The Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Warsaw, known for exhibiting some of Poland’s most prominent experimental artists, has a new director, Piotr Bernatowicz. The curator, former radio programmer, and magazine editor was nominated for the post in November by Piotr Glinski, the country’s culture minister and a member of the governing right-wing Law and Justice Party. He assumed his responsibilities on January 1.
Bernatowicz most recently served as head of the regional radio station in Poznań in western Poland. He previously helmed the city’s Arsenal Municipal Gallery from 2014 to 2018, and was editor in chief of the contemporary art magazine Arteon from 2006 to 2013. He is a longtime lecturer at the Institute of Art History at Poznań’s Adam Mickiewicz University and is the author of “Picasso behind the Iron Curtain: The Reception of Pablo Picasso in the Central and Eastern European Countries 1945–1970” (Universitas, Krakow; 2006).
When Bernatowicz was tapped to replace former director Małgorzata Ludwisiak, who was told her contract would not be renewed last August, many in Poland’s art community expressed fear and uncertainty about the future of the center and its programming—an anxiety heightened by the Ministry of Culture’s decision to skip the usual open-call process and extend the length of the directorship to seven years, which prompted nearly three thousand people to sign a petition in protest.
“The Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art is a transdisciplinary institution of international importance and a showcase for Polish contemporary art,” the document reads. “An appointment that bypasses the competition procedure despite the existence of the necessary legal framework sets an exceptionally alarming precedent. It seems even more disturbing in the context of earlier personnel decisions that had a strong negative impact on important cultural institutions, such as the National Museum in Warsaw, Helena Modrzejewska National Stary Theatre in Kraków, and Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This blatant disregard for procedures suggests that the decision was politically motivated rather than based on objective criteria such as merit.”
Aware of the criticism surrounding his appointment, Bernatowicz recently defended his vision for the center and his curatorial record in an interview with the New York Times. He explained that his exhibitions convey his interest in exposing the “hypocrisy” of the art world, which he says doesn’t allow room for conservative contemporary artists. Bernatowicz plans to make room during his directorship of the CCA by showing more works by artists he claims are “marginalized” by the left for not sharing the same beliefs about climate change or promoting LGBTQ rights.
“In my opinion, most of contemporary art galleries look like left-wing ideological ghettos,” he told the Times. “This is what I want to change.”