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Poland’s National Museum champions gay rights: critics up in arms

“Ars Homo Erotica” exhibition runs 11 June to 5 Septmber

London

The National Museum in Warsaw aims to chip away at prejudices against sexual minorities in Poland with an exhibition about homoeroticism in art.

“Ars Homo Erotica” (11 June-5 September) has already met with criticism and threats of demonstrations. “The situation in Poland is sensitive as a result of the plane crash in Smolensk,” said exhibition curator Pawel Leszkowicz, referring to the event in April in which President Lech Kaczyński was killed. “The patriotic atmosphere that has pervaded the country has increased the power of right-wing groups. Therefore, I am not certain what will happen when the exhibition opens.” The show is due to open during this summer’s election of a president to succeed Kaczyński, who was a former mayor of Warsaw.

“Ars Homo Erotica” is a survey of homoerotic imagery from antiquity to the present. The majority of the exhibition will feature classical works from the National Museum’s collection, juxtaposed with contemporary art. The director, Piotr Piotrowski, said its emphasis will lie on eastern Central European art because “here the battle for equal rights for homosexuals continues”.

There have been a number of voices speaking out against the show. At the end of 2009, Stanisław Pięta, an MP for the conservative Law and Justice Party, declared that, just as paedophilic and zoophilic art does not exist, “neither does homosexual art”. More recently, an “Open Letter in Defence of the Good Name of the National Museum in Warsaw” was published in right-wing publications. The signatories included artists, journalists, historians and politicians.

Piotrowski, who became director of the National Museum in 2009, is determined to transform the institution. He has said that he wants to revitalise the image of the museum, and he believes “Ars Homo Erotica” will “change this institution, this city and this country”.

The National Museum, the largest in Warsaw, has a rich collection of ancient art, an extensive gallery of Polish painting, and a large collection of foreign masterpieces but its strength lies in 19th-century Polish painting.

During his term as mayor, Kaczyński banned Warsaw’s gay pride parades in 2004 and 2005. This move was widely believed to have contributed to him winning the 2005 presidency.

The Euro Pride parade will take place in Warsaw in July. Meanwhile, the capital’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art has been showing another controversial exhibition: “Gender Check: Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe” since March (until 13 June).

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 214 June 2010