Agnes Janich

Review 5

The MOCAK of integration
Lukasz Bialkowski
May 8th, 2010

A celebrity journalist convinces us to talk. But the way he does it convinces us otherwise. Bearing in mind this sad lesson, I'ld like to elaborate on the model of discussion in MOCAK Krakow. I won't summarize the panelists' prelections, but focus on the main topics and the vision of the Museum as drawn by Maria Anna Potocka.

The panel, or a conference, rather, as the organizers want to see it, was the first major initiative of the museum. Though the topic was hyper-precisely formulated, What is a museum programme?, most invited panelists tried to reach beyond it. No wonder. What is a museum programme? sounds like a request for a lexical definition, a linguistic play on meaning. Cultural producers, curators and museum directors know perfectly well what a museum programme is. What they are struggling with is how to realize it. The panelists ( Anda Rottenberg, Piotr Piotrowski, Jaroslaw Suchan, Joanna Mytkowska, Piotr Krajewski, Dorota Monkiewicz, Marek Swica and Maria Anna Potocka ) touched on different interesting leitmotifs.

The invited guests were both directors of museums to be formed from scratch and people managing institutions with rich and varying traditions. Jaroslaw Suchan and Marek Swica focused thus on the programme versus the existing museum collectio, Piotr Krajewski, Dorota Monkiewicz and Joanna Mytkowska focused on choices they have to make to profile their emerging institutions.

Piotr Piotrowski, Marek Swice, Piotr Krajewski, Dorota Monkiewicz and Joanna Mytkowska touched on the museum-audience relationship. Piotr Piotrowski coined the term the macdonaldization of museums, which, to him, characterizes the tension between educating the audience in the realm of high culture while at the same time compromising the programme with less demanding viewers in mind.

The panelists focused on the practical existence of museums. They talked about dealing with city authorities, building contests, conflicts and ways to solve them. Perhaps such a loose profile of prelections came from the panel's difficult title. Maria Anna Potocka's talk differed from others in how well prepared it was.

A conference? A ceremony?

Potocka's concept requires elaborating upon for more than one reason. Unlike in politics, new art world institutions need legitimization. By inviting the creme de la creme of Polish museum directors to Krakow, MOCAK emerged as part of the exclusive circle it clearly hopes to remain part of.

This is why one can't avoid the feeling that the topic of the panel was of lesser importance than its attendees. The point was to present MOCAK's programme to an elitist audience. Following this line of thinking, even MOCAK's Director didn't answer the question posed in the title.

My reading of the conference isn't just that of my own. Piotr Piotrowski stated openly that the panel was for MOCAK and that Maria Anna Potocka was the main star. This topic emerged in the discussion, when Maria Anna Potocka expressed her awe at the fact that all the questions are directed to her.

The MOCAK of integration

And there are reasons for questions. Potocka's concept aspires to be a holistic vision of contemporary art and culture in general. The idea touches on several platforms. In terms of exhibition making, Maria Anna Potocka sees the museum as a place where the cause-and-effect logic of XXth century art practice will come into place. The museum aims to present a complete, linear collection of contemporary art. Its educational aims are just as ambitious - the institution is to fight prejudices against contemporary art and reveal its existential potential. In Potocka's own words, a museum doesn't aim at explaining art history, but at revealing hidden senses in art and ethics. From this holistic perspective, one of MOCAK's ambition is the integration of artists and audiences as well as artists and scientists.

Philosophy, sociology, art criticism and the whole of art practice of the second half of the XXthe century showed us many times how united our cultural universum is. Such a museum programme is in perfect accordance with the ideas of both Habermas and Richard Schustermann. Potocka's vision is one with well known concepts of culture. It suggests no revolution, merely the autonomization of the cultural field in the post-Kantian period. Similar visions fuel museums both in Poland and abroad.

The museum of artists?

While admitting that art is a part of culture, Maria Anna Potocka proposed a few projects that sound surprising at least. Firstly, MOCAK's Director wants a museum of artists. She wants to create a space for contact with the creators. A space exhibiting the artist first and foremost. In the holistic context, it seems strange. Let's not forget Benedetto Croce's concept of autonomizing the art world from the artist.

The problem is, shall we move a decade backwards. Let's not forget, again, that art and literary critics of the XXth century consequently freed art from the artist. It seems archaic to turn it back around. Potocka's concept needs a new formula, one prioritizing the artist without reverting to the old rule. In other words - if MOCAK is to be a museum of artists without being old from the moment of its inception, it needs to work on partner relations between the artist and the audience.
A question arises - how can such relations be build in a museum? They arise naturally in little galleries, cafes and artsy meetings spots. In Krakow alone there are a few places which treat shows as pretexts for artist-audience conversations ( Artworld, Goldex Poldex, Mieszkanie 23 ). But can their relaxed atmosphere find a place in the museum context? Can it function there at all? It seems no. Without it, the artist will remain an untouchable figure. In this case, the museum of artists will evoke an archaic concept of the creator.

How much sugar is there in a sugar cube?

MOCAK's first show, History versus Art, is alarming. Maria Anna Potocka wants to inaugurate a cycle - Politics versus Art, Religion versus Art, Economy versus Art, Art versus Art will follow. They shall, of course, mirror the interdisciplinary character of the institution. In reality, however, the concept seems unclear to the director herself. Ewa Malgorzata Tatar, an editor of Obieg, asked if MOCAK is really so strong on the context created by the Oskar Schindler factory and the Agnes Janich cooperation with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York ( Agnes Janich, Lighting the Night, April 25th, 2010 ). Tatar asked if MOCAK means to reflect on the problem of Jews of Krakow and inaugurating its operations with Janich's performance. Will the planned show reflect on these issues? Does the museum have its vision of history? What are the criteria of choosing the works? In response, Potocka declared she doesn't have any specific historical policy. The proposed show won't try to prove a point, rather to present a maximum of attitudes to the issue of history in art.

One must admit that Potocka's statement was disappointing. As if she didn't want to admit that historic events and their interpretation carry a burden. One can't begin with Auschwitz and the Jewish tradition of the museum site only to move on to the conclusion that historical issues don't touch the museum at all. Oh well, we'll keep at a distance. Does she see art as a neutral mirror of objective facts? Or think a curator can withhold his convictions for the time of the show? Doesn't she think the mere choice of the works is some sort of declaration?

Assuming one can do a neutral show carries the risk of an on-the-surface one. Showing all viewpoints is showing none. I understand fears of politicizing and carrying propaganda, but one can't remain disenganged from topics such as history or religion. Presented neutrally, they can never be credible. It seems honest to declare a certain viewpoint. Neutrality assumes the art world as autonomous, focused only on art history or aesthetics. This is precisely the concept that Potocka wants to polemicize with.

Piotr Piotrowski asked about the possibility of building a complete collection of contemporary art. The Director of the National Museum of Art in Warsaw observed that building a collection is inadvertedly linked with a certain optics. Maria Anna Potocka responded in a totally different direction than the one she presented in her expose. Defending the show History versus Art, she stated it will avoid ideological statements. But does an honest criteria of choosing works mean being tied to a certain ideology? One can only wait for the catalogue and curatorial statement, which, like it or not, will have to point out a certain optics.

Integrating the art world

Tempers were raised by a few questions from the audience. Ewa Malgorzata Tatar asked about the procedure of choosing Maria Anna Potocka as MOCAK's Director, a question Marta Deskur rephrased in a different context. Deskur asked about MOCAK's plan for integrating Krakow's art world after the conflict.

Potocka answered in a way completely removed from all the accusations. She completely disregarded comments from the undersigned of the Open Letter to the Mayor of Krakow regarding the transparency of cultural policies. She expressed amazement at the fact that doubts still arise and suggested bad Energy or bad will of the disbelievers. One can't help but wonder - of whom? The undersigned, among them MOCAK's workers? Or those opting for a contest?

Integrating the art world seems a utopia for reasons broader than those Marta Deskur named. The art world, just like any other social group, has its hierarchy and power structure. One can't help but wonder how shall the integration begin. Perhpas by ending the conflict? Maria Anna Potocka stated that officially she's the acting museum director till the time of opening the museum's first major permanent show. However enigmatic this sounds, it seems once that exhibition opens and the contest begins, MOCAK controversies will come to an end.

© 2003 - 2018 Agnes Janich