He transformed a beautiful and peaceful valley in the Alps into a must-see destination for anyone interested in art. Grazyna Kulczyk, an elite patron who rarely talks to the press, was married to the successful businessman Jan Kulczyk, who died in 2015. She has excelled in finance and collecting on her own merits. It started many years ago, when she was a law student in her native Poland. As the soul of Museo Susch, which houses his private collection in a charming and atypical Swiss town for these purposes, located in the canton of Graubünden, Kulczyk has cultivated with a singular eye this set of pieces that has his stamp and, however, is universal. And his stamp is that of contemporary, conceptual and performance art and, naturally, that of female creation. Equality has been one of his concerns.
That sensitivity arises when it comes to the way in which the pandemic has marked it. “This particular time of seclusion due to the covid has affected my life, my feelings and my habits, but it has also allowed me to focus on details that otherwise would have gone unnoticed during my routine. Books, movies and music have been a common rediscovery for many people, and I have the great privilege of being able to enjoy art in my home and in depth. Collectors who can publicly display art in their institutions treat the works in their homes in a very personal way. And now I am able to discover hundreds of details and hidden meanings ”.
One in a million
“It was natural for me to try to build the museum that is in Switzerland in Poland. That is my homeland and where I have developed most of my business, but we must not forget that we are in a post-socialist country, in which for many decades contact with the type of contemporary art in which I have specialized was not allowed. Unfortunately, none of my initiatives, neither in Poznan nor in Warsaw, were successful. So this museum ended up being installed in Switzerland, although it was originally going to house my collection, it was going to be designed by a prominent name in the architectural world and it was going to be donated to the Polish State. The authorities were not too interested, and I think they never understood the true role that art can play in a society, “he says with rare sincerity.
Asked about his beginnings — long before he ventured into sectors as different as automobiles, energy and telecommunications—, she relates: “I really started collecting as a law student. Even then most of my time was spent with people who were engaged in creative activities. So whenever I could I traveled around Europe to broaden my interests, but initially what I collected was exclusively Polish art, and that initiative deepened after the fall of communism in my country, when I started, as a result of the opening, to work more naturally with other artists ”.
A collector of such brilliant creators as Donald Judd, Eva Hesse, Jenny Holzer or Carol Rama, Kulczyk explains how his museum has changed where it is. “By chance, without one knowing it, beautiful projects arise, because I was not a specialist in Switzerland. Drinking from the Susch community gave me the opportunity to see the country from an unusual perspective. And there was another attractive element: this is an isolated place, yes, but it is also in the heart of Europe. When I look for something I make sure I get it ”, he laughs, and gives as an example the way in which he became the largest importer of bicycles in Poland, the country in which he also dedicated 400 square meters entirely to one of his artistic projects, in order to disseminate quality works for a non-specialized public. “Few words have accompanied me more than ‘education,” he says.
Luminous present, uncertain destiny
What purpose does the Susch Museum have beyond the inherent interest that these pieces have? “Here, that interest in educating the public is somewhat limited, because in this small town there are very few children,” he confesses. “A pillar of the museum has been our temporary exhibitions. And another, to which we dedicate an entire separate building, is our arts residency program. But we also have a collaboration program with the Institut Kunst de Basel (FHNW), and another project dedicated specifically to the art of performance. I am really proud to have the approval of so many museums and elite collectors around the world, especially if we consider that ours is a young institution, with less than two years of life ”.
Before finishing, Kulczyck will have time to explain why he focused his attention on an exhibition that his museum offered, and that was truly countercultural, that of Evelyne Axell; he will refer to the effect of the pandemic on his life – “with this phone I have bought many works” – and on that of the artistic universe; and it will make a warning: “The amount of artistic information that I receive daily in times of covid makes it literally impossible to navigate in these conditions, with which messages of artistic subjects that would normally interest us can become irrelevant”. Still, he says: “People are hungry for art, especially face-to-face art.”
“I have thought a lot about where my collection will go once I am not here,” he adds. “Every year I think about it more, especially since my children are not interested in art. But at the same time I have seen how high-level collections have been dispersed everywhere, with auctions of important works involved. So, although for the moment I prefer not to say what decision I will make, it is an issue that I seriously consider. And I would add this: despite the fact that there are larger collections, this one I feel is essential because it reflects me, because it is very focused on the artists, because it has been personally curated, because it brings together things that move me and because, thanks to its style , it is atypical ”.