piotr Glinski began a year-long effort to shift his country’s cultural life to the political right.

He overthrew liberal museum directors and replaced them with conservatives. He created new institutions to celebrate traditional culture and nationalist heroes. And along with other lawmakers from his Law and Justice party, he launched broadsides against films, plays and pop stars that criticized the Roman Catholic Church or government policies on issues such as immigration.

Many artists and cultural leaders opposed Glinski’s actions and there were protests throughout his tenure, including Outside the National Museum of Poland after a leader he had appointed removed sexually suggestive artwork from the walls.

Pawel Sztarbowski, deputy director of the Powszechny Theater in Warsaw, said Glinski had tried to “return Poland to an imaginary past.”

Now, that project may be coming to an end. After opposition parties won the majority of parliamentary seats in the recent general election, Polish cultural figures are calling for what is expected to be a coalition government dominated by centrist parties to reverse Glinski’s agenda. But they are divided over how to do so without entrenching political interference in the arts, which they have spent nearly a decade protesting.

Jaroslaw Suchan, a former director of the Lodz Art Museum whose contract was not renewed by the Law and Justice government, said the party had “treated culture as an ideological weapon.” But if a new government simply fired Glinski’s appointees, “they would be repeating the behaviors of the last government.”

“We have to think long term,” Suchan said, instead of seeking revenge.

More than three weeks after the Oct. 15 election, it is still unclear when Law and Justice will leave office. Under the country’s Constitution, President Andrzej Duda, an ally of Law and Justice, has 30 days to ask a party to form a new government, although he has not yet done so. In the power vacuum, Law and Justice supporters have been trying to derail the decision by questioning the legitimacy of the vote.

Observers of Polish politics expect that Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Coalition, the largest opposition party, will eventually be asked to head a new government in alliance with several other groups.

Before the vote, the Civic Coalition said in a manifesto that it would abolish “censorship of Polish culture” and ensure that institutions submitting controversial work kept their grants. The party also promised that it would not appoint political figures to head cultural organisations, although the manifesto did not provide further details. A spokesperson for the Civic Coalition did not respond to an interview request.

Current and former museum and theater leaders said in interviews that they expected more significant changes.

The most pressing issue, according to Piotr Rypson, president of the Polish section of the International Council of Museums, is the management of three important museums that, according to him, had been handed over to supporters of Law and Justice: the Center for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle Art and the Zacheta National Art Gallery, both in Warsaw, as well as the Lodz Art Museum.

Rypson said that two of those leaders were “incompetent” and that the third, Ujazdowski Castle director Piotr Bernatowicz, had exhibited works of art that were out of step with the traditions of his institution. Bernatowicz, whose contract runs through 2027, has organized several exhibitions featuring artists whose work focuses on conservative political hobbyhorses. He did not respond to emailed interview requests.

Malgorzata Omilanowska, who was culture minister in a centre-right government before Law and Justice took office, said the three named were a “real disgrace” and had marginalized her museums within Poland.

They also influenced Poland’s reputation abroad, he added, not least because they had just helped elect the country’s representative for next year’s Venice Biennale. The choice of him, announced on October 31, was the painter Ignacy Czwartos, with an exhibition focused on the Polish victims of German and Russian aggression, events often highlighted by Law and Justice. One of the works that he proposes to show in Venicefor example, it will depict Angela Merkel and Vladimir V. Putin on either side of a burning swastika.

In an email exchange, Andrzej Biernacki, current director of the Lodz Art Museum, said that the Polish art world was intolerant of artists with conservative views and that its institutions had favored Western artists to the detriment of their own. country. Therefore, he said, he redirected the museum’s budget to acquire works by Polish artists, rather than international artists, purchasing or obtaining as donations about 1,000 pieces.

Janusz Janowski, director of the Zacheta National Art Gallery, said in an email that he has also shifted his museum’s focus toward contemporary Polish art, including through “collaboration with eminent artists, even those who do not necessarily align with the dominant artistic current”. .’”

Janowski and Biernacki said they would remain in their positions and that their contracts would last until the end of 2025. Biernacki added that if the new government tried to remove him early, it would be breaking the law.

In an emailed statement, Glinski, the culture minister, said he had simply replaced museum directors when their contracts expired. “Polish culture was dramatically underinvested” when he took office, he said, and had reoriented the country’s institutions to foster a sense of national identity and patriotism, something “all wise and responsible states” do. Ukraine would have been quickly defeated by Russia without its “strong Ukrainian patriotism,” Glinski added.

The bullish statement proudly summed up the past eight years: “The scale of our achievements – of this great institutional change in Polish culture – is unprecedented in either contemporary Polish politics or contemporary culture.”

His critics see it differently, but even among those who want a cultural reset, there are some aspects of Glinski’s tenure that few want to lose. Suchan, the ousted director of the Lodz museum, said that under Glinski culture was “at the center of politics,” a position he never occupied under liberal governments, for whom it was often an afterthought. The Culture Ministry’s budget doubled during the eight years of Law and Justice, Suchan added, and Glinski secured funding to establish a number of new institutions, including museums, an opera company and several grant-making bodies.

The new coalition government should maintain that funding, Suchan added. At least Law and Justice had shown that “culture is not a waste of money,” he said, adding that it “plays an important role in creating citizens and shaping society.” That, he said, was “a lesson” that everyone in Poland, liberal or conservative, could learn from the past eight years.

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