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MOCAK Opens in Krakow

The director of the newly opened Museum of Contemporary Art tells us what impact it will have on the art scene in Poland

Krakow's brand new Museum of Contemporary Art opens its doors today for the first time following last night's inaugeral ceremony, which included a presentation by the President of Poland. Hundreds of guests flocked to the opening of the first show entitled 'History In Art' where works by 44 Polish and international contemporary artists including Omer Fast, Tadeusz Cantor and Miroslaw Balka are presented in multiple rooms across the vast gallery space. 

The museum is situated in the run-down post-industrial district of Zabłocie and lies within the complex of Oskar Schindler's factory. One third of the 10,000sqm complex belongs to the original construction of the Schindler factory that has been recently renovated for the museum, whilst the remaining site is now home to MOCAK's purpose-built structures designed by Italian architect Claudio Nardi. Dazed traveled to Krakow to speak with MOCAK's director Maria Anna Potocka about the challenges and responsibilities of opening the new Museum.

Dazed Digital: Using the site of the factory was obviously a very important decision to make and one that must have taken a lot of thought, was it intrinsic to your vision of what the gallery was going to be?
Maria Anna Potocka: Since the beginning I was for using Schindler's factory. It's kind of a challenge to be in such a context. Of course you can treat it symbolically - that all of us, all the time, live with the tension of something over you. So, we have over us the myth of Schindler. We are not going to handle this myth automatically or directly - though we do have one work that is connected with Schindler himself. Of course, we can speak about the more cynical aspect of the situation - that Schindler's factory is a kind of advertising for the place. We have many people who really want to touch this kind of memory - the place where 'it' happened. So many different reasons, but you never avoid the context.

DD: The gallery buildings are white-walled and very modern in their aesthetic, was there ever discussion of leaving stronger traces of the previous architecture?
Maria Anna Potocka: The construction of the old factory was in such bad condition so it was impossible to keep it and admit the public, but we have two 'witnesses' of the factory that are open so you can see what's left of Schindler. In the roof of the patio and before the main entrance we have a 'wall witness', which is an open wall of the gallery that is left untouched behind glass.

DD: How do you see MOCAK as an institution compared with other major institutions in other cultural destination tourist cities?
Maria Anna Potocka: It is one of our intentions to be a partner of these major international institutions, and in a sense it is our obligation to be. I hope we will collect enough strong arguments and enough potency to be a partner. They are already established institutions with big reputations but we have to build from the beginning, and I hope that we are able.

DD: What was the selection process for the works in the show?
Maria Anna Potocka: It was not an easy selection, because with the title of the exhibition I decided to handle the context and to show that we are aware of the situation and that the history is a part of our interest and consideration. I found out early on that many artists deal with history because it's so strong an aspect of our existence and it contains some pain, some fascination and some inspiration for change. History has very strong potential for artists. The main factor was that I wanted to find the widest range of interpretation. So we have some very general comments on time and the mechanism of history and many works devoted to historical fact.

DD: Does MOCAK deal with politics or mainly present at a distance rather than taking an angle, or do you have an attitude you want to convey?
Maria Anna Potocka: I don't know. It's very much an artistic statement; you cannot consider it as a declaration. It's not a political gesture, it's a creative gesture.

DD: What will the MOCAK collection that you're currently buying and amassing communicate about this point in history - the time of purchase?
Maria Anna Potocka: A message I would like to have in the collection is one of diversity, diversity of problems and diversity of media in contemporary art. So in a sense this is the widest message you can imagine because it doesn’t create any particular problem - but this is also my intention in this museum - I don’t want to use art as an illustration of curator's problems or subjects, which happens pretty often. I was a curator for 30 years, so I know how much art is limited in the project of a common problem when it is used to represent of something external, it is simply narrowed. I try to show each artist as a separate island. Of course this still creates some problems, but these are not problems posed in advance.

DD: What's the relationship between MOCAK and Photomonth?
Maria Anna Potocka: Photomonth is an important festival and I'm a big fan and friend of the activity but the Museum is something else; they appear and disappear, we exist all year.