Galeria Rusz is an art group based in Toruń, founded in 1999 by Joanna Górska, Wojciech 'Kiwi' Jaruszewski, and Rafał Góralski.
Since 2004, the group has been run by Joanna Górska, born in 1973 and Rafał Góralski, born in 1973. The artists collaborate on joint projects, mainly based on urban space and murals, but the work of each of them is individual. Both live and work in Toruń.
The group specialises in creating and presenting art in the public space; nevertheless, Galeria Rusz has also exhibited their work in galleries. They have an ongoing billboard exhibition that has been running since 1999 on Szosa Chełmińska in Toruń – the space is provided free of charge by the company AMS from Poznań, allowing the group to exhibit its own works as well as those created by guest artists. The billboard was in the immediate vicinity of the largest market in the city and thus boasted a sizable audience. In 2014 it was taken down by the owner of the plot it stood on. However, the new billboard it got replaced with is located in almost the same spot.
Galeria Rusz has also displayed art on billboards on Różana Street, on advertising posts and on mobile billboards, in the streets in Toruń and other cities. From 2014, the artists have been displaying their work on two billboards of their own in Toruń (the aforementioned Szosa Chełmińska and Wały gen. Sikorskiego Street) and, thanks to the cooperation with AMS, on five billboards in Warsaw (the exact locations change every month).
The artists also create murals, posters, as well as outdoor events and social events in the city and organize exhibitions for other artists. Galeria Rusz is the creator, founder and organiser of the International Festival of Art on Billboards – Art Moves. It is the only event in the world devoted exclusively to billboard art. It features a display of the works of the most prominent artists from all over the world and a competition aimed at discovering and presenting the works of young creators. Each edition of the festival has some leading idea. Throughout ten editions of the festivals, the curators have presented over 250 artworks in public space – on billboards, mega billboards, mobile billboards, citylights, and LED screens. Over 5,000 artists have taken part in the competition, having sent in approximately 9,000 works.
As Monika Weychert-Waluszko writes about the work of Joanna Górska:
Her art is like a mirror. With masterful precision she portrays her neighbors, gallery regulars, artists, but also 'the buffet gang' or 'divers', people who go to exhibitions to drink and in some cases, eat, as well as transvestites or grandmothers, who spend time observing their neighbors from their windows. As described in the title of one of her exhibitions they are 'ordinary-extraordinary' people. For me, this is the key to Górska's work.
And Rafał Góralski, according to the same writer, has
worked out his own style, based on simple forms and vivid colours. His style is expressive and spontaneous, the captions are mostly ironic. In his work he takes up the subject of absurd and tackiness of the reality surrounding us – the reality of a country whose own passivity, combined with the imported consumerist culture and politics created by people bereft of class creates a mixture which is pure absurd.
Galeria Rusz had a modest beginning, focusing on spontaneous communication of art in the public sphere and eventually evolving into a systematic undertaking. They have managed to create a unique place, perhaps the longest-acting billboard gallery in the world, continuously presenting a new piece once a month.
The art of Galeria Rusz is at the verge of social experiment in public space and visual communication. The artists exhibit their work in spots where it can be seen by everyone, including those who do not visit galleries and exhibition halls. They present art that is sensitive about social cases, engaged in reality, tackling important problems of everyday life.
The gallery functions as a platform for presenting art as part of non-institutional and non-commercial activity. Initially, the works were painted and glued onto the billboard and ended their existence there; today, they are prepared in electronic version first and only then printed and glued to the billboard. Galeria Rusz has exhibited work by artists including Paweł Susid, Jadwiga Sawicka, Rafał Bujnowski, Paweł Jarodzki, Elżbieta Jabłońska, Anna Witkowska, Twożywo group, Les Levin and Janek Koza. Currently Galeria Rusz also invites artists from both home and abroad to display their pieces during the aforementioned Art Moves Festival. The works are presented in September each year. Up until now the curators have managed to exhibit pieces by Adam Niklewicz, Daniele Buetti, Ken Lum, Marcos Ramirez ERRE, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Peter Liversidge, Jerzy Kosałka, Christina Wong Yap, and Lex Drewinski, among others.
Galeria Rusz has also initiated numerous undertakings that involve both art and social concerns, including Ciepło (Heat, 2004), giving hot tea with lemon to people walking in the Old Town in Toruń on a frosty winter day, and Gry i zabawy (Games) during which the inhabitants of Toruń could play pick-a-stick in the city hall with the local politicians.
In 2006, the leading artists of the gallery were invited to work on a mural at the Warsaw Uprising Museum. A group of artists that included Edward Dwurnik and Twożywo group joined Galeria Rusz on Wykreślanie (Erasing). In the same year they made a mural for the Płock town hall, entitled Zielony wiersz (Green Line) and refers to a line by poet Władysław Broniewski. The mural, measuring 5x14 metres, shows couples in love, residing permanently in the picturesque Żupy Solne park.
Galeria Rusz is highly rated by critics and environmental curators. It received a nomination for the Deutsche Bank award in 2007 and participation in the post-competition exhibition "Spojrzenia" ("Views") at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. For the latter occasion, the artist have shown works dealing with the theme of resistance. It was understood broadly, in the grand, politcal sense but also as a private practice.
In 2009 Galeria Rusz has celebrated the tenth anniversary of its existence and thus created a 'birthday' exhibition titled Ołowiany charakter (Lead character) on ten billboards in the centre of Toruń. The artists have shown a cycle of new works whose main theme was the national character of Poles and the myths, convictions and misconceptions surrounding it. They have asked,
It's 2009. It's been five years since Poland has entered the European Union, 20 years since communism has fallen, 70 years since World War II has started. Isn't it the best moment for us to finally get rid of our worst traits? Maybe, as a community, we could finally use some psychological self-help book (one of those it's easy to get in any library) and start to steadily improve our national character?
The exhibition has been accompanied by the second edition of the Art Moves Festival. In the same year, Galeria Rusz took part in the programme POLSKA!YEAR – the Polish Year in Great Britain, presenting the mural My cierpieliśmy najwięcej (We suffered more) at Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art in Norwich. Górska and Góralski have also conducted workshops about billboard art.
In August 2014 the artist have celebrated the 15th anniversary of their creative work. For this occasion they have prepared works that have been displayed on billboards and citylights in Toruń and Warsaw. The door of their studio was open to public – anybody who wished to have a talk with the artists was welcome.
In 2015 Galeria Rusz has been awarded with the prize of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship marshal.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, July 2010, update based on materials sent by the artists: NS, March 2018.