Poland replaces Venice Biennale project submitted under previous nationalist government

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Poland’s Ministry of Culture is replacing the country’s submission to the contemporary art event, which has been criticized for echoing PiS’s nationalist agenda.

ANNOUNCEMENT

In a sign that Poland is revising the cultural zeitgeist established by its previous nationalist government, the country’s culture minister has withdrawn Poland’s entry to the Venice Biennale.

Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, appointed last month by the new centrist Prime Minister Donald Tusk, announced the withdrawal of the project “Polish Practice in Tragedy. Between Germany and Russia” in a press release from last week.

Sienkewicz said he made his decision “after gathering the opinions and voices of communities” and “analyzing the competition procedures for the exhibition.”

The Polish Pavilion will instead host the multimedia exhibition “Repeat After Me” by the Ukrainian artistic collective Open Group, the country’s support proposal.

The original project was presented while the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party was still in power last autumn, at the eleventh hour before losing control of the government.

It featured more than 35 works by artist Ignacy Czwartos, including a painting called “Nord Stream 2” that showed former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Vladimir Putin linked by a swastika – according to the scheme of the original proposal.

Czwartos’ work has been criticized in Poland and abroad for echoing the nationalist views of the PiS and perpetuate a narrative of state victimhood, of a Polish state that was victimized in the 20th century by neighboring Germany and Russia.

The artist accused the government of censorship, saying his work was not anti-European, but simply referred to “the forces that destroyed Europe in the past and today”.

“The selection took place in accordance with legal procedures,” Czwartos told the Art Newspaper. “No reason was provided to justify the decision (to withdraw the request) and, moreover, this decision is contrary to the legislation in force. I perceive it as censorship.”

When the exhibition was presented, three members of the jury from the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw wrote a dissenting opinion stating that the project presents “exactly the opposite image of Poland, as a homogeneous and non-open country, focused only on himself and who speaks from the position of a victim.”

Poland’s new exhibition for the Biennial will feature a video performance featuring interviews with Ukrainians who were displaced from their homes in the east and south of the country, who were asked to recreate the sounds of war as they heard them.

The video installation was first shown at the Labirynt Gallery in the Polish city of Lublin in November 2022.

The Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw remains responsible for the organization and production of the exhibition and the management of the Polish Pavilion in Venice.

The 60th edition of the Venice Biennale, the largest contemporary art event in the world, will take place starting April 20 with the overall theme “Foreigners everywhere”, which the curators say is intended to celebrate diversity and inclusion.

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