Warsaw, 2004 – Gdańsk, 2017. Evolution of the Polish museum boom
Warsaw Rising Museum, interior, photo by Adrian Grycuk, CC BY-SA 3.0 pl
From the beginning of the 21st century a dozen of new museums, especially dealing with the 20th century Polish history, have been founded or rearranged in Poland. What associates all the “new museums” is the intensity, interactivity and polisensuality of their exhibitions, persuasivity of experience they create and their connection to certain memory politics. Such a museum is a “memory device” that shapes and transmits a vision of the past via the influencing remembering pattern it offers.
Museum of the Second World War, exterior, photo by Maria Kobielska
This “museum boom” dates back precisely to 2004, when the spectacular Warsaw Rising Museum was opened. Memory shaped within the WRM’s exhibition can be described not only as attractive, interesting, immersive or convincing, but also as a conservative vision of the past, in which Polish national perspective is a default one. Taking this into account, a comparison between WRM, the oldest of all Polish “new museums”, and the newest one can be informative. The Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk, just opened in 2017, was considered to likely take a position of a “liberal answer” to the WRM.
Museum of the Second World War, interior, photo by Maria Kobielska
In such circumstances, analysis of these two exhibitions’ strategies in terms of their similarities and differences will allow to sketch answers to the questions of: 1) origins and development of the current Polish museum boom; 2) both museums’ choices of what is remembered and hidden in the shaped vision of past; 3) awareness (or its lack) of these choices embedded in the exhibitions’ design; 4) museums’ freedom and/or dependence in context of their political associations; 5) existence of dominant patterns and counter-projects among Polish museums.
Maria Kobielska, PhD, is a memory scholar, working at Faculty of Polish Studies of Jagiellonian University, member of the Research Center for Memory Cultures. She has recently published a book on Polish memory culture in the 21st century (Polska kultura pamięci w XXI wieku: dominanty, 2016).