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Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art.
Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art.

In Poland Museum Director’s Antigay Acquisition, Critics Find Ominous Portent

Piotr Bernatowicz, the recently appointed director of Warsaw’s leading Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art (CCA), has been accused of diverting public funds to pay for a homophobic work of art, according to an Artnet News report.

The incident, first reported in Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, involves the improper use of funds from the country’s national art collecting program earmarked for the purchase of contemporary art. In order to obtain the funds, institutions must submit an application to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage listing the works that the money will be used to buy. CCA under its previous leadership sought money to purchase two works. By the time the funds, which were less than hoped for, arrived, Bernatociwicz had been installed, and directed the money to be used to buy works other than those named in the application.

Among these was Jacek Adamas’s 2018 neon work Tonfa, which depicts homosexuality as a lifestyle being forced upon the public, as symbolically suggested by a baton that appears to phase through the colors of the rainbow as it is brought down, the rainbow representing homosexuality and the baton force. The image could be said to represent Poland’s far rightward turn in recent years—one that has seen a massive surge of antigay hate crimes and rhetoric—and could set a dangerous precedent for the country’s cultural institutions, critics say.

Bernatowicz, who is affiliated with the far-right Law and Justice (PiS) party, assumed the top job at the state-run museum in January, sparking outrage in the Polish cultural scene. Prior to his arrival at CCA, he had just three years’ experience overseeing a museum—the municipal Arsenal gallery, in Poznań. While there, he curated a group show including posters by Wojciech Korkuc bearing the slogans “Women Burn Faster” and “Gay, Don’t Faggot the Minors.”

Bernatowicz contends that the updated list of works including Tonfa was submitted to the ministry and that it was approved by a six-person committee, of which he is a member. The ministry has not yet issued a public statement on the matter.