For the first time in over a decade, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw brings together a vast collection of contemporary Polish art. Culture.pl speaks to the curators of the exhibition.
At a rather specific moment
The exhibition's curators, Sebastian Cichocki and Łukasz Ronduda, are preparing their show 'at a rather specific moment'. This is a time when Polish artists have established their international presence, but the variety and scope of works of art that are being created create the impression of a lack of a defining current. Where exactly is Polish art at?
The 80s exhibitions Ekspresja lat 80. / 80s Expression at the BWA Sopot and Co słychać / What's Up? in the former Norblin Plant, Warsaw, defined the decade by outlining a clear art direction. The ensuing decades brought regularly organised 'here and now recapitulations' organised by the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle. One of the last exhibitions of the sort was Scena 2000 / Scene 2000. The situation today is different. Łukasz Ronduda comments,
We are in a situation in which the public could have a hard time discerning between the diverse manifestations and art forms. That's why we proposed our own order, concentrating on the most important attitudes and subjects tackled by artists. We are assuming that we are helping viewers to move within the field of art.
The Co widać. Polska sztuka dzisiaj / As You Can See: Polish Art Today exhibition traces the contemporary Polish art scene by grouping artworks and art phenomena into a series of narrations: the continuation of critical, surrealist and feminist art, an overview of new media and sound art, and interdisciplinary works. A distinctly pronounced motive is that of exhausted avant-garde strategies which have been replaced by a search for inspiration in areas such as non-professional art, arts and crafts, academia and rural art.
Exhausted Avant garde
No less than a decade ago, artists had to fight for a place for their avant-garde masters in the canon of art. Today, art institutions complete collections, publications and studies on the subject themselves. Today's artists refer to the foundations of 60s and 70s avant-garde with increasing distance and ennui with the past more frequently, as seen in Oskar Dawicki's ironic work in which he plays with his master Zbigniew Warpechowski, or the fantastic visions in Agnieszka Polska's films. Those creators, who over a decade ago opposed traditional techniques, are now going back to plastic arts and crafts, to the figurativeness and spirituality characteristic of traditional art. The phenomenon can be observed in the sculptures and drawings of Paweł Althamer or the artistic fabrics of Piotr Uklański.
The Museum of Modern Art exhibition presents works which are representative of a new approach to avant-garde. Blasphemous at times, like Uklański's Polska neoawangarda / Polish Neo Avant-garde series in which he appropriates works of artists from the 60s and 70s (Zofia Kulik, Grzegorz Kowalski, Zbigniew Warpechowski) or full of story arcs like Tomasz Kowalski's gouaches. The artist created a cycle relating to Jacek Kryszkowski's journey in search of the bones of Witkacy.
Sebastian Cichocki comments,
One of the works around which we constructed the narration of the exhibition is Paweł Althamer's Koziołek Matołek / Matołek the Billy Goat sculpture. Althamer incorporates the cartoon character from a children's bedtime story by Kornel Makuszyński which may be a metaphorical presentation of a local artist acting in a global context, who draws from his neighbourhood, from the place to which he is physically and spiritually linked. In fact, there is something intriguing about that character – his perpetual search for the city of Pacanowo can be compared to the artist's return to aesthetic pleasure, to crafts and plastic arts - as we can see in the exhibition. We have been far and wide, drawing from different places, cinema, theatre, sound, hypnosis also, only to return to our little Paconowo. After many curatorial experiments, the trip has brought us back to the starting point, we have come back to the exhibition. An exhibition which displays works of art made by artists.
On the one hand, the exhibition will house the works of recognised artists Mirosław Bałka, Zbigniew Libera, Wilhelm Sasnal, Piotr Uklański and Paulina Ołowska who have strong and clear attitudes. The Museum website will also make the 7th Berlin Biennale (2012) archives available, interpreted as a large scale individual exhibition of its curator - Artur Żmijewski. On the other hand, the exhibition also presents works of less known artists which can be considered as representative of a wider current of the second decade of the 20th century. Cichocki mentions them in the Culture.pl conversations,
Today we are interested by precise subjects, I am very curious whether they will be important to us and our public in a couple of years. This concerns, for example, the issue of art created outside of urban centres, new folklore. Whether it's a trend which will develop, as is the case in Great Britain for example? Or will all those 'non avant-garde' inspirations - outsider art, crafts, academia - continue to be significant, or is this a type of fad?
One of the best known artists creating outside of the main urban centres is Daniel Rycharski from the village of Kurówko. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Art and the Pedagogical University of Kraków, he decided to return to his community and make 'rural street-art'. Rapidly gaining the interest of the local population, Rycharski transferred his imagination onto sheds, barns, and other farm buildings, as well as setting up a garden made of non-functioning agricultural machinery. Sebastian Cichocki talks about art that is independent from institutions,
A dream about art which functions, which replaces religious rituals and merges local communities came true in Kurówko. There we find everything we have always dreamed of: working with radical community-minded artists: the spirit of participation, responsibility for the community, a shared sense of authorship, the pleasure of being together, art which develops by itself without the need to be artificially sustained by institutions.
The exhibition will also host non-professional artists who became an inspiration or a reference point for contemporary artists. Ronduda adds,
What we mean by this, is that artists refer to figures of the avant-garde and neo-avantgarde less often. More often, they refer to the art of 'other masters'.
Through the work he presents at the exhibition, Łukasz Jastrubczak, winner of the Spojrzenia 2013 / Views 2013 competition introduces Edmund Monsiel, a deceased schizophrenic artist from a Polish village. A collection of compulsive drawings created by Monsiel shows men with moustaches and a large amount of eyeballs sprawling on their faces. Jan Gryka, on the other hand, draws on the legacy of Zenek (Iłarian Daniluk), a mural painter who created heavenly, bucolic, and often abstract paintings in private homes in exchange for food or vodka. Gryka recreates Zenek in his memory. Among others, he made a floor pattern in Daniluk's style. The deceased painter has a large group of admirers within the artistic milieu. Robert Kuśmirowski is one of them.
Through her work, Paulina Ołowska will introduce the work of Jerzy Kolecki, an artist from the village of Rabka. The local population knows Kolecki as a poster maker from the doll theatre. Ołowska has drawn inspiration from his work for a long time, displaying some of this work at the New Museum in New York. The most arduous and simultaneously most striking element of the work for the Warsaw Museum exhibition will be the reconstruction of the eye motif from one of Kolecki's posters. Ołowska will reproduce it in a large scale on the front window of the Emilia building in Warsaw. Ronduda talks about the need to draw from traditions,
Among artists, there exists the need to refer to more remote traditions. This breeds the desire to reach for plastic arts, which institutions and creators of contemporary art dismissed at a certain moment. Let's remember that avant-garde art is only 100 years old.
References to traditional art can also be found in the works of Aleksandra Waliszewska – fascinated by the artistic output of Jan Ziarnko from the 16th century and those of Ewa Juszkiewicz, who recreates 18th century portraits brush stroke by brush stroke. The artist gives an account of history without strengthening it but making it more fantastical - instead of the faces of the depicted women, she draws unreal shapes. The exhibition also displays the works of Jakub Woynarowski, who is representing Poland this year at the 14th Architecture Biennale in Venice. The artist searches for avant-garde art in the remote past and found evidence for the existence of minimalism in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Glimpse the works of Ewa Juszkiewicz on Culture.pl's Map of Polish Art in 2013.
"At the exhibition we are foreshadowing, a bit ironically, another turn in art. We have recently observed a change in the direction of performing arts, cinematography, sound, and now we are becoming interested in art again: by objects, fabrics, the so-called traditional media. A turn in art!" Cichocki sums up. He adds: "We are thinking that this kind of exhibition could be cyclical and take place every three or four years. Organising this sort of "salon" would maybe allow us to verify certain hypothesis and foreboding feelings and for the judgement of the strength of different kinds of artistic propositions".