Projekt Fundacji Bęc Zmiana
Conversation with Wojciech Krukowski, longstanding Director of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw
Was the city collection gathered by the Ujazdowski Castle Centre of Contemporary Art under your management intended as a long-term curatorial project or rather as something to be developed on an ongoing basis?
When we started the collection in the early ‘90s, our selection criterion was based on presenting the best in Polish and international art. Most often I would receive international artistic work as donations. The collection was developed on an ad hoc basis, sometimes spontaneously. Either the artists themselves, being satisfied with the location or the people they’d meet, would suggest leaving their work with us, or we would persuade them to do so. That was the case with Christian Boltanski, who decided to donate one of his works to us on the last day of his stay here. That was very important to me because it meant that the best international artists would agree to donate their works to us, and our collection would develop a reputation as an international collection.
So the plan to curate a city collection was no different from that used to curate the Centre for Contemporary Art’s collections and the city’s participation was therefore only an administrative one?
The basic criteria for selecting works for the municipal collection was the presence of artists whom the Centre for Contemporary Art was interested in. Although there were some exceptions, such as when a work of art outside our exhibition programme would be seized on due to the availability of a grant or subsidy. Unfortunately, temporary financial difficulties meant that we missed out on a few works, such as Katarzyna Kozyra’s Olympia or Zbigniew Libera’s Lego Blocks. They appeared at the worst possible moment for us and we mistakenly believed that we could hold out a little bit longer for them. We missed out on at least three works that way. For example, we believed that Olympia had “settled in” for good at the Centre for Contemporary Art, when suddenly somebody offered a lot of money for that work. The same happened with Paweł Althamer’s early work, Self Portrait, which had also “lived” with us for a long time. But as soon as quick-thinking gallerists discovered the work, it was sold abroad. We also blew it with Libera. You could sense that it was an important piece that demanded more than just a symbolic price. We knew we had to organize sufficient funds for the artist’s compensation but at that time, it was difficult to predict when the Centre for Contemporary Art’s financial position would improve.
Does that mean that in a sense, the city collection provided an opportunity for daring and groundbreaking decisions for the Castle’s own collections?
Definitely. It was precisely for the city collections that we also bought a work by Mirosław Bałka, even though the price seemed very steep at that time. One of my objectives when developing the city collection was to stop the outflow of important Polish works abroad. That’s why at that time I didn’t think much or bargain when acquiring works, even if that meant burdening the Centre’s budget with instalment payments.
Were the artists aware that they had been taking part in a city collection project?
The artists weren’t interested in that. They were just waiting for their money. I remember when we got the first subsidy, we saw a long queue of artists at the cash desk, who had been waiting for payment for up to four years.
The city collection was created in less than three years. Was it ever presented to the citizens of Warsaw as their own collection?
We never exhibited the works that we purchased in cooperation with the city as an independent exhibition. However, the owner of those works, in other words the Central Warsaw Municipality, which no longer exists, would always be indicated at the exhibitions. I only emphasized the municipal element during the exhibition I organized in St. Petersburg in 1999, which was a city exhibition and part of an exchange programme between partner cities. I think that showing those works in the context of successive exhibitions or themed exhibitions at the Centre for Contemporary Art has been much more effective because it has allowed citizens to feel as though they were participating in the important process of creating culture.
Interviewed by: Ewelina Bartosik
Wojciech Krukowski – graduate of the History of Art Department at Warsaw University. Longstanding Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, founder of the Movement Academy, a creative interdisciplinary group spanning the fields of theatre, visual arts and film.