The Longtime Chief of a Polish Modern Art Museum Has Been Unceremoniously Axed by the Country’s Right-Wing Government

His replacement is a local gallerist with no institutional experience who wants to do away with “pro-environmental, gender, and queer art.” 

Jarosław Suchan. Courtesy of Muzeum Sztuki.

The longtime leader of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Poland has been unceremoniously ousted from his position, marking the latest in a series of recent high-profile museum departures imposed by the country’s right-wing government.

Jarosław Suchan, who has led the museum since 2006, developed a reputation for promoting cutting-edge art and forging institutional relationships with major museums abroad, effectively putting the small Polish venue on the international art map. 

Yet the state Ministry of Culture and Heritage declined to renew his contract last December, offering him the title of interim director instead. For many, his firing was just a matter of time.  

“I thought that I would be informed in advance, and in the meantime it happened overnight,” Suchan told the news site Wyborcza. “I’ve been living in uncertainty since the middle of last year. I’m fed up.”

Suchan will be replaced by Andrzej Biernacki, a painter and the purveyor of a private gallery in a small town roughly an hour outside Łódź. Biernacki steps into the role with no previous institutional leadership experience.

“I am not going to get rid of the conceptual art that was acquired for the collection and is exhibited,” Biernacki said. “But I intend to diversify the [work on] offer, introduce other narratives. No one said that you should only deal with pro-environmental, gender, or queer art that is promoted by the Western cultural institutions.” 

Biernacki was hand-chosen for the position this week by Jarosław Sellin, Poland’s deputy minister of culture and national heritage.

Operating under the populist Law and Justice party, the ministry has axed multiple museum heads in recent years, replacing them with figures aligned with the group’s anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant ideals. Critics see the moves as part of a larger trend of the Law and Justice party reforms.

In 2019, Małgorzata Ludwisiak was dismissed as director of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, and in 2021, Hanna Wróblewska was removed as interim director of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, also in Warsaw. Wróblewska was replaced with a painter and drummer.

During his 16-year tenure atop Muzeum Sztuki, Suchan established partnerships with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He oversaw renovations to the museum’s M1 and M3 locations—home to the institution’s collection of modern art and old masters, respectively—as well as the creation of a second museum branch in Łódź’s Manufaktura district.

“Replacing a director makes sense when the institution is in poor condition, but Muzeum Sztuki has had a fairly successful run, marked by highly rated exhibitions and strong international collaborations,” Suchan told the Art Newspaper last year, after his contract was not renewed. 

“Of course, [the ministry of culture and the regional government] have the legal right to replace me [but] I don’t think it’s motivated by concern for the welfare of the institution.”

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