The common denominator that unites this diversity of views lies in the artists' relationships to space itself: in the way they organize the space around them, in what they are trying to express by doing so, and in the way they incorporate spatial aspects into their art.
From Natalia LL's Consumer Art series
Architectures of Gender: Contemporary Woman's Art in Poland held in the spring of 2003 was the first major introduction of contemporary Polish women artists to the New York art world. The exhibition will also be the first group show of Polish art in New York since 1976, and included many artists who have never before been exhibited in the United States
The intention of the project was to explore and present the diversity of the attitudes and interests of Polish women artists within the context of the politics and social dynamics of the past decade, with reference to the history of the last 30 years. The common denominator that unites this diversity of views lies in the artists' relationships to space itself: in the way they organize the space around them, in what they are trying to express by doing so, and in the way they incorporate spatial aspects into their art. The exhibition, conceived especially for the SculptureCenter, will be perceived on the basis of the interactions among the individual works and the new gallery space. Selected works convey the artists' social and cultural connections, relationships with men, and artistic strategies that locate the artists within the context of contemporary art.
The SculptureCenter hosted 16 artists, whose primary means of artistic expression is the medium of installation. Installation, with its complexity and ability to stimulate all of the viewer's senses, seems to be the medium - along with sculpture - most capable of "gendering" space. The exhibition will feature numerous separate spaces, which will be utilized by the women artists for installations with diverse aesthetics and with a variety of points of view. Visitors will be able to enter these spaces, suggestive of a bedroom, a dining room, a modernist apartment, a garden, a ritual space, or a fitness club, and their perception of the artists' installations will demand the use of different senses. At the same time visitors will be passing through a gallery, as it were, of the different issues addressed by women in art, and of their varied relationships with other human beings and with reality itself. Moreover, through actions and performances the exhibition will also interact directly with the public space and social context of Queens.
The exhibition brings together the most significant phenomena, both ideological and formal, in women's art in Poland today. The pieces were selected both for content and for their potential to work "in polylogue" with the spaces of the new SculptureCenter facility. The show is multi-generational, including artists who emerged in the 1970s, as well as talents whose careers have only recently, but brilliantly, begun.
Natalia Lach-Lachowicz (better known in Poland and the art world as Natalia LL) was the first Polish artist to join the international feminist artists movement in the mid-1970s; her impact on the development of feminist issues in Polish art cannot be overstated. Her concepts of exhibitions were always involved with their environmental and architectural origin. There was the combination of intimate photography and formally disciplined surroundings, like the convergence of the opposite discourses. For the SculptureCenter, Natalia LL will install one of her anthurium (a flower with strong connotations of masculine sexuality) photographic cascades in the basement area, creating Hortus Eroticus. Another important work rooted in the seventies is The World as War and Adornment (2003) by Zofia Kulik - the work that seems to return the artist to her early Academy of Fine Arts days, where working on the thesis show (1970-71) she for the first time made a duplicate of the sculpture of Moses statue by Michelangelo. This work comments on the traditional academic education of the artist and the gender issues provoked by classical sculpture. The meaning of the work in this exhibition seems to be now even more extended. The two new duplicates somehow neutralize each other; they wear down the banality of the feminine/masculine division. For the last three decades, Kulik's work has focused mostly on cultural memory and has had a direct influence on many young Polish artists. Hence the show will also offer reflections on the past by the youngest generation, as in the case of Paulina Olowska, whose installation, Fabricating Abstraction (2003), is a séance with modernity, delving into the meaning of the white cube, the Bauhaus tradition and geometric abstraction.
Several of the featured artists represent diverse approaches to the human body. The subject is investigated in works by: Hanna Nowicka-Grochal, Izabella Gustowska and Karolina Wysocka. Though they come from different eras, these artists do share a psychoanalytical point of view and an emotional approach towards the representation of the human body and the fragility of human relationships. Katarzyna Kozyra - interested in trans-gender issues - violated male territory in Men's Bathhouse (1999). To make this work she entered a men's bathhouse in disguise. Her work is located on the border between the experience of trying to assume another cultural role and the discomfort of being unable to do so. The theme is further explored in its pop-cultural aspects in Agnieszka Kalinowska's Just a Little Bit More (2001), in which the human body, tired of enjoyment and consumption, has become an impotent and weak figure loosely woven together out of paper streamers.
Relationships with men are explored in this exhibition by Dorota Nieznalska. Her work is unique in the Polish art scene, based as it is on a deep fascination with masculinity. Her sound-installation from 2001, Omnipotence. Gender: Male, relates to male ways of controlling the body through fitness, and to difficulties men meet in fulfilling their culturally imposed roles.
Numbers, a wall piece by Jadwiga Sawicka that employs newspaper headlines in giant lettering, and Anna Plotnicka's Living Stories, an installation based on women's stories about their everyday routine, refer to the social and textual context of art. They both effectively juxtapose printed and oral memories of everyday life, which, second by second, turns into the past.
Two performance pieces, My Garden by Julita Wójcik and Through the Stomach to the Heart by Elzbieta Jablonska, demand direct contact with the audience. In each case the performance merges into reality and plays humorous games with activities that are still regarded as traditionally feminine. Elzbieta Jablonska's performance piece will entail preparing a feast for opening-day visitors. Julita Wójcik will create a small private garden in Long Island City's Court House Square. Her daily appearance in the same place, dressed up in a specially designed apron equipped with gardening tools, will attract passers-by to talk with the artist and to rest in this place she has created, and may just alter their ways of thinking about public space and the role of the individual within it. Both works are also involved in a discourse on limitations of art, the ways of communication with the audience and the seduction toward it.
Three of the invited artists have a special interest in the ability to re-shape a space through architectural construction. Monika Sosnowska will build in the SculptureCenter's gallery yard a booth, mysterious object, that evokes the current transitional chapter in the history of this institution (i.e., its move from Upper East Side Manhattan to L.I.C.) and involves the spectator's body in games about the gallery space and the place for the viewer within. And in the gallery cellar Katarzyna Józefowicz will construct her installation Habitat, consisting of perfectly crafted paper miniature models (1998-99) - a delicate piece dealing with the intimacy of human living space and the fragility of its survival. Dominika Skutnik, working with ideas of perception on the optical and haptic levels, will refer to the former function of the SculptureCenter's hallway. This installation will fill up the space with invisible energy circulating in hundreds of meteres of cable installation. What is usually hidden - like the veins of the blood system - here will be seen and turned into minimalist, technological pattern.
The concept of "space" in this exhibition ranges from "gallery space", through "social space", to emotional private space, revealing its meaning wherever femininity has its own "place". The show will address the dualities of private/intimate, as opposed to public, space - the self versus the other - the individual and society. It will create spaces that evoke the relationship between the female individual and everything that surrounds her. It will also reflect and comment on places and spaces dedicated the masculine experience from a gendered point of view.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue introduced by three essays: one by the curator on the exhibition's content, and another by Dorota Monkiewicz, a curator at the National Museum of Warsaw, providing a survey of Polish women artists from 1945 to the present. Her essay will place the exhibit in the context of Polish feminism, which developed under sociopolitical conditions entirely different from those in America, and will outline the feminist culture in Poland over the past five decades. The third by Elzbieta Matynia, director of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, New School University, New York, recalls the historical, political, social and cultural context of Poland, and refers to cultural icons and the local aspects of feminism.
The exhibition will be provided with extensive public programming, including curator's talks, guest lectures, a panel discussion at New School University on women's art in Poland and social and political aspects of the situation of women in Poland today, and screenings that highlight the most outstanding and important video works by Polish women artists from the seventies and eighties.
This project has been funded by grants from the Trust for Mutual Understanding,the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Poland.
Exhibition opening: April 11, 2003, 6-9 p.m.
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