The gutting of Poland’s contemporary art institutions continues.
On the heels of several high-profile departures of directors helming Poland’s publicly funded art institutions, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, led by Piotr Gliński, announced last week it would not be renewing the contract of the director of Łodz’s Museum of Art, Jaroslaw Suchan, who has presided over the institution since 2006.
Suchan was informed of the ministry’s decision more than a month ago. He remains in his role until a new director is found.
Established in 1930, the Museum of Art in Łodz, known in Polish as Muzeum Sztuki, is dedicated to researching and displaying Polish and international avant-garde art of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is housed in three locations ms¹, ms² and Herbst Palace Museum.
Under Suchan’s directorship, from 2006-2021, the institution built several partnerships around the world with the likes of Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, SESC Consolaçao in São Paulo, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
Suchan presided over a period of intense experimentation at the museum, embarking on research-heavy exhibitions, educational programmes and audience development. Last month, the annual CIMAM (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art) held a conference at the museum entitled “Under Pressure. Museums in Times of Xenophobia and Climate Emergency.”
“Replacing a director makes sense when the institution is in poor condition,” Suchan tells The Art Newspaper, “but Muzeum Sztuki has had a fairly successful run, marked by highly rated exhibitions and strong international collaborations.”
Suchan adds: “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.”
The Museum of Art in Łodz is governed by the ministry and the local regional government (under the regional government, led by the Urząd Marszałkowski). The decision to not extend his tenure is made by these two governing bodies.
In the past, the ministry of culture, under the auspices of Poland’s populist ruling Law and Justice party, has been accused of removing left-leaning directors and replacing them with individuals who fall within the party’s anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, EU-skeptic ideology. In 2019, the longtime director of the CCA Ujazdowski Castle was replaced, and in 2021 the institution mounted an exhibition that local Rabbis accused of containing anti-Semitic symbols.
Just last week, the ministry of culture announced a change in leadership at Warsaw’s Zacheta National Gallery of Art, with a letter calling it “yet another act of the ruling party’s destruction of Polish culture.”
According to Polish art critic and editor Krzysztof Gutfrański, the move to replace Suchan is happening under the auspices of “goose stepping conservatives”.
Gutfrański tells The Art Newspaper he worries it might be too late to salvage Poland’s art institutions, worrying that the damage has already been done and that it will now take years to build back what has been lost.
“The ministry of culture, through the seemingly legal practice of not renewing contracts or finding loopholes in the regulations to insert its own people, deprives the country of people with extensive experience and international contacts, replacing them with radicalised apparatchiks.”
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage did not respond to a request for comment.