Art Keeps Collectors Going: Grażyna Kulczyk
Portrait of Grażyna Kulczyk. Courtesy of Grażyna Kulczyk.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we’re reaching out to collectors to hear how art is enriching their lives during this time. As part of our Art Keeps Going campaign, we’re featuring their stories in “Art Keeps Collectors Going,” a series of editorial articles and videos on Instagram.
Grażyna Kulczyk has been quaranting in her home in Switzerland’s Lower Engadin, not far from Muzeum Susch, the private museum she opened in January 2019. Built into the mountainside of the tiny Alpine town of Susch, the museum reflects the major themes of Kulczyk’s collection: conceptual art and work by overlooked artists. With the space closed due to COVID-19, Muzeum Susch recently launched a new podcast, Stillness & Motion, in which artists and other creatives reflect on this period of isolation.
A longtime entrepreneur and arts patron, Kulczyk started collecting as a law student in her native Poland. Over the years, as she amassed her wealth in business ventures, she became a major philanthropist, with particular focuses on the arts and supporting women. In 2004, in her hometown of Poznań, Poland, she turned a former brewery into an arts complex, Art Stations Foundation. Today, in addition to overseeing Muzeum Susch, she sits on Tate’s Russia and Eastern Europe acquisitions committee, the board of Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Women’s Fund Committee of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Recently, we caught up with Kulczyk to hear about how she’s thinking about the art she lives with as well as her latest efforts to support living artists.
Evelyne Axell, Campus, 1970. Courtesy of Collection Philippe Axell and Muzeum Susch.
Carolee Schneemann, from the series “Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera,” 1963 / 2005. © Carolee Schneemann. Courtesy of the Estate of Carolee Schneemann, Galerie Lelong & Co., Hales Gallery, and P•P•O•W, New York.
Artsy: During this period when we’re spending more time at home, are you discovering new things about your art collection?
Grażyna Kulczyk: Naturally, this particular time of seclusion due to the pandemic has affected my life, feelings, and habits, but it has also enabled a particular focus on details that otherwise go unnoticed during my usual daily routines. Books, films, and music are a common rediscovery for many people, and I have the great privilege of being able to enjoy art at home in depth. I think that collectors who can publicly display art in their institutions treat their artworks at home very personally, allowing for noncoherent or unusual presentations of artworks. Now I am able to discover hundreds of hidden details and meanings, either passing by or sitting for hours next to them.
Evelyne Axell, Sans titre (Tiger Woman – Autoportrait), ca. 1964. Courtesy of Collection Philippe Axell and Muzeum Susch.
Artsy: Are there any specific works you’re thinking about more?
G.K.: Yes, there is indeed.…There is a Marcel Broodthaers egg painting on a wooden box with the word “no” calligraphed in this particularly simple but elegant way. It is right opposite the stairs that I walk up and down dozens of times a day. These days, this “no” smiles at me and gives me hope.
I have seen numbers of works by Marcel Broodthaers in different circumstances but finally I was overwhelmed by the complexity and precision of his thinking after spending hours at the retrospective at MoMA (in 2016). Then, I started research to find the works that would appeal to me. I acquired them directly from the family.
I’ve also been thinking about my recently purchased work by Dorothea Tanning, which is yet to reach me from London due to the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evelyne Axell, L’appel, 1972. Courtesy of Collection Philippe Axell and Muzeum Susch.
Artsy: Have you discovered any new artists during this time or are you returning to old favorites?
G.K.: Right now, my main task is to plan how Muzeum Susch and all its activities can get through this turmoil. I am more focused than ever to learn more about the artists I am already working with—such as Renate Bertlmann, Maria Lai, Gizela Mickiewicz, and Roman Stanczak—and how I can continue to support them.
Artsy: Have you found ways to support artists during this time?
G.K.: Rather than supporting through collecting, I decided to try to directly support artists who find themselves in a precarious situation, having lost access to exhibitions and other forms of representation and participation. I have launched a program that aims at backing 100 artists with a one-time financial aid. It is open to artists of all ages, working with different mediums, without a steady source of income. At the same time, knowing this help is but a drop in the ocean, and that I could only reach out to a limited number of artists, I decided to focus on my native Poland, where the restrictions related to the pandemic are further compounded by the existing political situation which continues to affect the visual arts.