Projekt Fundacji Bęc Zmiana
Conversation with Marcin Jasiński, Head of the Department of Cooperation with Non-Governmental Organizations at the City of Warsaw’s Office of Culture
Have there ever been plans to create a City of Warsaw Art Collection?
The capital city of Warsaw has so-called artistic museum pieces – to use the term found in the title of the official register. Entries in the Office of Culture’s inventory indicate that the city has owned dozens of artworks since 2001, but the collection began earlier, when the Central Warsaw Municipality, liquidated in 2002, was still in existence. All of the works are currently deposited with the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art and the Polish Cultural Institute of the University of Warsaw. Both historic and contemporary art works found in public spaces are also in the hands of the city, or in fact various municipal institutions or entities managing land and public sites. I wonder though, whether we should use the word collection, which indicates that the process of gathering artworks has an intentional, premeditated nature. The city art collections that we are talking about have something of an accidental nature. I also wonder if we are not making a mistake by excluding from this collection objects that are not owned by the city or municipal institution, but which are publicly accessible in open spaces. A collection, according to the traditional definition, is rather something in the hands of a single owner.
What can the people of Warsaw do with their collection today? Can they create photographic documentation of the works, and so compile their own databases?
All works of art held in public institutions are public property. The people of Warsaw are therefore co-owners of all museum pieces, and not only so-called municipal collections – assuming that the latter already exists. The Museum Act clearly defines who administers such collections on behalf of the city’s inhabitants and in what way. It also specifies how the collections can be used and made publicly accessible. Whether one can enter a given institution with a camera and on the basis of what rules is at the discretion of the institution itself. The statutory provision regulating access to collections for educational and scientific purposes can be interpreted in various ways. That’s why I am very pleased that the Bęc Zmiana Foundation, as far as I understand, has undertaken to catalogue those projects realized with the city’s support, as well as objects from the so-called municipal collection. It is definitely an important step in opening up the circulation of artworks.
Art housed in public institutions is common property, but probably only on a symbolic level. It is hard to say that somebody owns something that they have never seen or have any idea that they have any rights to. Do you think that the status quo should be blamed on legal provisions or rather on a kind of “knowledge policy” governing art issues in Poland?
Of course, we’re talking in purely symbolic terms. Quite a large section of society is not ready to receive art, as shown in last year’s survey on the cultural life of Varsovians, commissioned by “Stołeczna Estrada”. I don’t believe that the people of Warsaw will suddenly wake up one day and start a sudden, mass exercise of their right to cultural treasures that are public property. I also find it hard to imagine how that would work. An awareness of “possession” is important, of course, but as is the case with other fields of culture, the key seems to be in comprehensive cultural education – in schools, at work, in the home, in the media and so forth.
For several years now, the Office of Culture has supported projects “dedicated” to public space projects that are carried out by non-governmental organizations. How has the potential of public art been strengthened by specific administrative decisions? Why did you decide to focus on art in public spaces?
I started working for the Office of Culture in 2009. At that time, the city hadn’t organized any art institutions and only occasionally supported art in public spaces. Following the example of public art commissions in the USA and Canada and the public art programs there, we dreamt and are still dreaming of adopting such solutions here in Poland, while being fully aware of the differences between how art functions and cultural activities are financed in Poland and in North America. Naturally, the egalitarian and pro-public nature of a great many of the projects that we received as a result of the profiled competition is what we had been hoping for.
In 2011, the Warsaw Office of Culture, in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art, worked on a plan for creating a public art collection called A New Place. So far, there is only one work within this project, but it is an impressive one, Ryan Gander’s Really Shiny Things That Don’t Mean Anything – which stands under the Palace of Culture and Science.
We wanted to test run the possibility of creating a City of Warsaw public art gallery in a planned and systematic way. We were convinced that what was most needed was an experienced and competent curator to create art works of a certain standard and to invite important and well-known artists. We decided that the Museum of Modern Art, an institution with a very distinct concept of public art, should take on the challenge of creating a Warsaw City public art gallery. The city was to finance or co-finance new works within this project, which the Museum of Modern Art was to “produce”, place in public space and look after etc in the future. The museum responded positively to our concept and even improved on it and made it more precise, proposing a project similar to the Fourth Plinth project in London. The result of our talks was the first edition of A New Place, which I believe has been very successful, despite it being a pilot, test project. The choice of location, being the grandstand on Pl. Defilad, was no accident. It is a symbolic and characteristic space which was worth the challenge for many different reasons. It was a one-year project, the Museum of Modern Art announced a closed competition, inviting just a few of the top international artists working in public space. The jury, headed by Mirosław Bałka, selected the project by Ryan Gander. The city financed its realization and it seems to be a great success as a pilot initiative, plus it was organized relatively quickly. We didn’t want to wait too long to get it going, considering its location would be used the following year for the European Football Championship. The reaction of those who visited the grandstand was amazing; I saw with my own eyes couples meeting under it for a date, or foreign tourists taking photos of each other, using it as a backdrop.
Interviewed by: Ewelina Bartosik
Marcin Jasiński – City of Warsaw officer. Public art enthusiast.