Photographer and experimental artist. Born in Geneva, Switzerland on September 28, 1975. Resides permanently in Warsaw
Nicolas Grospierre holds a Master's degree in Political Science from the Institut d'Études Politiques in Paris and in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies from the London School of Economics. He has settled in Warsaw, but travels all over the world with his socially-aware, critical works of art and photography, often created in collaboration with artists like Kobas Laksa and Olga Mokrzycka.
Adam Mazur of the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle counts Grospierre among the so-called New Documentalists group, established at the group show of the same name, curated by Mazur at the centre in 2006. The New Documentalists are a group of artists who have departed from the traditions of artistic photography and opted for documentary-style photography that is based on a cool analysis, rather than a sentimental gaze. Grospierre started out with several series of portraits which reflected certain aspects of society at large. In 2001 he created the Portraying Communities: Kamionka, comprising individual and group photographs of nearly all members of an alternative society of residents living in the town of Kamionka, just outside of Lublin. These are people who have abandoned a frenzied life in the city for the quiet, ecological lifestyle of the countryside. Although these photographs are rather like studies, they were taken in the homes of the subjects, in their personal surroundings. A similar technique was used in Grospierre's series of portraits depicting the prisoners and workers of the Podgórze jail outside of Kraków (2002-2003). The series was presented at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, accompanied by an audio installation that played typical sounds from the jail.
Nonetheless, Grospierre has become best-known for his photographs of architectural sites, principally modernist structures, treated as relics of a recent past. The documentary style is apparent here as well - but it is entirely dry, bereft of the human impression, devoid even of objects belonging to the individuals who might plausibly inhabit these buildings or at least work in them. As a result, the images quite resemble each other, such as the Europejski Hotel series (2006) or Niewypłacalni / Not Economically Viable (2003-2005) - depicting the facades of unfinished one-family homes that were abandoned by their impoverished owners before they were even completed.
The artist chooses places without people, which no longer fulfill their original function, which still maintain some aspects of their former glory, but are still a relic of the past. Above all, his works document a reality that Poland has only just stepped away from, but one whose impression is still felt and continues to impact current generations and the visual culture that is slowly ebbing. In 2005 he created a series together with Olga Mokrzycka depicting Soviet Artek pioneers in Crimea. His 2004 Hydroclinic series documents a spa hospital in the Druskininkai resort in Lithuania, closed down in the '20s. The artist captured the strange, complex rococo décor just before it was demolished. Similarly the Lithuanian Bus Stops series (2003-2004) preserves the characteristic structures of modernist-style bus stops from the '60s and '70s. In the Colorblocks series (2005-2006) he photographed module apartment block constructions built during the middle of the 20th century.
Nicolas Grospierre, "The Never-Ending Corridor of Books" from "The Library" series, 2006
Grospierre is very much concerned with the context in which his works are presented. In the case of The Library (2006) he set up a show of photos - based on the premise of visual illusion - into the space of an actual library and antique shop. The long stretches of photos depicting shelves stacked with books brought readers into the Borges-style library of Babel, which undermined the concept of a library as a complete, universal collection of archive materials by showing that there can always be more material. In 2007 he and Mokrzycka came together once again to put up a sort of photo-wallpaper depicting a museum hall filled with stuffed animals taken in the Mausoleum in Tbilisi, transforming the honorary tribune in front of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw into a virtual museum of taxonomy, referencing common associations with the structure and the images, such as the socio-realist space of the mausoleum at Moscow's Red Square.
In 2008 Grospierre was invited to show a series of photographs at the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, curated by Grzegorz Piątek and Jarosław Trybuś. This series was entitled Polonia Hotel - The Afterlife of Buildings, which was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion award. These charismatic photographs have a purist sensibility about them in their presentation of well-recognised contemporary buildings in Warsaw and other parts of Poland, such as the Rondo 1 and Metropolitan office buildings or the cathedral in Licheń. These images were combined with photo-montages by Kobas Laksa, who took these very timely structures a few decades into the future, predicting quite dire consequences as a result of poor economic conditions and paltry socio-political practices - such as transforming a sleek glass tower into a very exclusive cemetery. That year he was also part of a residency programme at Location One in New York, which was followed by an exhibition entitled The Bank in the Location One exhibition space.
His 2009 Kunstkamera at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle can be considered a summing up of sorts. It refers to the traditions of collecting in the construction of an eight-walled room filled with photographs - including both earlier works, references to earlier works and found works as well. These photographs took on various meanings and contexts when placed in an particular arrangement. Adam Mazur said of the show:
In as much as the library takes into account a certain level of rationality and order in the form of a catalog of constantly shifting knowledge and publications, the office of a collector opens us up to a an aesthetic experience of randomness and unpredictability.
In November of 2010, Nicolas Grospierre was invited to Venice once again to create an installation within the iconic Palazzo Donà, headquarters of the Signum Foundation. The multimedia work was built around a film made by the artist on the very grounds of the Palace in the spring, this time presenting the mysterious interiors through a converse mirror, also known as an oeil de sorcière. The aim of the project is to explore the illustrious history of a landmark site, while still leaving something to the imagination, maintaining an air of secrecy and intrigue. The title of the work is TATTARRATTAT, referring to the James Joyce's word for a knock on the door... a sound that can lead to any number of possibilities. In 2011 Grospierre won the prestigious 2011 Polityka Passport award. That same year various Polish and international galleries hosted exhibitions of his works, including The Bank, The Picture that Grows and Paper Planes.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2008. Translated and updated by Agnieszka Le Nart, October 2010.
Selected individual exhibitions:
- The Bank, BWA Warszawa
- The Picture that Grows, Warsaw
- K Pool & Co, Pf Gallery, Poznan
- TATTARRATTAT, Signum Foundation's Palazzo Donà, Venice
- Kunstkamera - Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazowski Castle, Warsaw
- Bank / The Bank (with Kaeko Mizukoshi) - Location One, New York
- Disco Zachęta - Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- Hotel Polonia - budynków życie po życiu / Polonia Hotel - The Afterlife of Buildings (with Kobas Laksa) - Polish Pavilion, Biennale of Architecture, Venice
- 2007 - Mauzoleum / Mausoleum (with Olga Mokrzycka) - Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw
- 2006 - Biblioteka / The Library - Old Book Palace, Warsaw
- 2005 - Hydroklinika / Hydroclinic - Union of Polish Architects' Pavilion, Warsaw; Artists' House, Jerusalem (2008); ECCO, Brasilia (2008)
- Litewskie przystanki autobusowe / Lithuanian Bus Stops - Academia Theatre, Warsaw; Rebell Minds Gallery, Berlin; ARCO '05, Madrid
- Portrety społeczności: Podgórze / Portraying Communities: Podgórze - Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2003 - Portrety społeczności: Kamionka / Portraying Communities: Kamionka - Academia Theatre, Warsaw; Moritzhof Gallery, Magdeburg; German-French Cultural Institute, Aachen (2004)
- 2001 - Othello - National Theatre, Warsaw; Zamek Cultural Centre, Poznań (2002)
- 2000 - Lot / Flight - Szpilka Gallery, Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions:
- Skontrum, Krolikarnia National Gallery, Warsaw
- Fitting in Space- Zico House, Beirut; 98 Weeks Research Project Space, Beirut
- Modernización - PHotoEspaña, Cuenca
- NineteenEightyFour - Austrian Cultural Forum, New York
- Przypadkowe przyjemności / Unexpected Pleasures - BWA Gallery, Katowice
- Take a Look at Me Now - Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich
- Bloody Beautiful - Ron Mandos Gallery, Amsterdam
- W sprzecznym mieście / In a Contradictory City - Manhattan Gallery, Łódź
- Efekt czerwonych oczu / Red Eye Effect - Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazowski Castle, Warsaw
- Where the East Ends - Nassauischer Kunstverein, Wiesbaden
- Betonowe dziedzictwo / Concrete Legacy - Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazowski Castle, Warsaw
- Antyfotografie / Anti-photographs - Arsenał Municipal Gallery, Poznań
- Nowi dokumentaliści / The New Documentalists - Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2xP - Yours Gallery, Warsaw
- BRONorblin - Norblin Museum, Warsaw
- 2B - Norblin Museum, Warsaw
- Sąsiedzi dla sąsiadów / Neighbours for Neighbours - Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- 2002 - Blok-Osiedle-Mieszkanie / Block-Neighbourhood-Apartment - Działań Gallery, Warsaw; Raster Gallery, Warsaw
Awards and Honours:
- 2009 - Prize of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Poland
- 2008 - Golden Lion at the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale for Best National Participation
- 2011 - Polityka Passport Award
For more information on the artist, see: www.grospierre.art.pl