Merci Madame

Cracow, 10.09- 30.09. 2021

Janusz Dąbkiewicz



A series of historical coincidences led to one of the most important portraits ever painted by Leonardo da Vinci ending up in a Polish collection. The presence of the Lady with an Ermine in the Czartoryski Museum, in turn, contributed to Krakow's place in the collective imagination of global travellers as one of the most important tourist hotspots.

The spectacle of tourism was unexpectedly suspended in 2010, when the museum's renovation began. In 2011, moments before construction work began, Janusz Dąbkiewicz entered the site with his camera, documenting the emptiness of the gallery and asking the question about the status of a museum without art. The author returned to the site in 2019, this time documenting the renovated building ready to handle increased tourist traffic. When, a few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions also affected cultural institutions, history came full circle in an unexpected way and the former photographs of empty interiors gained a surprising meaning, impossible to foresee in 2011.

Anachronistically juxtaposed photographs formed the photo book Xiążęta (SPLOT Foundation, Krakow 2021), which is a journey through the interiors of the Czartoryski Museum and the nooks and crannies of Polish history. The exhibition consists of a selection of works from the book. Locating the photographic material in a particular exhibition and urban space, we decided to bring out the tension between the phenomenon of tourism and the life of Krakow's inhabitants.

What does Leonardo's masterpiece or the address Pijarska 15 mean to us on a daily basis? Are the tourists rushing to this address our partners in experiencing art, or maybe just crowds of anonymous passers-by, whom we avoid? When was the last time we saw paintings by Rembrandt, Norblin or exhibits related to Kara Mustafa? Perhaps while driving down the Aleje Trzech Wieszczów a billboard promoting the museum catches our eye, but we are already tired of the references to the famous lady? The citizens of Krakow would certainly like to say to both Izabela Czartoryska and Cecilia Gallerani: merci mesdames; however, it is not clear what tone these words would take?