An art exhibition at a Polish state museum has been criticised for giving a platform to antisemitic and racist messages.
The “Political Art” exhibition at Warsaw’s Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art features the work of 30 artists in what organisers say is a celebration of free speech, a challenge to political correctness and the “cancel culture” of the left-wing.
Poland’s Jewish community has criticised the exhibition and strongly protested the inclusion of Swedish artist Dan Park, who was jailed in Sweden in 2009 for hate crimes. In an open letter to the museum’s Director, Piotr Bernatowicz, rabbis and Jewish leaders argued that promoting such artists offends “all people” in a country where “six million Polish citizens – half of whom were Jews – were murdered during World War II.”
Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said that while free expression was “essential to a democratic society”, free expression “still has limits.”
The Warsaw art centre, which has showcased avant-garde art for 30 years, says that the “Political Art” exhibition provides a space for artists excluded elsewhere. It features works that use swastikas or other symbols rooted in the Holocaust in an apparently ironic way but the most controversial inclusion is Mr Park, who was jailed in Sweden after placing swastikas and boxes labelled “Zyklon B”, which was the gas used in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust, outside a Jewish community centre in Malmo. Among works by Mr Park at the exhibition is a pastiche of an advertising poster that shows the Norwegian right-wing mass murderer Anders Breivik as a model for a well-known clothing brand.
Protesters carrying a large banner that read “State promotion of fascism” confronted Mr Park at the exhibition opening,
Museum director, Mr Bernatowicz, was appointed in 2019 by Poland’s Law and Justice Party. Since coming to power in 2015, the Party has been accused of using Poland’s cultural institutions to promote conservative values.
At a news conference, Mr Bernatowicz said that he acknowledged that some of the work was “provocative” and “controversial,” and that he could understand the position of the Jewish organisations, but that Jewish representatives should “see the exhibition” before condemning it. He added: “I am not creating a platform propagating any types of Nazi or neo-Nazi views.”
Mr Bernatowicz said that he was “creating a platform” for art to be expressed. At the news conference, several artists, including two Jewish artists, defended the exhibition as an important platform. Israeli artist Marc Provisor said that while he found some of the images “not only disturbing but offensive”, he thought that it was important for those who protested to view the exhibition to “see what disturbs you.”
Separately, an anti-fascist network in Poland condemned “the attempts to use Polish art institutions to platform artists infamous for their neo-Nazi sympathies.”