Controversies Poland

Poland’s National Museum champions gay rights

An exhibition on homoeroticism in art, opening this week, has already met with criticism and threats of demonstrations

Blue Noses, An Epoch of Clemency, 2005

LONDON. The National Museum in Warsaw aims to chip away at prejudices against sexual minorities in Poland with an exhibition about homoeroticism in art.

“Ars Homo Erotica” (11 June-5 September) has already met with criticism and threats of demonstrations. “The situation in Poland is sensitive as a result of the plane crash in Smolensk,” said exhibition curator Pawel Leszkowicz, referring to the event in April in which President Lech Kaczynski was killed. “The patriotic atmosphere that has pervaded the country has increased the power of right-wing groups. Therefore, I am not certain what will happen when the exhibition opens.” The show is due to open during this summer’s election of a president to succeed Kaczynski, who was a former mayor of Warsaw.

“Ars Homo Erotica” is a survey of homoerotic imagery from antiquity to the present. The majority of the exhibition will feature classical works from the National Museum’s collection, juxtaposed with contemporary art. The director, Piotr Piot­rowski, said its emphasis will lie on eastern Central European art because “here the battle for equal rights for homosexuals continues”.

There have been a number of voices speaking out against the show. At the end of 2009, Stanislaw Pieta, an MP for the conservative Law and Justice Party, declared that, just as paedophilic and zoophilic art does not exist, “neither does homosexual art”. More recently, an “Open Letter in Defence of the Good Name of the National Museum in Warsaw” was published in right-wing publications. The signatories included artists, journalists, historians and politicians.

Piotrowski, who became director of the National Museum in 2009, is determined to transform the institution. He has said that he wants to revitalise the image of the museum, and he believes “Ars Homo Erotica” will “change this institution, this city and this country”.

The National Museum, the largest in Warsaw, has a rich collection of ancient art, an extensive gallery of Polish painting, and a large collection of foreign masterpieces but its strength lies in 19th-century Polish painting.

During his term as mayor, Kaczynski banned Warsaw’s gay pride parades in 2004 and 2005. This move was widely believed to have contributed to him winning the 2005 presidency.

The Euro Pride parade will take place in Warsaw in July. Meanwhile, the capital’s Zacheta National Gallery of Art has been showing another controversial exhibition: “Gender Check: Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe” since March (until 13 June).

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19 Jun 10
1:14 CET


You are welcome:) I would love to read some reviews about it!

18 Jun 10
15:19 CET


Monika, The Art Newspaper does not review exhibitions or artists, we aim to offer balanced news. But this might make an excellent topic for our editorial pages, thanks for the idea!

18 Jun 10
15:8 CET


I wish I could read more about The Artnewspaper's opinion about exhibition 'itself', rather than all tha "stuff" around. Have a look at the public of it: best, Monika

11 Jun 10
16:20 CET


Well really, until images like this are seen more often and gradually become accepted as a part of everyday life, the "majority" of society is going to balk due to fear, misunderstanding and wives-tales. What the members of this "minority" need to do is to act responsibly in public (as well as private) and share their life experiences so that everyone understands what motivates them and what it is they are looking for - it wouldn't be inappropriate to remind the world of the contributions made over the centuries (and our current lifetime)by people of same sex orientation.

10 Jun 10
15:6 CET


Well, this is not exactly the case. The curator of the event as well as the head of the Museum sought to raise public ferment. They organized numbers of panels and really awaited protests, demonstrations, Catholic priest doing exorcisms etc. However, the reality is different. Apart from some journalists nobody really cares how provocative the exhibition is. The only Catholic priest who publicly expressed his negative opinion was a professor of early modern art. He basically disagreed with some curator’s theses on the homoerotic connotations of concrete iconographic representations, though he recognized the importance of homoerotism in art. There are no manifestations planned. One has to distinguish between the promotion of the event from the real situation. Undoubtedly, the exhibition may foster some more open postmodern approaches in Polish curatorship - what is arguably needed. However, it cannot be treated in terms of social conflict. Sorry, but this is a kind of paranoia.

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