The history of this place begins in 1956, a time after the post-war restoration of the capital’s historic sites. It was then that Anna Dębska, a fresh graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts, adapted the top floor of an apartment building on 41 Nowy Świat street into a studio. A photo shoot presenting this interesting interior was soon featured in the Ty i Ja monthly, which would now surely be monikered a “lifestyle” magazine.
Dębska sculpted in bronze and reinforced concrete, and the majority of her works were of horses – her life’s great passion. Dębska was in fact among the first to breed Arabian horses in the People’s Republic of Poland. Apart from these animals, she also sculpted elephants, antelopes, bison, foxes, wolves, birds, seals and fish.
In a talk with the Tygodnik Ostrołęcki weekly, Anna Dębska reminisced:
I remember my first collective exhibition at the Zachęta [National Art Gallery]. It was in the 1950s. All over Zachęta there was nothing but figures, and mostly in the style of socialist realism. And right in the middle of the space, my small sculpture of a little wolf. After the show, I read a review in the Życie Warszawy journal, written by one of the era’s most important critics. He was impressed by this little wolf. He said that it was like a breath of fresh air surrounded by all these heavy soc-real sculptures.
Her monumental sculptures still adorn city landscapes across the world. In Warsaw, some of the best known pieces are Pędzące konie (Running Horses) by the horse race tracks in Służewiec, Żubrzyk (The Little Bison) by the Warsaw Zoo, and Lecące łabędzie (Flying Swans) in the Ochota district, raised in 1971 on a town square which gained the name “under the wings”.
In the late 1970s, Anna Dębska moved to the United States for two decades. The studio in Nowy Świat was then home to her daughter, also a sculptor, and her granddaughter. The latter, Aleksandra Waliszewska, is now a world-famous painter, the author of perverse yet dreamlike pictures which present little girls in various oppressive situations. Her works are presented at major museums, have been featured on album covers, and continue to inspire new artists. The Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari created a film called The Capsule (2012), based on Waliszewska’s extraordinary gouache paintings.
THE CAPSULE (2012) / directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari / exclusive trailer for Yatzer.com from Yatzer on Vimeo.
In her article for Culture.pl, Ewa Gorządek comments:
The idyllic games of the little protagonists blend with refined atrocities, and all this is saturated with a strongly underscored eroticism. Wild animals and scary monsters go into liaisons with the little girls, who are objects of dark, sexual secrets. The little women are at times victims, and on other occasions, the initiators of violence, girlish innocence intertwined with something demonic and repulsive.
After the death of her grandmother in 2014, Waliszewska decided to open up a private museum devoted to the work of her family's female artists, located in the former studio on Nowy Świat. It was not only the mother and grandmother of the artist who engaged in creative work. Her great-grandmother, Kazimiera Dębska, wrote fairy tales. Waliszewska illustrated two of those tales, Podarunek szklarza (The Glassmaker’s Gift) and Jak boginka Seili została prawdziwym człowiekiem (How the Goddess Seili Became a Real Human).
The tenement house on Nowy Świat often appears as either the background for or a featured element of her paintings. An example is her early piece called Trzy gracje (Three Graces) (2000), in which she evoked the style of historical painting. At present, the artist faces an eviction order, due to the apartment’s status as a council flat (which does not allow for normal inheritance following the grandmother’s death). For this reason, in early August, 2014, Waliszewska filed a petition to the Mayor of Warsaw, “to obtaining a lease to rent”. An appeal for this cause was signed by some of the most important representatives of both Polish and global culture, such as Professor Maria Poprzęcka, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw - Joanna Mytkowska, the writer Olga Tokarczuk, and world-famous musicians including Nick Cave, Ian Astbury, Richard Bishop, David Tibet and John Zorn. The petition argues:
“This would be an initiative much like that of the Instytut Awangardy (Institute of the Avant-garde), as part of which one can visit the apartment/studio of Edward Krasiński and Henryk Stażewski. The institute is highly popular with visitors”.
Michał Krasucki, the chairman of the Historic Heritage Care Society in Warsaw is also among the supporters of the cause. In a talk with Culture.pl, he comments:
"The situation is a stalemate. The city authorities support this initiative, but at present there are no possibilities on the legal and formal level. We have created a team which works on the topic of historic studios and it is dealing with this case. We would like to be able to transform the apartment into a commercial premise. It would then be possible for Waliszewska to apply for a lease, as an artist”.
Author: Agnieszka Sural, 9.10.2014, translated by Paulina Schlosser.