All of the most important national museums and state-owned contemporary art galleries in Poland are headed by women. This unexpected phenomenon can only be explained by their exceptional individual accomplishments.
Not only are they art historians, curators and critics, but valued managers and promoters of culture that are at the head of public institutions. Without any institutional program favoring gender equality, these directors have risen from an academic environment that is notoriously unfavorable to women into the more tangible world of state organizations, and they have clearly come out winners. Throughout the years, they have implemented controversial changes and withstood significant criticism, but they have now become well-established enough to confirm the tendency: on the Polish art scene, power lies in feminine hands. When it comes to their worldview and approach, they are best left explained by the directors themselves. We thus present you with a list of female-directors who count among the most influential figures of the art world.
Małgorzata Ludwisiak - Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw
From 2004 to 2006 she worked as a journalist in Łódź edition of the Gazeta Wyborcza. In 2006, she was appointed director of the Łódź Biennale 2006 (the second edition of the International Biennial of Art), and a year later she has launched and was a head of the first festival of design and architecture in Poland – Łódź Design. She was also a lecturer in art history and marketing in culture sector at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź (2007-10). She has authored many critical texts published in specialized magazines about art and culture: Obieg, Arteon and Kresy.
Since 2008, she was the deputy director of the largest institution dedicated to modern art in Poland – Museum of Art in Łódź. In 2014, she won the competition for the Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw.
As director of the Centre for Contemporary Art she plans to introduce some changes in the institution. In an interview with Małgorzata Piwowar for Rzeczpospolita she stated:
One of the priorities must be the introduction of the CCA into the international art circulation. As a matter of fact, the changes we have in mind come down to reflecting on and referring anew to the best traditions and the times when the CCA shaped the discourse on ar, and offered interpretations not only of art, but also the of contemporary culture as a whole. It is also important to me to bring up the way Wojciech Krukowski thought of CCA as a space where there is room for visual arts and performing arts in general: theatre, dance and sound. One of the main points of my CCA program proposal is to create a space of confrontation with globalization, which is our current reality. And this, I hope, will make us different from other Polish cultural institutions.
Jadwiga Charzyńska - CSW Łaźnia in Gdańsk
She has been heading the Centre for Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk (Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej) for over a decade. 'I got here in the first years of the functioning of the place. My priority was the development of a programme that would create a new image for the district in which our headquarters are located' – she said in an interview for culture.pl.
Before assuming the position, she was the administrative director of Łaźnia, deputy director of the National Art Gallery in Sopot (Państwowa Galeria Sztuki) and marketing director of the National Museum in Gdańsk. She is the only incumbent female director of a national institution to hold a degree in visual arts and graphic design from the Wyższa Szkoła Sztuk Plastycznych (Higher School of Art).
My work is guided by a principle of mutual respect. Culture is the place where we ought to nurse values which are contained in the renaissance understanding of humanism. Art is this sensitive tool which allows us to talk about difficult matters and which doesn't necessitate the use of aggressive methods in order for the public to pay attention to the topics we tackle. Expanded educational activities are the best method to build one's own public around the exhibitions and other events of the type.
One of the most important and most recognised initiatives undertaken by CSW Łaźnia was the setting up of the Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdańsk in 2004 - an art collection in the urban space. The Gilbert and George art duo exhibition turned out to be a great success as well. As a result, Łaźnia ranked among the 20 best museums and contemporary art galleries in Poland according to a "Polityka" magazine ranking.
From a small provincial gallery, within a couple of years, we transformed into a modern institution that promotes contemporary art and is recognised in the world. Proof for this is that the authors of the Art Spaces Directory published by the New York New Museum of Contemporary Art in cooperation with ArtAsiaPacific ranked us as among the world's 400 most interesting institutions and one of 7 in Poland. Other institutions were Art+Science Meeting, the Outdoor Gallery and In Progress - a programme promoting niche experimental music – she told culture.pl.
Zofia Gołubiew - National Museum in Kraków
To describe herself in her youth, she calls herself 'somewhat of a hipster'. She wore jeans, rode a bike before it was even popular. 'I used to walk around with real flowers behind my ear'.
A mere two years after graduating from the Jagielloński University, she ended up tying herself for life with the National Museum in Kraków. The collection of the largest museum in Poland boasts the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in Poland - the Lady with an Ermine. Zofia Gołubiew started working there by founding a publishing house. Nearly 35 years later, she became the first female director of such a large national institution in the history of Poland. She says she has over 600 workers under her, a dozen or so buildings, and around 800 thousand works of art.
Straight after her nomination, in 2010, her name made the headlines because of a letter she sent to the daily ''Gazeta Wyborcza''. She asked the chief editor not to call her 'dyrektorka' (in Polish, female for director) but 'dyrektor' (i.e. director) because the institution that she is heading is bigger than a kindergarten.
There is no reason to modify the function of a director of a large institution in regard to his or her gender in the name of very poorly understood feminist ideas: this formulation, so to speak, works against women [...] – she wrote.
In an interview with Agnieszka Kozak for Wysokie Obcasy (a Gazeta Wyborcza supplement) she said,
My way of acting is rather masculine. I respectfully listen to all the involved parties, different opinions, but I make decisions quickly – bam and there we go! There is no going back. But what is feminine in my managing of the museum, is simply, drama! Because I see not only the general plans or problems, but also rubbish lying around, toilet paper lacking, wilting flowers, burnt out light bulbs.
Gołubiew knows that today, unlike in the past, it's not enough to make a good poster to promote an exhibition. She constantly follows changes, adapts to what the world is putting forward - she uses the internet as a means, not an aim. One of her biggest exhibition successes was the first William Turner exhibition in Poland. 'I would like for the Museum to be lively. Proof for that are the initiatives which we take into urban spaces.' And in Art&Business she adds: 'My so far unfulfilled dream is to win over even the football fans.'
Anna Hryniewiecka - Culture Centre ZAMEK in Poznań
In Poland, Poznań is associated with scandals that arose during elections for directors of cultural institutions. One of the storms took place in 2012 when Anna Hryniewiecka, previously deputy director of the Culture Centre ZAMEK , was nominated for director. While the voting committee recommended a different candidate, the President of the City of Poznań, Ryszard Grobelny justified Hryniewiecka's appointment by saying: 'I believe that, at the present moment, the institution needs an evolution rather than a revolution.'
I became Director of the Culture Centre ZAMEK during the modernisation of a major part of our headquarters. A completely new 21st century spirit was entering the old walls of the century old residence of Wilhelm II. Before that effectively happened, the interiors of the Castle looked like a military battlefield - walls deprived of plaster, ripped up ceilings. During a visit, Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski [editor's note - Minister of Culture and National Heritage] saw the building in that state. It was July, and during a difficult walk around a construction site scattered with obstacles, I declared that we are planning to complete the reconstruction at the end of November. The Minister had a short reply – You are an optimist! I reminded him about that situation and those words when we were cutting the ribbon in the completely changed Grand Room of the Castle at the beginning of December of the same year – she told culture.pl.
Anna Hryniewiecka used to work as a journalist. She was also a spokesperson for the largest theatre festival in Poland – Malta. She made headlines in 2010 when she initiated the 'Anti-crisis staff team for the culture of Poznań', which seemed controversial to the members of the voting committee. The movement involved almost 200 people. Representatives of cultural institutions, non-governmental organisations, academia and artists (among others Izabella Gustowska, Ewa Wycichowska, Michał Merczyński and Grażyna Kulczyk) planned to work out a new model of culture for the city, a vision of its development which would include the creative milieus in the development of the city's politics and standardise financial and evaluation mechanisms of cultural undertakings.
The most important change in the functioning of the Culture Centre ZAMEK was the introduction of an independent programme - New Opening.
ZAMEK became an open place. It opened up to cooperation with artists, animators, NGOs. One of the significant assumptions of my programme is precisely openness towards cooperation, attracting artists with interesting energy, animators, institutions whom we can help to bring to fruition their ideas. Taking on some artistic risk, we offer what we have - a space, technique, experience. According to me, that's one of the most important elements of the mission of a public cultural institution - a characteristic kind of empathy – she told culture.pl.
In 2012 Anna Hryniewiecka was named "Woman of the Year" by Business and Professional Women Club-Poznań.
Ewa Łączyńska-Widz - BWA Tarnów
Becoming director of the Artistic Exhibitions Office in Tarnów (BWA Tarnów) at age 28, she is the youngest director of a national cultural institution. She says she works according to the 'method of small steps' – thanks to which Tarnów ceased to be seen solely as the place of birth and upbringing of well-known Polish artists like Wilhelm Sasnal and Tadeusz Kantor, and became one of the few places in Poland which so strongly and effectively invest in contemporary art. In 2013 , after being transferred to the neo-gothic Strzelecki Palace, BWA Tarnów found itself in the most important industry, national and regional rankings.
[…] there are significant traditions of communing with culture here. We have older people who regularly come to openings, premieres, they meet with friends, tell me how sorry they are when they missed an opening. Younger generations no longer share that same feeling of duty, that kind of curiosity – she said in an interview with Paulina Wrocławska for dwutygodnik.com.
After graduating from university in Kraków, Ewa Łączyńska-Widz returned to her native city. She caught the attention of the public and the artistic milieu with the project Alfabet / Alphabet made for BWA. 'For every letter of the alphabet, I invited a different artist who would meet with the public and do a mini-exhibition. Every week for an entire school year, we hosted someone else.'
In 2011, together with Dawid Radziszewski (who was then heading the Pies Gallery in Poznań), she made the project "Tarnów. 1000 years of modernity". Its main axis was the modernistic district of Tarnów in which Sasnal grew up - Mościce.
Becoming director of the gallery a year later, it turned out that education and linking the local with the contemporary were going to become characteristic for the institution which she headed.
I said to myself that I would organise exhibitions that would be understandable. We put a lot of care into the descriptions of the works […]. The most important thing is to include, engage the viewers, provoke them to react […]. Of course, I have to be constantly alert, take care of my viewers, because we are still trying to elicit them. Because of that, our programme has to be constantly balanced. For now, we are not doing controversial exhibitions. If I want to build an understanding for contemporary art, this is not the way.
Last year, Łączyńska-Widz, together with the artist Jadwiga Sawicka, curated the exhibitions accompanying the Spojrzenia 2013 / Views 2013 competition at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art.
Dorota Monkiewicz - Wrocław Contemporary Museum
Dorota Monkiewicz is not only the director of the only museum in Poland which doesn't have the word "art" in its name, she is also co-author, together with Piotr Krajewski, of his Programmatic Concept. As of 2011, the temporary seat of the institution is an out-of-use bunker. It will move to a modern building in the centre of Wrocław planned to open in 2016 when the city will be the European Capital of Culture.
I wanted to create a museum for different kinds of viewers and simultaneously open to different types of activities. We are implementing that idea within the Wolier programme – a DIY space lacking curatorial selection and discernment between professionals and amateurs, as well as within the debate programmes and social projects, which don't primarily concern art, but different social issues bothering the local communities. We are not running a museum for hipsters, it's hard make yourself seem cooler than you are by visiting us, but what we care about is being open to different kinds of commitments and authentic activism. An important element of the Museum programme is the local artistic and historical context, its significance has a supra-regional dimension to us. The local symbolical resources are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the museum in the formation of the exhibition and publications programme – she said in an interview with culture.pl.
This is not the first museum that Monkiewicz co-created. She was on the board of the Programme Council, headed by Anda Rottenberg, responsible for setting up the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. In 2007, the entire Council resigned as a result of an internal conflict regarding the choice of architectural project for the seat of the Museum.
Before that, for nearly two decades, Monkiewicz was a curator of modern art at the National Museum in Warsaw . In 1996, she founded the Collections of Modern Art Foundation for the National Museum in Warsaw (currently called GESSEL Foundation). Its aim was the broadening and promotion of collections of Polish art. For several years she served as the President of the Polish branch of AICA (Association of Art Critics).
As a curator, she specialises in conceptual, feminist, and critical art. Among others, she organised a retrospective of the work of Ewa Partum at the Królikarnia in Warsaw and Zbigniew Libera at the Zachęta gallery. She also deals with experimental installations of collections of modern Polish art, like Potencjał / Potential in the Metropolitan building in Warsaw and Punkty odniesienia / Points of reference in the National Museum in Warsaw. She is also the author of over one hundred publications dedicated to artists and issues concerning modern art, as well as an active participant of discussions and academic conferences.
Agnieszka Morawińska - National Museum in Warsaw
Before she became director of the National Museum in Warsaw in 2010, back in the 70s, in the same institution, she set up one of the most important permanent galleries - the Gallery of 19th century Polish Paintings. She assumed her position as director both in the Museum and the Zachęta National Gallery of Art which she once headed at difficult times. At Zachęta, she replaced Anda Rottenberg, who was leaving the position in the midst of a scandal caused by critical and politically daring exhibitions. At the National Museum she replaced Piotr Piotrowski, who resigned after most of the staff rejected his concept and development strategy for the institution.
(...) I feel a citizen's duty and am therefore ready to become the director of the Museum [...] I am emotionally attached to the institution - it's where my father worked, my mother, as did I for 16 years – she told the Polish Press Agency. Agnieszka is something of a Margaret Thatcher, and this museum requires restructuring – Professor Maria Poprzęcka added in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza.
One of the first things that Agnieszka Morawińska, PhD, did at the National Museum in Warsaw, was to close it down for nearly a year. In mid 2012 the grand opening of the revamped building – more friendly and open to viewers, inaugurated the 150th anniversary of the institution.
Morawińska authored a number of publications dedicated to 19th century Polish art. In the 90s, she was Vice-Minister of Culture and Art and Ambassador of Poland in Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.
Joanna Mytkowska - Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
At the end of her history of art studies, she began working at Warsaw's legendary Foksal Gallery, which, since its inception in the 60s, has been linked to Polish avant-garde. In 2001 – together with Andrzej Przywara and Adam Szymczyk, as well as the then director of Foksal, Wiesław Borowski – she founded Foksal Gallery Foundation, which is today one of the most active commercial galleries and a place promoting and lending support to contemporary Polish art.
Five years later, she became the curator of the Espace 315 and a member of the purchasing commission at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. She was the curator of the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where she presented Artur Żmijewski's Powtórzenie / Repetition.
In mid 2007, after the resignation of Anda Rottenberg – the one behind the idea of setting up the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, she was nominated to lead the institution. The Museum continues to function without a permanent headquarters, temporarily occupying the building of the old furniture store 'Emilia'.
She spoke to Adam Mazur from Szum Magazine about the ongoing abundant programme of the Modern Art Museum:
There are less exhibitions based on discourses of the art world. But in the past we also made exhibitions like New National Art or Angry Birds, which are hard to describe through the framework of history of art, they primarily referred to current politics and the state of awareness of the society, which can be described by contemporary culture. This of course is linked to openness to a wider public and diminished focus only on the artistic milieu. I believe that we still offer demanding exhibitions, but we learned to dress them up in various tools which allow us to receive them on different levels at the same time.
Joanna Mytkowska has authored numerous texts about contemporary art and a couple of exhibitions. Among others, "Niezgrabne przedmioty" / "Clumsy objects" [translator's translation] with Agata Jakubowska dedicated to the artistic output of Alina Szapocznikow.
In 2013 she became a member of the programme committee documenta 14 – the most prestigious art event in the world.
Maria Anna Potocka - MOCAK Contemporary Art Museum in Kraków
As a third year student of Polish studies, she set up her first gallery at the age of 22 (together with Józef Chrobak). Galeria PI was at the same time the first private gallery in communist Poland. In the 70s and 80s she led another four places, which all had one thing on common - they were non-commercial. Before she became director of MOCAK in 2010, she headed the Contemporary Art Museum in Niepołomice and the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art in Kraków. Until the late 90s, Anna Maria Potocka was also a post-conceptual artist, she created works in which she connected text with photography, drawing and small sculptures.
In the galleries I did very risky exhibitions, because they were primarily directed to the artistic milieu. The Museum is not for critics and curators, although I'm happy when professionals like the exhibitions. Foremost, the MOCAK exhibitions aim to show the wider public what the purpose of art is. Because art is an extremely important, almost strategic existential tool. You can see yourself and others in it, often the very different ones. Art is much more than an ornament of life. And a museum ought to know how to bring that across – she told Agnieszka Kozak for Wysokie Obcasy.
She has authored articles and books about aesthetics, history and art philosophy. She belongs to international associations of artists, critics and curators: IKG, AICA and IKT.
Monika Szewczyk - Arsenał Gallery in Białystok
Monika Szewczyk (not to be confused with curator of the Chicago-based Logan Center for the Arts and previously the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam) is the person who has managed the public institution in Białystok the longest. She started at the age of 29 and since then, she has been relentlessly strengthening the place of the region of Podlasie on the cultural map of Poland. Thanks to her, the region can boast one of the best national galleries of contemporary art in Poland.
She was raised in an artistic family, amongst artistic open air meetings and in galleries.
After high school I thought about whether I should go the Academy of Fine Arts or to study art history. Thankfully, I chose the second option, because I think I would have been a lousy artist, and in art you're either a very good artist or you're forced to have a very stressful life – she said on wspolczesna.pl.
Since 1990, Arsenał Gallery has not only been carrying out an independent exhibition and education programme, but it's one of the few galleries in Poland to collect works of contemporary art which are presented at exhibitions around the world.
Her activities quickly became known all around Poland, and outside of the country. Arsenał still functions skilfully by associating regional art with events on a wider scale" – Anda Rottenberg wrote in the book "Sztuka w Polsce 1945-2005" / "Art in Poland 1945-2005.
In 1997, a Polityka magazine survey found that Arsenał was one of the best self-governing cultural institutes promoting contemporary art. In 2010 it made third place in a ranking of the best public galleries in Poland.
From the beginning I was determined to lead a progressive gallery with an independent character, for which the most important thing is to show the public in Białystok a living and truthful image of the most recent art. All of the phenomena, which define it, which draw new paths, new trends - she lists – we are incapable of showing all the motifs, but we can at least concentrate on the most important ones which pave new ways in art. Therefore, our biggest interest lies in the laboratories, which are the processes which have just started, and have not yet finished. Art must stay ahead of its time […] Often following trends in art can make us realise certain processes which are taking place in society, but which we haven't become aware of yet. The consistent analysis of German expressionism would have probably allowed us to better understand the prevailing mood of the German society before Hitler came to power. Because art is a fantastic expanse of information about the human being and what is happening inside.
Monika Szewczyk is curator for the most important museums in Poland and abroad. One of her last presentations was Podróż na Wschód / Trip to the East organised within the framework of the Polish Presidency of the EU Council.
In 2005 she received the bronze Gloria Artis medal. In 2013 she received the Artistic Award of the President of the City for her achievements as curator of many important national and foreign exhibitions.
Hanna Wróblewska - Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw
Hanna Wróblewska began working at Zachęta at the beginning of the 90s in the education department. For many years she was vice-director, only to replace Agnieszka Morawińska as director in 2010 and at the same time the commissioner of the Polish Pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale.
One of her and her team's most important projects is Open Zachęta – a website allowing the gallery to present its collections, educational material, photographic documentation and videos from exhibitions and openings, as well as chosen texts from catalogues and prospects. For being a "public cultural institution that makes its resources available on the internet, sharing culture and treating the virtual viewer in the same way as a real visitor" it received the Culture Warranty, an award from the television channel TVP Kultura.
All our collections, everything that Zachęta Gallery gets through its contracts – if the artists agree – is published on OtwartaZacheta.pl. All our educational scripts, everything that can help our teachers at school, is available to everyone […]. We would also like to add, that no type of culture is not illegal – she said at the award ceremony.
She curated many exhibitions, among others retrospectives of Andrzej Wróblewski and Katarzyna Kozyra. She is also one of the people behind the idea to set up a Citizens Forum of Contemporary Art.
In 2012, on the 7th anniversary of Creative Commons Polska she received the "Otwieracz" award – given to people and organisations working for openness and promotion of open models of creating and making available knowledge and culture resources.
Author: Agnieszka Sural, translator: Mai Jones 11/03/2014