“Poland has a long tradition of emigration that goes back to Adam Mickiewicz and the Romantics. I wouldn’t like to continue this myth”.
Alek Hudzik: Does the new Polish government, which has a clearly right-wing agenda, pose a threat to art?
Zbigniew Libera: Unfortunately it does. The Ministry of Culture cancelled funding of purchases for museum collections, which means in the Polish system that nobody will buy any works from artists. I won’t be able to realise the work I recently came up with. Today no censorship is needed—cancelling funding is enough to kill art. However, there is hope, because Polish art has a long and robust tradition of underground activity, which is still alive. I guess that art will defend itself. The audiences are becoming more discerning and demanding, which is much more important than what the media say.
AH: Art in Poland cannot exist without funding?
ZL: Poland is a country where the state needs to extend care for art. This is why cancelling subsidies virtually amounts to declaring war on art. Unfortunately, no money means no art.
AH: The art market is only just developing in Poland.
ZL: Honestly speaking, there is no real art market in Poland yet. There are very few collectors in Poland, and we should rejoice that there are any serious ones at all. Still, this is not enough in a country of thirty-six million. The situation here is not as comfortable as the one in the Czech Republic, where artists can create and sell only on their own market. In Poland we have no artists who make a living by selling their works to Polish collectors. They might make ends meet by selling abroad, but it’s very difficult. I’m afraid that given the current political climate, artists will start making art that is bent to the line of the ruling party so that they can simply emerge. In fact, becoming known is imperative for many.
AH: So it’s not the case that we’ve embraced the western-European scenario?
ZL: Private galleries began to be founded on a larger scale just some ten years ago. However, they still depend on funding from cities or the state. We might say that art has achieved a certain degree of success in the public sphere, that its position has stabilised, but it’s been a really short distance covered so far, especially when you take into account that Poland has an art tradition that goes back hundreds of years. AH: You’ve recently tried your hand at directing, and made the feature film Walser. Why?
ZL: Cinema is for everyone. It reaches and moves simple people, still melting their hearts and evoking emotions, which is to my mind the crucial aim of art. This stands in contrast to the kind of art we know from galleries, which is of an elite nature and offers an intellectual perspective on reality. I wish that someone who knows nothing about me, art, museums, or galleries could feel something and find my images have impact on them.
AH:You speak a lot about politics. I wonder whether you feel like a representative of Poland when you travel abroad, for example to an exhibition.
ZL: Naturally. I was born here, I started working here and my masters lived here. I definitely would not leave Poland permanently. Poland has a long tradition of emigration that goes back to Adam Mickiewicz and the Romantics. I wouldn’t like to continue this myth.
- Zbigniew Libera, 2012, Wroclaw. Photo by Lukas Giza.
- Zbigniew Libera, Sensitive Police Officer, 2012. Courtesy of Raster gallery, Warsaw
- Zbigniew Libera, History Lesson, 2012. Courtesy of Raster gallery, Warsaw.