Grazyna Kulczyk reveals her new Muzeum Susch (an interview)

Stefano Pirovano

We have been to Engadin to preview Grazyna Kulczyk’s new Muzeum Susch and to ask the Polish collector her insights into the project.

We visited it last summer, when the restoration of the former Brewery in Susch was almost done, and we can say that the new Muzeum Susch founded by collector Grazyna Kulczyk (the word museum is written in Polish in this case) is a unique gem in the Engadin valley, nestled amid beautiful mountain scenery, not far from Not Vital and from Sent, where art dealer and collector Gian Enzo Sperone lives and works. If you also take into account the galleries in Zuoz (Monica de Cardenas and Tschudi) and those in Sankt Moritz (Hauser and Wirth and Robilant + Voena), then the idea of Grazyna Kulczyk to open a contemporary art museum in the mountains doesn’t seem at all bizarre. On the contrary, Muzeum Susch meets a widespread need to escape cliché and the ‘supermarket feeling’. Mega museums and art fairs come looking for you. But art is a discovery, and as such it implies research and spirit of adventure. These are the very same ingredients the Polish entrepreneur bets on, whose professional success has indeed begun from a former brewery.

When and why did you start collecting art?

Grazyna Kulczyk: I first started collecting art while I was still in law school in my home town of Poznan, Poland. The people who inspired me most over the course of my legal studies were mainly people connected with art, artists and art historians. This encouraged me to start educating myself on topics connected to art alongside my core studies, and then go on to lead art classes as a volunteer at cultural community centers. This activity eventually led me to begin building my own collection with the aim of enabling and educating others in art. It is a strong value I continue to hold and to implement further through the activities of the Art Stations Foundation CH and Muzeum Susch.

Are you personally scouting the artists that you collect, or do you have any advisors/curators helping you?

Grazyna Kulczyk: I have always been guided mostly by my personal choices and opinions. My collection has developed alongside my knowledge as a collector and entrepreneur over the years, as an indirect result of my life experiences and business initiatives. I am motivated by a genuine desire to have ongoing contact with the work of ambitious and intriguing artists, and not just to make a profitable investment or build a self-image for others – I am by foremost driven by my own thoughts and heart.

Do you follow any criteria in buying art?

Grazyna Kulczyk: The main criteria I follow is to continue to follow my true passions, to have a genuine affinity and connection with the works and artists in my collection, and most importantly to take pleasure in them. I like to trace a matrix and the non-obvious connections between artworks that no-one else can see.

How would you describe your art collection to someone who doesn’t know much about art?

Grazyna Kulczyk: A central consideration to my collection is drawing a matrilineal age through global art history – a narrative that is still being left out, even though Linda Nochlin made a (compelling) case for it over forty years ago. Also clear in my activity is a dialogue between Eastern European 20th Century artists, and artists and movements from around the world. The aim of my collection is to establish a place for those who have been overlooked or ignored historically, and bring them in to the mainstream canon where they can be appreciated by all.

Why did you choose Susch?

Grazyna Kulczyk: I have had a home in the Lower Engadin for a number of years and had been thinking about establishing a museum during this time. I first came across this intriguing, historic group of buildings in Susch by chance one day while driving through the region and realised that this remote and rural location was the perfect possibility for the museum I had in mind – one with a disruptive outlook and approach to the future.

How did you come to the idea of opening Muzeum Susch?

Grazyna Kulczyk: From the outset of my collecting, my mission and goal has been to make art accessible to the broadest audience possible. I established my first art foundation in Poland many years ago. As its needs and activity grew with the course of time, in 2004, I transformed it into Art Stations Foundation, with headquarters at Stary Browar – an old brewery complex I restored and adapted as space for exhibition and retail as part of part of my 50 % art – 50% business philosophy. ASF ran a successful exhibitions and performance programme at the heart of Poznan for many years.
Promoting art and artists abroad brings me great satisfaction and it became my dream to create a permanent space where this could happen.

How would you like the Muzeum Susch to look like in ten years?

Grazyna Kulczyk: The planned nature of Muzeum Susch means that it will continue to evolve – it will be shaped by artists and academicians as well as Muzeum’s own multifaceted activities. I hope that it will educate and inspire people, not only in matters relating to art but to think differently in their approach to everything. I would like it to become a point of reference – both as a site of cultural pilgrimage and as a new model for art and ideas.

Could you explain your rule of the 50/50? How it applies to the Muzeum?

Grazyna Kulczyk: My personal 50/50 philosophy informs all of my endeavors. In the case of my previous projects it was combining 50% art with 50% commerce or business. Muzeum Susch is a non-profit initiative but the 50/50 rule also applies in other ways, for example a commitment to equally representing women and men; themes in art and science; a balance between East and West. It is a democratic approach.

According to your experience, which are the main weaknesses of the art system at the moment, and which are its strengths?

Grazyna Kulczyk: A main point of weakness is the commodification of art. People increasingly buy for investment, instead of buying out of curiosity and passion. It prevents the art market from a healthy growth. Art works land in the wrong hands this way. The democratisation of art is a double-edged sword. More people can access art nowadays but the reception often happens on a superficial level. What is missing is the attempt to refer to the many interpretation levels and the complexity of the artworks. This is why I advocate for a more slow art movement. It is going back to a conscious approach of consuming and truly appreciating art.

Who is the last artist you discovered?

Grazyna Kulczyk: I recently discovered the work of Lenore Tawney, an American artist who became an influential figure in the development of fibre art in the 1950s. I admire artists like this who had the courage to push the boundaries of convention and seek new forms of artistic expression.

Is there any artist that you collect in depth?

Grazyna Kulczyk: I cannot single out one particular artist. I can say though that I enjoy having in my collection a full spectrum of works by artists who I appreciate. I am interested in multifaceted artists and various aspects of their work. A good example would be Hannah Wilke – I began with photographs of her performances, then acquiring her ceramic works, to then complement them with a watercolor on paper. It allowed me to look at the artist’s work from another perspective. There are many artists, who I appreciate and whose works I would like to get to know better. I try to collect in a comprehensive way, to see and appreciate all angles. I do not shy away from buying atypical works.

Is there any art collector that you particularly admire, and why?

Grazyna Kulczyk: Collecting approaches – of both people I know and people I do not know – are varied and all deserve recognition. I cannot pick one. All I can say is that a person who collects demonstrates a passion and knowledge of the world, hence they deserve respect and recognition.

Which are your three favorite museums?

Grazyna Kulczyk: 1) Naoshima Island, Japan – Not only for the sublime architecture by Tadao Ando but also for his collaboration with James Turrell and the extraordinary work “City Light Pollution”. Naoshima has been a place of reference and one that I have cherished in my mind in planning my own museum. It is obvious from today’s perspective and when looking at Susch but the attributes the two places have in common are the relationship with the place and the nature as well as the effort put into transforming a place that was dedicated to a different purpose into a space for art and reflection. 2) Kaviar Factory, in the middle of the archipelago of Lofoten, Norway – a project of collectors Venke and Rolf Hoff. This quiet, difficult to reach place puts on very interesting exhibitions. 3) Whitney Museum, New York – I love the old building by the Bauhaus-trained architect, Marcel Breuer. If I were to build another museum, I’d like this to be a point of reference.

What is the advice you would give to a ‘young’ collector?

Grazyna Kulczyk: First of all, I would advise to listen attentively to what the heart and own eyes say, not necessarily listening to what professionals dictate. This has always been my principle and it has never failed me. Even if I made mistakes, they were part of my learning process. I would also avoid calling oneself a collector straight away – it is a role that one grows into. Thirdly, I would advise to take pleasure in the process and enjoy artworks. The biggest joy comes from the encounter with an artwork – this is what we are left with and what builds us. Last but not least, it is important not to be afraid of errors. Again, they are part of the process.

As an art collector, do you have regrets?

Grazyna Kulczyk: Never. Collecting is a process of learning and growing up. Each moment in a life of a collector is different. It is like a springboard to the next chapter.

May 31, 2021