Well Connected

4 December 2021

Justyna Nowicka talks to Marek Świca, director of the Museum of Photography in Krakow.

MuFo Rakowicka
opening 4.12.2021

Justyna Nowicka: When you took over as the museum’s director six years ago, it had just a single site at the historic villa at 16 Józefitów Street. You are about to open the new main building at 22A Rakowicka Street, so including the historic former Shooting Range the institution will now have three branches. How have you achieved this metamorphosis?
Marek Świca: To be honest I’m as surprised as you are! After five years of hard work, we renovated and modernised the villa at Józefitów Street and took over the former Shooting Range at Wola Justowska, and managed to convince the Mayor of Kraków Jacek Majchrowski that our institution needs more space to allow it to grow. I gained extensive experience at similar challenges at my former post at the National Museum in Krakow, but I am still impressed that we have been able to achieve so much.

The museum was becoming stagnant at Józefitów, wasn’t it?
That’s right. The option to take over the building at Rakowicka came up soon after I was appointed, and it completely changed my vision of the museum’s future. I was familiar with the building anyway, but immediately after my first proper visit I literally ran to the Mayor’s office hoping I’ll be able to convince him to purchase it for us. And fortunately I was successful! The building became the property of the commune in December 2016. Maybe one day I’ll write a memoir to describe the long, complicated process and all our concerns. The armoury is a listed building. The consultations with conservation experts, planning and adapting the building to the museum’s needs required a thorough understanding of regulations as well as deep imagination and sensitivity. As soon as they enter, our visitors realise that all elements of the historic structure have been preserved. We hosted the first exhibitions as early as 2017 before renovation work even started.


MuFo Rakowicka, photo by Dorota Marta

Today we are talking at the modern, glazed pavilion at the historic building at Rakowicka Street. Everything is almost ready for the opening, and I must admit that I barely recognise the place.
Everything’s different. Let’s not forget that just a few years ago the armoury couldn’t be seen from the street because it was concealed by barracks. Adding the new, glazed extension has completely revolutionised how we can use this post-Austrian building. I think many other museums could envy us such an impressive entrance. It holds the reception, information point and ticket desk, and it will have space for visitors to have a breather. It offers stunning views over the garden with its beautiful trees and shrubs. There are also stairs to a lower storey holding another lobby, cloakroom, two multi-purpose rooms and a small exhibition space. The skylight illuminate the space so that we never feel as though we’re underground. The structure of the building is very simple. This is where we show open a café and bookshop by the entrance to the historic part of the building, with a library and reading room in the loft accessible by stairs or lift. The permanent exhibition What Does a Photograph Do? is on the right, with temporary exhibitions on the left.

The title of the main exhibition is rather ambiguous – what’s the idea?
First and foremost, we had to decide how to create a permanent exhibition of light-sensitive artworks. Of course original photos can only be displayed for relatively short periods to protect them from damage. However, the tangibility of photography is very important to us, so we will be showing a few hundred original photos. Another challenge was the specificity of our collection, which makes it virtually impossible to prepare an exhibition representative of the history of photography. Instead, the main curator and his team decided to tell the story by building a narrative about past and present perceptions and meanings of the medium. The question “What does a photo do?” intertwines themes such as equipment and technology with photographers and their attitudes. It will be a comprehensive review of the social significance of photography. I can’t list the names of all the authors which includes anonymous photographers, amateurs, professionals and masters of Polish photography, from Rzewuski via Bułhak all the way to contemporary artists. We will also present selected cameras from our impressive collection numbering over 3500 items!


Exhibition What Does a Photograph Do?, visualisation

What about the temporary exhibition?
We will present an extensive collection which the museum has been preparing since 2017. Things Have Changed presents works by artists from the Museum of Photography’s collections. We want to show how contemporary artists have been understanding and using the medium of photography since 2000. We have a feeling that the shift has been enormous.


Kobas Laksa, Roller Coaster Warsaw, exhibition Things Have Changed

What are the different functions of the museum’s three branches?
Our operations will chiefly be conducted at the new site at Rakowicka, but the museum’s heart remains in the modernised branch at Józefitów. We will show our visitors how the museum operates and the path taken by our exhibits from the point when we add them to our collections up to when they go on display. The different branches will have different functions, complementing one another rather than competing. Having the site at the Shooting Range meant we were open to the public during renovation works. We will run our educational activities from there, and it will be a space for experimentation and residences. As an added bonus, the site is set in an extensive garden filled with sculptures we commissioned from Kinga Nowak.


MuFo Józefitów, photo by Mirosław Żak

Will we be able to visit all branches in a single day with a single ticket?
We are working on it. The sites are set quite a distance apart, but they are well connected with public transport. And from December, the stop by the Rakowicka branch will be named “Museum of Photography” – you won’t be able to miss us!


Marek Świca, photo by Mirosław Żak

  • Marek Świca
    Art historian, exhibition curator, author and editor of numerous publications and reports on contemporary art and cultural manager. Secretary of the Board of the Polish National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), director of the Permanent Conference of the Directors of Kraków’s Museums and member of the Social Committee for the Restoration of Monuments of Kraków. Appointed the director of the Museum of Photography in Krakow in 2016.
  • Justyna Nowicka
    Journalist at Radio Kraków, interviewer and presenter.

 

The text was published in the 4/2021 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.

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