Kraków museums receive biggest private art donation in 100 years

Two public museums in Kraków are set to receive the city’s largest private art donation in 100 years, after a pair of collectors pledged to give works valued at 50 million zloty (€11.5 million).

They include pieces by some of the most important Polish artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including sculptors Magdalena Abakanowicz and Mirosław Bałka.

The donation is being made by married couple Andrzej and Teresa Starmach – who run a private gallery in the city – and will go to the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of Photography (MuFo).

A new exhibition at the @Tate Modern in London is devoted to Magdalena Abakanowicz, highlighting her status as one of Poland’s most important artists.

Her „Abakans” – enormous, unsettling textile forms suspended from the ceiling – continue to fascinate

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 21, 2022

“This is one of the greatest examples of patronage in our country,” MuFo’s director, Marek Świca, told Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. “Our museums will receive the works of 26 artists, fundamental for Polish art in the second half of the 20th century, representing the most important intellectual currents of that period”.

As well as Abakanowicz and Bałka, among the other artists whose works are being donated are Władysław Hasior, Tadeusz Kantor, and Jerzy Nowosielski.

“For both institutions, this altruistic gift – on a scale unprecedented since 1989 and which demonstrates the donors’ desire to share art – is invaluable”, said MOCAK, quoted by local outlet KRKNews.

A city official told Gazeta Wyborcza that the last time a private collector donated works of this importance to a public institution was when Feliks Jasieński gave paintings by, among others, Stanisław Wyspiański, Jacek Malczewski and Leon Wyczółkowski to the National Museum in Kraków a century ago.

Teresa i Andrzej Starmach przekazali swoją kolekcję miastu. Dar o wartości 50 mln złotych @krakow_pl

— (@KrknewsPL) November 21, 2023

In 1989, the Starmachs opened one of the first private art galleries in Poland amid the collapse of communism. Their Starmach Gallery was originally located on Kraków’s historical market square, but is now housed in a former synagogue building in the city’s Podgórze district.

“We started building the collection from 1976, long before we opened the gallery”, Andrzej Starmach told Gazeta Wyborcza. “We managed to collect a number of absolutely outstanding works from the history of 20th-century Polish art. It’s hard to store them anymore.”

“The current global custom – which unfortunately is not practiced in Poland – suggests that galley owners should either hand over their resources to museums or create such a space themselves,” he added. “We don’t have the money to build a Starmach museum, so we decided to give it to the public.”

A new generation of Polish artists have gained international renown in recent decades.

Aleksandra Janiszewska explores the work of Wilhelm Sasnal, currently exhibited at @polinmuseum, and others on the contemporary Polish art scene

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 25, 2021

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Main image credit: Fred Romero/Flickr (under CC BY 2.0)

Agata Pyka is an assistant editor at Notes from Poland. She is a journalist and a political communication student at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in Polish and European politics as well as investigative journalism and has previously written for Euractiv and The European Correspondent.

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