From Kibbutzniks to Zen Masters: The Studios of Polish Avant-Garde Artists
#photography & visual arts
small, Edward Krasiński’s studio, photo: The Foksal Gallery Foundation, center, edward_krasiski_studio_fgf.jpg
For many artists, practicality is only one of the aspects of their studios. A studio can also be a place where artistic groups are formed, a space to showcase the artist’s work and even be a work of art in and of itself. Culture.pl takes a look inside some famous Polish artists’ studios.
The art of the first avant-garde and of its post-war successors broke with the artistic traditions on many levels, but in some ways, avant-garde artists continued, willingly or not, some of the practices of their predecessors. As the position of visual artists who portrayed themselves as educated representatives of the liberal arts gained prominence during the Renaissance, the studios of the greatest masters were turned into carefully curated combinations of houses and museums, similar to the personal homes of architects that have often served as the showcase of the talents of the designer. Even modern-era artists transformed their studios into artworks destined to be shown to audiences. 20th-century studios continued to play these roles but also gained a number of new functions.
At Home with the Architect
In 1962, Henryk Stażewski, one of the oldest living representatives of the pre-war avant-garde painters, moved into a flat located on the eleventh floor of a residential block at 64 Solidarności Avenue in Warsaw. He shared the flat, which was very spacious and luxurious considering the standards of the era, with another painter, Mewa Łunkiewicz-Rogoyska and her husband, Jan Rogoyski. They had known Stażewski since before the war, and had lived with him before in a smaller flat on Piękna Street. After their death, a new tenant joined Stażewski in his studio-apartment – Edward Krasiński, who was one of the leading artists of Polish neo-avant-garde and 20 years Stażewski’s junior. The shared studio-apartment became one of the most important centres of social life of the artistic community of that era.
The men lived together for 18 years, until Stażewski’s death in 1988, after which Krasiński radically transformed their shared space into one giant work of art. Portraits of friends and family are not neatly framed and standing on shelves, but rather are hanging in the middle of the room, suspended on strings attached to wooden cubes. The entire flat is engirdled by Krasiński’s trademark light-blue line, glued to the wall at the height of 130 cm together with an inscription: ‘I’m not sure if this is art, but it definitely is blue scotch tape, width 19 mm, length unknown.’
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Today, it is still possible to take a look inside Krasiński’s studio and to see both the interventions he made in this space deliberately and the ordinary objects, such as letters and prescriptions that he left behind. The studio is looked after by The Foksal Gallery Foundation that made sure to preserve the studio itself, but also built a glass pavilion on a neighbouring terrace and transformed the entire area into the Avant-Garde Institute. This way, Krasiński’s studio is not only preserved intact, but it also is not covered with dust and remains a vibrant element of the local artistic landscape. In 2018, Japanese-Polish artist Koji Kamoji created a composition on the terrace of the institute and the musician and visual artist Paolo Thorsen-Nagel prepared a sound performance directly inspired by the space.
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Andrzej Urbanowicz & Urszula Broll
The life of Silesian neo-avant-garde was centred around a studio-apartment that could not be more different in character than its Warsaw counterpart. Beginning in the 1960s, the flat of Andrzej Urbanowicz and Urszula Broll at 1 Piastowska Street gathered artists fascinated by the works of amateur painters from the Janowska Group (who were also miners!), esotericism, mysticism and the occult.
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They moved into the apartment in 1960. In the 1970s, they invited Philip Kapleau, the author of the popular book The Three Pillars of Zen. Soon, the flat became a house of the first zen centre in Poland. A group called Oneiron was created by the people inspired by matter painting, but also by outsider artists, eastern spirituality and drug-induced experiments. The attic of the tenement house in the middle of the grey mining region of Upper Silesia turned into a colourful window into an altogether different reality.
When Oneiron dissolved, Urbanowicz moved to United States for 13 years. He returned to Piastowska soon after the political transformation, in 1991. By then, the place had achieved a cult status. Even Allen Ginsberg visited it during his trip to Poland in the 1990s. After Urbanowicz’s death, it was possible to preserve it and present it to a larger audience thanks to the efforts of the Piastowska 1 Foundation, which still takes care of the studio.
Moshe Kupferman was born in Jarosław near the Carpathian Mountains in 1926. When World War II broke out, his family took young Moshe and fled to the Soviet Union. Only his sister remained in Poland, but she committed suicide not long afterwards. The future painter ended up in Kazakhstan together with his parents, but they soon died of fatigue in a labour camp. When the war was over, Moshe returned to Poland on his own, but not for long. In 1948, he decided to go all-in and left for Israel.
He quite literally became one of the builders of the new state. As a painter, he was one of the creators of the Lohamei HaGeta'ot, the Kibbutz of the Ghetto Fighers. His developed his artistic ambitions rather slowly – he took part in summer courses and achieved increasing success over time, contributing to the kibbutz’s finances, but he had to combine his painting with physical labour, only gradually devoting more and more of his time to art.
Two decades after his arrival in Israel, the kibbutz community agreed during one of the communal meetings that he should devote himself entirely to art. He was given a studio, constructed next to the local museum, and his disciplined abstract paintings reflect the ideals and the way of life of the kibbutz.
Selected works by Magdalena Burdzyńska – Image Gallery
Kupferman’s studio was nothing but a factory subjected to the rules of life and work in a kibbutz.
For many years, Władysław Hasior lived and worked in Zakopane’s Borek Villa constructed in late 19th century, which also housed the dormitory of the Antoni Kenar Art High School. The conditions in which he had to work worsened over time as the artist ran out of space to store his paintings. For many years he inquired with the authorities about receiving a new studio. He was an undisputable star during his life, so he was supported by the press which, together with the Tatra Museum in Zakopane, launched a campaign aimed at finding a new workspace for the artist. Finally, it was possible to plan a large exhibition and the museum received a new space, the Warszawianka Spa’s lagering cellar, which would later become Hasior’s new home and studio.
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There was only one problem. All of this took place towards the end of Martial Law in Poland, when the entire artistic community was boycotting all official, state-managed exhibitors. The communist party had a hold over the artist. Hasior was not sure what he should do, he hesitated, but he had a feeling that the fulfilment of a lifelong dream was just around the corner. People still remembered his famous 20-year old sculpture Organy on Snozka Pass, which connected the Gorce and Pieniny Mountains, or rather, the inscription on the sculpture: ‘In memory of the sons of the motherland who died in Podhale to strengthen socialist rule’. For Hasior, who had kept his distance from the authorities and their propaganda, which can be seen in his Notatnik Fotograficzny (editor’s translation: ‘Photo Notebook’), the meaning of the statue was much broader and the placement of the inscription was a small concession in exchange for an opportunity to fulfil his idea. After Hasior was given the building of the lagering cellar, he attended the opening of the exhibition and drank vodka with Jerzy Urban, the spokesperson of the communist authorities. Many believed that Hasior had crossed the line.
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The boycott of the exhibitors turned into the boycott of Hasior. One of the brightest stars of Polish 1960s and 1970s art had finally been given suitable working conditions but paid a very high price for it. Hasior was pushed to the margins of cultural life and the shadow of artistic ostracism followed him until his death at the end of the 1990s. The old lagering cellar became a living monument for him. Today, it houses the Tatra Museum’s Władysław Hasior Gallery and is filled with events and with visitors, as theyear 2018 marks the Year of Władysław Hasior in Zakopane.
Władysław Hasior's Exhibition at MOCAK – Image Gallery