If you want to find out what will Muzeum Sztuki (the Art Museum) do in Manufaktura (the Manufactory), if you're wondering whether there is a difference between a museum and a gallery, if you don't know whether Strzemiński was an enterprising man in culture – read the interview with Jarosław Suchan, the Director of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź.

Soon you're going to open a branch of Muzeum Sztuki in Manufaktura in Łódź. What hopes do you pin on this location and the new branch?

We have great hopes. Otherwise we wouldn't have decided to start this investment project, as it is a very considerable expense. As you can guess, a museum is not an institution that carries out such investments every day. So we faced a very serious challenge. Still, thanks to this new location we hope to achieve a few vital goals. The first very important goal is, eventually, to be able to present our remarkable collection in conditions it really deserves. I don't mean here that we'll be able to show 100 or 80% of our collection, as I sometimes read in the press. Simply, at last the works from our collection will be presented in appropriate surroundings. So, it'll be a place that will guarantee the right comfort of reception of artworks and will allow to create a situation where true aesthetic experience will be really possible. This is the first crucial benefit. The second one is that for the first time the Museum will have exhibitional space complying with the highest international standards set for museum buildings.

Consequently, we'll be able to benefit from our international position, thanks to which not only we  can present our exhibits in the best collections around the world, but also we'll be able to show works of great value here. So far the only obstacle preventing that has been the Museum building, in ulica Więckowskiego, as actually it had never been adapted for museum purposes in the first place. We have problems with maintaining appropriate climatic conditions there, and the like. So now there's a chance that we'll be able to present the greatest names and the best works. The third vital goal we hope to achieve will be a larger number of visitors. Since we're a public institution, financed from public funds, we should fulfil our obligations towards a wider audience. We're not a private gallery, and we can't let ourselves realize a very hermetic programme which will have an audience of less than 20 people. That doesn't mean that we'll be realizing a populist programme. Yet, we hope that, thanks to the location in the place with the largest flow of people in Łódź, we'll be able to attract at least some of those coming to Manufaktura.

Visualization of the new location of Muzeum Sztuki in Manufaktura in Łódź

In Manufaktura, Muzeum Sztuki will be surrounded by shops, restaurants and other businesses. How do you perceive, in this context, its role as an enterprise?

To some extent, a museum should be perceived as an enterprise, regardless of its location. Our activity involves managing funds, hence certain elements of business and enterprise are important. But there's one significant difference: a museum is not to yield profits (as its main task), but it's supposed to manage its funds in such a way that the added cultural value (to use Marxist jargon) will be as high as possible. As to Manufaktura, we don't intend to compete with the shops or cafes there, because, frankly speaking, they are in another division. We take part in a different tournament. If we are to compete with anyone, then we should compete with other museums and institutions which aim to present the kind of art our museum is associated with.

You talked about trying to attract more visitors. Do you have any concrete projects which would lead  to achieving this goal? Because in Poland, there's still a shortage of audience open to contemporary art. This kind of art evokes neither much interest nor respect.

Much time could be spent talking and much could be said why this is so, why contemporary art has no social prestige in Poland. I'd blame, to a large extent, the Polish education system, which seems to overlook not only contemporary art, but art in general. Consequently, even people graduating from universities are not prepared for the reception of contemporary art. It's not that we have some strategies that we are about to implement - we've already been implementing them. As a result, the last year's turnout was 40% higher than the year before. Obviously, as regards the percentage, that looks very impressive, but when it comes to the actual numbers, it's less so. Still, that shows that the steps we took have been effective.

What are these steps and what will they also be in Manufaktura?

First of all, we assign great importance to educational activity and activity popularizing contemporary art. This is crucial. Since the education system doesn't do that, since the media don't do that (or do that to a small extent), it's us who are burdened with that task. I understand education in a very broad sense, not merely as museum classes for school kids. To me, education is a continuous process, i.e. a process  addressed to various age groups as an endeavour which doesn't end with imparting basic knowlegde of art history, but which also shows where this knowledge can be developed, till reaching the level of professionalism. And that's why a programme should be diversified not only according to an age group, but also competence. Finally, I understand education as a programme that encompasses workshops, creative projects as well as endeavours which present art in the contexts outside art, involving design, architecture, music, sociology and anthropology. In other words, they show that art is not an alienated field which can be accessed solely by its highly educated ''priests'', but that art is an element of our life, an element of contemporary world, and it is related to what we're intrested in and concerned with every day.

We want to stress this aspect not only in our educational activity, but also in our exhibitions. We want to carry out projects which link art with other spheres of social life. A very good experiment, which had a huge turnout, was the exhibition ''Beautiful Losers''. It presented contemporary art combined with street art, with those endeavours that were carried out by people who had a certain need to express themselves and were involved in the hip-hop movement, punk movement, scating culture or graffiti culture. The exhibition showed that contemporary art is not something completely distinct from what we can see in the street. This way we attracted an audience that rarely visits our museum. What's more, this audience really identified with the exhibition, and did great publicity and promotion for us in internet forums. 

And what about the relations between institutions such as a museum and a gallery? What do they look like? And how do you perceive the identity of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź as juxtaposed with the identities of art galleries such as Zachęta, CSW, or Bunkier Sztuki? Do you see any striking differences between them, or would you say that they are all similar?

I think they are all similar. The basic difference, however, is that a museum, unlike a gallery, has its own collection. Although it's true that Zachęta or CSW also has it, but their collections are rather small and play a marginal role in the art galleries' activities. By contrast, in the case of a museum, its own collection, in a way, defines its profile. Its all educational activities and exhibitions should follow from the nature of its collection. This distinguishes our museum from a gallery, and from other museums as well. 

The character of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź has been determined very strongly by 3 historical facts. First of all, from its early days it has been collecting avant-garde art, mainly related with Constructivism, but not only. As regards this kind of art, we have an absolutly unique collection on a world scale. The second important aspect is that this collection, to a large extent, was created by the artists themselves, i.e. they took the bottom-up initiative to shape, in a way, the museum in Łódź. And so this is our obligation not only to focus on the past, as many museums do, but also to collaborate with living artists. The third element is that at the time when the collection and the museum were emerging, that is in the early thirties, the idea was to establish a museum presenting up-to-date art. Our openness to what's currently going on clearly distinguishes us from other museums, and brings us closer to an art gallery. However, for me, it is much more important to define our identity not by differentiating Muzeum Sztuki from a gallery, but rather by differentiating it from any other artistic institution. We need to show our uniqueness and we do so. 

However, there seems to be one aspect in the tradition of Muzeum Sztuki that you haven't mentioned. Namely, it's an attempt to indicate the links between the present and the past. Władysław Strzemiński's approach, as well as the approach of  post-war directors – Marian Minich and Ryszard Stanisławski – demostrated the belief that there was a need for examinig the relation between up-to-date art and the art from the past. According to their views, the avant-garde was a historical phenomenon emerging from the evolution of art.

For me this traditional, modernist perspective is anachronistic. It perceives art in linear development, where each artistic phenomenon and movement, in an obvious way, results from the previous one. This is Hegel's approach to art. It's not that avant-garde art emerged out of nowhere, as there were certain elements that heralded it. But it's also not the case that the avant-garde, in some historiosophic way, is the precondition of art, beginning with ancient times. There's no evidence to believe so, though such a historiosophic view was popular in modernism.

In my view, it is important to show the links between contemporary art, historical avant-garde and even earlier past, but not as a chronological continuum. I'm more interested in certain tensions that appear outside the chronological outline of development. And that's why the exhibition to be shown in Manufaktura, encompassing artworks from the year 1918 until now, will have anachronistic character. The truth is that most collections are presented chronologically. So our narrative about the 20th-century art, based on diachrony, is so deeply imprinted that maybe now it makes sense  to challenge this way of thinking about art and present less obvious parallels.

I see that you associate the role of a museum mainly with creating new values. And what do you think about its traditional role, i.e. that of a defender of existing values and of the preservation of cultural heritage.

To my mind, if we assume such a defensive position and we hold the belief that there are certain socially accepted values and that our task is to defend them, then this is the simplest way to make those values dead. In my opinion, the most important thing is to pour life into those values, regardless of the time when they originated. Mere protection won’t be enough – those values should be brought back to life. One of the ways to achieve this is to constantly reinterpret them, and that’s what we’re planning to do.

Lastly, I’d like to ask about your attitude to Strzemiński in the context of enterprise. Do you think he was an enterprising man in culture?

He is  a model of enterprise in culture, and I’m not at all surprised that he found his place in Łódź. Generally, I associate Łódź with a great outburst of enterprise that created this city in the 19th century. Strzemiński was the kind of person who initiated new endeavours, and I mean here artistic groups that emerged with his involvement, artistic periodicals as well as his educational activities. In fact, Akademia Sztuk Pięknych (the Academy of Fine Arts)in Łódź is based on the assumptions formulated by Strzemiński. And he was behind the initiative to create a collection of avant-garde art. Undoubtedly, in his times, he was the so-called man-institution, giving the greatest impetus to art in the interwar period, right after World War II, and until he died.

Thank you for the interview.