21 Most Important Works from Warsaw’s MSN
Warsaw’s Emilia Hall houses one of the largest collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MSN). Taking advantage of a major display held there over 2013 and 2014, we highlighted some of MSN's most important works.
Paweł Althamer, Rubber
Paweł Althamer, Rubber, 2008, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
Althamer’s work recalls a warszawiak, who all knew and liked over the years, even children. Mr. Rubber was one of the petty criminals and drunks from Brest – but he was also an authority on the local code of honor. The artist created this sculpture in partnership with children and guardians from the Group for Education and Social Action in North Prague. It originally stood on the sidewalk in front of a liquor store on the corner of Czynoszowa and Stalowa Streets, in 2009. Lurching forward, the life-size man immediately aroused opposition from some residents, who claimed the work highlighted negative opinions of the district. Others, however, took care of the statue in the severe winter – dressing him in a hat to keep warm.
Mirosław Bałka, A Boy and an Eagle
Mirosław Bałka, A Boy and an Eagle, 1988, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski / MSN
The sculpture, made from artificial stone, depicts Zeus in the form of an eagle seducing young Ganymede. The highest of gods, having fallen in love with the most beautiful man among mortals, transformed into the bird of prey and kidnapped Ganymede to Mount Olympus. There he made him his lover, granting him eternal youth and immortality. The work of the artist refers to this Greek myth, which in literature symbolizes homosexual love. In an interview, Mirosław Bałka said, "It is a sculpture about patriotism, and patriotism can be sexy. I think in today’s world it is more current than when it was created […] Can the eagle representing Poland tempt young, developing men?"
Yael Bartana, Nightmares, Wall and Tower, Assassination
Yael Bartana, still from the film Assassination, 2011, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
Israeli artist Yael Bartana created this trilogy of films around the concept of Jews in Poland. It refers to a special socio-political movement, which aims to return more than three million Jews to the land of their ancestors. In the film, in the name of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland, representatives of the Polish left, culture figures and artists speak, exhor, and build kibbutzim. They include Anda Rottenberg, Wilhelm Sasnal and Sławomir Sierakowski. Bartana recalls the theme of alternative locations for the state of Israel in Uganda, an idea once contemplated by Zionists. The final film in the trilogy, Assassination, was shown in at the Polish Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale, in 2011.
Wojciech Bąkowski, I See Things That Are Not There
Wojciech Bąkowski, I See Things That Are Not There, 2009, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
The installation I See Things That Are Not There is a small black room filled only with abstract sounds that provoke various associations and are rather disturbing. Bąkowski says that work is a testament to a conversation about imaginary problems that he had with his friend and fellow artist, Piotr Bosacki.
Iwan Brażkin, Rebel Karaoke
Iwan Brażkin, Rebel Karaoke, 2011-2012, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
Brażkin, the Moscow artist and leftist political activist, invites the viewer to shout protester demands into a microphone – in the form of karaoke. The screen plays footage of protests and demonstrations related to current political events in the world. The work of Brażkin touches on socio-political themes and confronts politics and entertainment. It positions the viewers to identify and join with the crowd of protesters, thus augmenting their political identity. The installation refers to the artist’s earlier work The Voice of the People (2010), transferring protester demands from the street to the exhibition space, where capitalist society does not want them to be heard. The viewer is plunged into a world of the demands and complaints of strikers, political speeches and chanted slogans.
Rafał Bujnowski, Eye Sockets
Rafał Bujnowski, Eye Sockets, 2010, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
These monumental paintings from Bujnowski, one of the founders of the Grupa Ładnie, represent segments of an unfinished apartment building. Window openings are combined with textured raw concrete walls. The work refers to the economic crisis of recent years, as well as the familiar Polish landscape of vacancy – symbolic of hasty investments and their rapid decline. This series of conceptual images refers to Bujnowski’s earlier work Lamp Black (2007), in which he painted over monochrome black canvas so that it changed depending on the viewing angle and lighting.
Oskar Dawicki, Snowman of Quotes
Oskar Dawicki, Snowman of Quotes, 2005, photo: courtesy of the Raster Gallery
Oskar Dawicki created this sculpture of snow, which in order to exist requires constant care…and an electrical outlet. The only permanent feature of the snowman is its buttons, which are engraved with quotations from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The words of the Roman emperor and philosopher could be the motto for the ironic and melancholic work of Dawicki: "Either you live here and have already accustomed yourself to it, or you are going away, and this is your own will; or you are dying and have discharged your duty. But besides these things there is nothing. So be of good cheer."
Aneta Grzeszykowska, Album
Aneta Grzeszykowska, Album, 2004, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
Aneta Grzeszykowska’s work seemingly recalls a family album filled with typical souvenir pictures. Over two hundred photographs collected by the artist and her family over three decades have been subjected to the artist’s specific treatment – Grzeszykowska has carefully removed the figures from them. In some photos, the central figure is not visible (e.g., there is no child in the hands of the mother); in others there are fewer or none at all (views of landscape or interior apartments). In this work, Grzeszykowska plays with the mechanisms of remembering and forgetting, while providing insight into the history of the private life of her family, without her participation.
Sanja Iveković, Invisible Women of Solidarity
Sanja Iveković, Invisible Women of Solidarity, 2009-2010, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
This project from one of the pioneers of feminist art in former Yugoslavia is a "monument to the invisible women," the marginalized participants of the Polish Solidarity movement. It first appeared on the cover of the magazine High Heels (a supplement to the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza), where Iveković modified Tomasz Sarnecki’s famous poster from the first free elections in Poland. The 1989 poster referenced High Noon, the Hollywood western, with Gary Cooper’s gun replaced by a ballot. In Iveković’s poster, the central actor becomes a woman.
Grzegorz Kowalski Archive
Pictured: Paweł Althamer, Grzegorz Kowalski Archive, 1981-2008, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
From the famous studio Kowalnia came some of the important contemporary artists of mainstream critical art of the 1990s. Since 1985, Kowalnia sparked the careers of Althamer, Katarzyna Kozyra, Anna Molska, Anna Niesterowicz and Artur Zmijewski, among others. Professor Grzegorz Kowalski, an educator, was an artist and critic in the 1960s and ‘70s. He had been an assistant in Oskar Hansen’s architecture and design studio, and to the sculptor Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz. Hansen’s theory of Open Form influenced Kowalski's understanding of the relationship between the artist and viewer, and between a work and its environment. The archive from Museum’s collection includes documentation of his work and activities of his students. It shows Kowalski’s unique teaching method, which he referred to as a teaching partnership. His method emphasized the individuality of each student, gradually making them independent from the authority of the professor. This method assumes creative freedom and freedom of choice as a means of expression – thus from his sculpture studio emerged performance and video works.
Akademia Ruchu, Europe
Akademia Ruchu, Europe action, Warsaw, November 1976, photo: Stefan Okołowicz, © Akademia Ruchu
This art group, founded by Wojciech Krukowski in Warsaw, was a pioneer of artistic intervention in urban space. The street action Europe refers to a futuristic work of the same title by Anatol Stern. Transcribed on banners, the words of the poem were presented by members of Akademia Ruchu on the busiest streets of several Polish cities (the Museum’s recording is from Łódź). They were accompanied by the sound of car horns and powerful headlights. In light of worker strikes in Radom and Ursus, the action assumed the character of "performative political allegory".
Kwiekulik (Zofia Kulik, Przemysław Kwiek), Kwiekulik Archive, 1974-1982, photo by: Agnieszka Sural
This artistic partnership, maintained in the years 1971-1987 by Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek, connected arts to everyday life and politics. The pair belonged to the first generation of Polish artists who, in the late 1960s and '70s, rejected traditional means of expression and focused on the use of media and mechanical recording and reproduction of images. The KwieKulik Archive is the largest private archive of materials related to avant-garde art and visual culture during Poland's communist era. It also contains valuable materials describing the workings of institutions responsible for culture and propaganda of the time, including correspondence of artists, official newsletters and magazines. The exhibition at the Museum reconstructs the interior of their Workshop for Activities, Documentation and Dissemination, operating in the '70s from Kulik and Kwiek’s apartment in the Warsaw district of Praga.
Zbigniew Libera, Lego. Concentration Camp
Zbigniew Libera, Lego. Concentration Camp, 1996, photo: courtesy of the Raster Gallery
Lego. Concentration Camp is an iconic work of Polish art from the 1990s, and the most famous work of Zbigniew Libera. It consists of seven boxes of the popular building blocks, with which the artist has designed a German concentration camp. The work has been very controversial. Purchased for the collection of the Jewish Museum in New York, it was the inspiration for the major exhibition Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imager/Recent Art (2002).
Goshka Macuga, The Letter
Goska Macuga, The Letter, 2011, photo: Przemysław Pokrycki / Fundacja.DOC/courtesy of Zachęta National Art Gallery
Several metres of canvas show the happening action Letter by Tadeusz Kantor (1967), during which a number of professional postmen carried a giant letter to the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw. In Goshka Macuga’s work, the letter is addressed to the national Zachęta Gallery. The work refers to the history of the gallery, particularly the turbulent period of the late 1990s, when work on display aroused protests and even violent reactions (the actor Daniel Olbrychski’s shredding of Peter Uklański’s series Nazis, or the destruction of Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture by LPR member Witold Tomczak). Many letters were sent to Zachęta that violently criticized contemporary art and then-director Anda Rottenberg.
Józef Robakowski, Idle Line
Józef Robakowski, Idle Line, 1991, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
In the installation Idle Line, a film projector displays a line of light extending without end. The artist has placed in the projector a looped tape of celluloid engraved with a line that creates a translucent effect on the plane. For Robakowski, a prominent video artist, light is the basis of the cinema and photography. In this work, the artist returns to issues that concerned his art in the 1970s, a period in which the influential Workshop of the Film Form in Lódż confronted art with new media.
Wilhelm Sasnal, Broniewski
Wilhelm Sasnal, Broniewski, 2004, photo: Raster Gallery
The artist portrays the poet Władysław Broniewski, the former soldier and author of revolutionary songs and propagandistic poetry, based on photos by Jan Styczyński. Wilhelm Sasnal, one of the most esteemed artists of the Grupa Ladnie, takes on Polish history and national identity, politics and collective memory, and the issue of the involvement of artists in politics. Broniewski is one of the first images that established Sasnal as "the youngest of the Polish historical painters."
Jacek Sempoliński, Męćmierz
Jacek Sempoliński, Męćmierz, 1979, photo by: Agnieszka Sural
Męćmierz is part of Kazimierz Dolny, an area situated on the banks of the Vistula River. It is a picturesque place to spend time outside the city, frequented by Polish artists such as Jacek Sempoliński. His artistic attitude had an impact on one of the important trends in contemporary Polish art and art criticism. An eminent painter, educator and critic who died in 2012, Sempoliński created a series of paintings, Wisła, the Polish name of the Vistula, which refer to the tradition of post-war colorism. His painting shows great emotional tension, manifested in apparent attempts to destroy the canvas.
Slavs and Tatars, Prayway
Slavs and Tatars, Prayway, 2012, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski
This international artistic collective was formed in 2006 by Kasia Korczak and Payam Sharifi. Their works bring together concepts and problems that are seemingly contradictory or incompatible: Islam and communism, metaphysics and humor, pop culture and geopolitics. The work Prayway refers to the popular theme of the eastern flying carpet. Typical of the work of Slavs and Tatars, it is an interactive piece, created as place for meeting, intercultural communication, and the exchange of ideas.
Alina Szapocznikow, Herbier XII (Le Christ)
Alina Szapocznikow, Herbier XII (Le Christ), 1972, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
This is the final, and one of the most important, works by Alina Szapocznikow, whose sculptures included works based on body casts. In her series referring to botanical herbaria, dried plants are immersed in casts of a young man (the artist’s son, Peter). This sculpture belonged to the interior of the Pallottine Chapel in Paris, as did Szapocznikow's Krużlowa / Motherhood. It was commissioned by a friend of the artist, Father Józef Sadzik.
Piotr Uklański, Untitled (Pope John Paul II)
Piotr Uklański, Untitled (Pope John Paul II), 2004, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
This work by Piotr Uklański is a photographic portrait of the Holy Father created from the seated bodies of 3,500 Brazilian soldiers. Picturing a black face for the Polish pope, this work plays on the cult of national icons and patriotic uprisings. The work also functioned as a billboard (2005) on the Warsaw street corner at Marszałkowska and Świętokrzyskiej. It was there that, until very recently, construction had been planned for the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Its placement coincided with the death of John Paul II, which made Uklański’s work a place for religious reflection and tribute to the deceased.
Zbigniew Warpechowski, ASIA
Zbigniew Warpechowski, Asia, 1989, photo: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
This monumental installation is a unique in the activities of Zbigniew Waprechowski, a pioneer of Polish performance art. In the mid 1980s, he used a banner with the word "Asia" in its Polish spelling as backdrop for some of his performances. In Łódź, as part of the exhibition Dungeon of Manhattan curated by Józef Robakowski in 1989, Warpechowski presented a three-dimensional version of the work. The artist reclaims the lettering of propaganda (for example, that of PZPR) that had been positioned in public spaces during communism. He proposes a message that he thinks better describes the state of mind prevailing in Poland in the late 1980s. The artist recalled: "What is symbolized by the word ‘Asia’? Not the land geographically, but the empire that suppressed us for over 40 years; as individuals, not only as a society. Everybody felt like Asians."
In the Heart of the Country
Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
(in the former furniture store Emilia)
Source Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, culture.pl, personal materials
Author: Agnieszka Sural, 28.06.2013
Translation: Alena Aniskiewicz 01.07.2013