Poland Just Replaced a Top Museum Director With a Drummer and Painter in a Move Critics Say Is Politically Motivated

Protesters, fearing a far-right turn in the nation's public institutions, gathered today at the museum.

"Sculpture in Search of a Place" exhibition view, Zachęta, photo: Daniel Rumiancew. Courtesy of Zachęta National Gallery of Art.

Poland’s ministry of culture has announced a change in leadership at Warsaw’s Zacheta National Gallery of Art, one of the country’s top museums, in a move that critics are calling politically motivated.

The Polish painter and drummer Janusz Janowski will replace longtime director Hanna Wróblewska after her term expires at the end of the year, the ministry announced on November 30.

There has been an outpouring of support for Wróblewska—who began as director in 2010–since word first came that she would be dismissed. In July, more than 1,000 leading arts figures in Poland and abroad signed an open letter arguing that Wróblewska remained at the “height of her potential” and described Zacheta’s program under her tenure as “diverse, interesting, and often revelatory.” It also claimed that there are “no substantive reasons” for her dismissal.

Janowski, on the other hand, has little experience managing such a large, highly visible contemporary art institution. In the past he has served as president of the Gdańsk Branch of the Association of Polish Painters and Designers, but his critics say that his lack of experience and his career as a painter—rather than as an art historian or curator—now threatens the integrity of the institution.

Writing for the publication Polityka, Piotr Sarzyński said that Janowski’s painting is “rather poor;” in Newsweek, Aleksander Hudzik called him “inept.”

Poland’s culture ministry, led by Piotr Glinski, a member of the ruling Law and Justice Party, which is in charge of submitting tenures for the directors of the country’s publicly funded arts institutions, made the decision. In the past, Glinski has been accused of appointing directors that fall into the orbit of the country’s right wing, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant ideology.

Critics now worry that Wróblewska’s dismissal signals further the government’s desire to wrest control over the country’s publicly funded museums, including Poland’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which Zacheta organizes.

Protesters gathered at Zacheta today to respond to what they fear will be a “far right” turn at the institution.

 

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During her tenure, Wróblewska oversaw more than 200 exhibitions and projects including by artists such as Hiwa K, Marlene Dumas, Koji Kamoji, Joanna Rajkowska, Monika Sosnowska, Wolfgang Tillmans, Maria Lassnig, Piotr Uklański, and Gregor Schneider. She began her career at Zacheta more than 30 years ago as a tour guide, eventually working her way up to director.

The Zachęta National Gallery of Art is one of the country’s leading contemporary art museums. Its chief purpose is to present and support Polish contemporary art and artists and to mount temporary exhibitions of well-known foreign artists. It is one of the country’s oldest and most prominent publicly funded arts institutions, having first opened its doors in 1900.


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