Zsolt Czegledi/EPA-EFE/ShutterstockVisitors in the Polish pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale

‘Censorship’ claim roils Poland’s plans for Venice Biennale pavilion

By Gareth Harris

(CNN) — The artist originally selected to represent Poland at the 2024 Venice Biennale last year has said a decision by the new Polish government to cancel his project at the world’s most prestigious exhibition is an act of “censorship.”

Ignacy Czwartos was selected by the previous administration, led by the right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS). But in a statement issued on December 29 the country’s Ministry of Culture, under new Prime Minister Donald Tusk, called off his project.

Czwartos told The Art Newspaper that his proposal — for an exhibition titled “Polish Practice in Tragedy. Between Germany and Russia” — was selected in an open competition. Czwartos was also recommended by a jury convened by Warsaw’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art.

However, the proposal had faced a backlash from critics last year who said it was too closely aligned with the agenda of the Law and Justice party. Those criticizing Czwartos’ nomination included some former Zachęta Gallery staff and three members of the museum’s jury.

On October 31, Poland’s Ministry of Culture announced that it would present an exhibition by Czwartos at the country’s national pavilion at the Biennale. The announcement came at a time when Poland was waiting to see what form its next government would take, following a general election on October 15.

PiS had emerged as the largest party in that election but failed to win a majority; the opposition politician Donald Tusk subsequently formed a new centrist coalition government and took office on December 13. Tusk was previously prime minister of Poland, between 2007 and 2014, and President of the European Council.

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“The selection took place in accordance with the legal procedures. The verdict of the competition jury was accepted by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. The contract between me and Zachęta Gallery, the institution responsible for the realization of the exhibition, has been signed,” Czwartos said.

“Nevertheless, on 29 December, I received the information that the new Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, had stopped the project. No reasons were given to justify the decision and, what is more, this decision is contrary to the regulations in force. I perceive it as censorship.”

The Polish Ministry of Culture said in an online statement that “after analyzing the competition procedures for the exhibition… and after (gathering) the opinions and voices of the communities, (it) accepted the decision not to implement” Czwartos’ project.

The Ministry of Culture did not respond to a request from The Art Newspaper for further comment.

The country will instead be represented by Open Group, a collective that includes Yuriy Biley, Pavlo Kovach, and Anton Varga.

A spokesperson for the Zachęta Gallery told The Art Newspaper, “As per the regulations, Sienkiewicz has given the go-ahead to the back-up exhibition project, ‘Repeat after Me,’ submitted by curator Marta Czyż and featuring Open Group. Zachęta National Gallery of Art will remain responsible for organizing and producing the (Biennale) exhibition, as well as fully overseeing the Polish Pavilion in Venice.”

In a proposal document submitted to the Biennale, Czwartos’ exhibition was described as “a profound reflection by a contemporary Polish artist on the tragic history of the 20th century.”

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“My project, through a set of paintings and objects, presents Polish experience of the clash between two totalitarianisms: Soviet communism and German National Socialism,” Czwartos said. “The project refers also to the present day, above all to Putin’s brutal attack in Ukraine. It is not an anti-European project at all, but rather it refers to the forces that had destroyed Europe in the past and today.”

Read more stories from The Art Newspaper here.

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