Projekt Fundacji Bęc Zmiana

S is for Searching for a Collection of Public Art

Here we present the results of our search for a 21ST CENTURY COLLECTION OF PUBLIC ART OF THE CAPITAL CITY OF WARSAW.   We had a hunch that such collection existed, although in the end we didn’t find it where we had expected to.  Anyway, let’s start from the beginning.

When we think about a collection, by its very definition we conjure up not so much specific objects of art but rather an intentional constellation.  A collector is somebody who makes a choice, therefore a collection becomes a material reflection of the logic used in arriving at such decision.  The question of a collection is therefore also a question about its author.  Since the owner of the collection is neither a concrete entity nor a concrete institution, but a city as a community of citizens, then by revealing the logic governing the collection, one can see how a city consciously shapes the symbolic order of its inhabitants.

When we think about a public collection, we mean all the works financed by public funds held in common by the local community, not only those works found in publicly accessible urban space.

We started our enquiry by checking whether the COLLECTION OF THE CITY OF WARSAW comprises art works erected in public spaces every year thanks to subsidies granted by the city of Warsaw, through competitions organized by the Office of Culture.[1]  Financing is available to associations and foundations, of which there are a few thousand in the capital, out of which over a thousand have declared their engagement in cultural issues.  Therefore every year, many works appear that are supported by city funding.   So we wanted to find out what happened to the latest cultural creations that have come to fruition thanks to public funds.  What is their legal status?  Are they automatically found in the public domain?  Does the city have any tools to manage art created in this way?

Our starting point was the question of whether one can consider those works as comprising a collection.  A key feature of such collection would be the fact that it was created with the support of non-governmental organizations representing city dwellers’ grass-root involvement in culture.  We asked ourselves why works resulting from such cooperation are not systematically catalogued by those awarding the grants and made available in the public domain as an asset belonging to the city and its people.  But just asking such a question was not enough for us – thanks to support from many Warsaw associations and foundations, above all the Puszka Foundation, which documents Warsaw art in public space, we have gathered information on over one hundred objects and put it up on dedicated WARSAW COLLECTION website:

Nevertheless, our aim was neither to find the highest number of works possible that have appeared in Warsaw over the last decade thanks to public funding, nor to catalogue them, but mainly to determine their status.  And so, after seeking legal opinions, it turns out that public art realised with the support of grants is only public by name.

In light of the aforesaid, we changed our assumptions.  We began to search for a WARSAW COLLECTION OF PUBLIC ART in the registers, catalogues and records of the official institutions of the Capital City of Warsaw.  And we found it!  It transpires that there are indeed records of Warsaw collectibles. What do these records list?  They list cultural assets that conform to the definition included in the Instruction for the circulation and monitoring of financial and accounting records in the Office of the Capital City of Warsaw, namely paintings, lithography, sculpture etc., as well as museum exhibits valued according to the acquisition price.  We are publishing their list for the first time – the majority of the works were created in the 20th century, although there are also some from the 18th century.  The collection comprises over one hundred art objects administered today by the Office of the City of Warsaw, including the most coherent part of the collection, established by Wojciech Krukowski when he was Director of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art – which was purchased by the Municipality of Central Warsaw and deposited with the Centre for Contemporary Art.

The catalogue of the COLLECTION OF PUBLIC ART OF WARSAW still needs to be supplemented with art objects located in the buildings of Warsaw public institutions.  Due to the absence of an inventory of such works (which is soon to be drawn up), we have not been able to establish what that part of the collection comprises.

We present the contents of the COLLECTION OF 21st CENTURY PUBLIC ART OF WARSAW CITY as currently known to us, together with interviews that we carried out during our research.  They touch on not only the specific position of the capital city of Warsaw, but also on issues which cannot be ignored when discussing a city collection today, namely the understanding of art as a common good, the accessibility of culture based on free licences, how public art “works” in urban space, how citizens interact with it, and what the legal and economic status of public art is.

The collective collector is a complicated figure and in the case of Warsaw, it appears to suffers from a split personality: on one hand, it has a sizeable collection of contemporary art works, which thanks to its subsidies appear in public space every year, though these works are not gathered into any collection of its own; on the other hand, it admits to possessing an entirely different collection, mainly defined by the legal status of its chaotic elements.

We are hopeful that the material we have gathered will be the starting point for a more advanced approach towards a COLLECTION OF PUBLIC ART OF WARSAW and the beginning of a challenging discussion on community-collectors.  But before that happens, let’s take a look at the collection as it stands today.

Ewelina Bartosik, Magda Roszkowska, Bogna Świątkowska