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Polish cultural scene up in arms against new director of leading Warsaw art gallery

Warsaw, Poland – The Polish cultural and art community is up in arms after the controversial nomination of a new director to head the Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle (CCA), a prominent art gallery in Warsaw.

In August, CCA’s previous director Małgorzata Ludwisiak was ousted from her post as the chairman of one of Poland’s most important cultural institutions, and was informed by the Ministry of Culture that her directorship, due to end this month, would not be renewed.

Culture Minister Piotr Gliński, member of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, later announced that the nomination of the new director will be made without the customary open call process, sparking outrage in the country’s cultural circles. Anger only grew when it appeared that Piotr Bernatowicz, a controversial nominee accused of using his former curator posts to promote hate speech and mysogynistic, anti-Semitic and racist artworks, would be the one replacing Ludwisiak and take the helm of the institution for the next 7 years as ok January.

“An exceptionally alarming precedent”

Several petitions, both in Polish and in English on change.org, started circulating in recent weeks. “An appointment that bypasses the competition procedure despite the existence of the necessary legal framework sets an exceptionally alarming precedent”, reads the petition, signed by a number of prominent museum and gallery directors as well as high-profile public figures, including Literature Nobel Prize laureate Olga Tokarczuk and Oscar-winning filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski. “This blatant disregard for procedures suggests that the decision was politically motivated rather than based on objective criteria such as merit”.

The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) has also joined growing calls to drop the nomination and launch a fair and transparent selection process.

“We want to inform that the Museum Watch Committee of the CIMAM Board expresses its concern as the new director of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art for 2020 was nominated by the Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage, without any open competition for the nomination and without consulting nor respecting the opinion of the most esteemed art professionals, artists and the institution’s team”, it said in a statement.

Towards the legitimization of reactionary positions?

CIMAM further urged Polish cultural authorities to organize an open competition for the position and to set up a transparent jury with a mixture of Polish and international professionals to select the most qualified candidate for the position.

In an op-ed, Berlin-based Polish artist Agnieszka Polska also slammed the decision and examined Piotr Bernatowicz’s own published program for CCA. In it, he states that “a substantial change in criteria for the selection of [exhibiting] artists will occur”. “Bernatowicz redeploys the terminology of exclusion and marginalization to legitimize reactionary positions in a country with a far-right ruling part that has the support of at least 40% of Poles”, Agnieszka Polska warns.

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