In a move that has been roundly criticized by members of the Polish art community, the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw announced that its new director would be Janusz Janowski, a painter and musician who has never before run an art museum. The appointment of Janowski, who is set to take the helm next year, has touched off a bitter controversy over the state’s role in the museum. He was chosen by Polish Prime Minister Piotr Gliński, who has previously faced accusations that his government was interfering in art museums in the country.
Janowski is set to replace Hanna Wróblewska, who had directed the Zachęta National Gallery since 2010 and has been acclaimed in the international art world for her efforts there. In July, news that Wróblewska’s contract would not be renewed emerged, prompting allegations that there was a political reasoning for why Poland’s right-wing government ousted her. A letter signed by Paweł Althamer, Mirosław Bałka, and other artists claimed that Wróblewska was at the “height of her potential.”
The debate over Zachęta, which is known for its contemporary art programming, has come to the fore once again, with Janowski’s hiring. While Janowski has led the Gdańsk Branch of the Association of Polish Painters and Designers, he has no experience running an art museum. That lack in Janowski’s resume has caused some in Poland to claim he is unfit for the job.
Among those to speak out against his hire was a former director of Zachęta, Anda Rottenberg. In an op-ed for the Polish edition of Vogue, she wrote, “Zachęta is in danger of switching to a program from the time of the Polish People’s Republic, without the avant-garde.”
Rottenberg said that her concerns were in part fueled by a similar situation which took place at Warsaw’s Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle two years ago. In 2019, that museum’s director, Małgorzata Ludwisiak, was told that her contract wasn’t being renewed as the state attempted to seize power over the institution. Since then, the museum has continued to be the subject of protests, with activists decrying a show there intended to mock cancel culture earlier this year.
ARTnews has reached out to the Polish cultural ministry for comment on Janowski’s hire.