Page 1

REJECTED HERITAGE Polish art of the 1980s


TABLE OF CONTENTs Introduction 4 Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

8

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class. Andrzej Bonarski’s exhibitions in the years 1986-1991 32 Discussion Curators and art merchants. From sacrum to art market

46

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance». The Beginnings of the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Cultural Policy of the State 56 Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86» 72

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991. The Unrecorded Myth

118

Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them. Polish Artist Groups at «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke» 130 Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

142

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s 152 Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

164

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

176

Colophone 191 Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s Discussion Attitudes

86

104


Introduction


The Rejected Heritage project, organized by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, was born out of the emerging interest in the art of the 1980’s, both in the world and in Poland. Curators, publishers and gallery owners and managers have begun to resurrect Polish art of the 80’s, though the scale of their efforts is still far from satisfying. The usual form which the process takes is that of a repetition of the hierarchies, divisions and terms which were binding in those times. Our intention, however, was to return to the 80’s and adopt a more critical approach in viewing the categories then established. The 1980’s was a very special decade in Poland. The foundation of Solidarity and then the imposition of the martial law by the communist authorities brought changes not only to the political situation but also to the broadly understood social awareness. Artists too joined the process, by asking about the place of art in the symbolic system, but also about its relations with authority, about the possible activities and, most importantly, about the moral stance of the artist. The questions, doubts, and expectations gave rise to an alternative art circuit, which was independent from the state exhibiting institutions. On the one hand, it was the current of exhibitions organized under the patronage of the Catholic Church, which had a specifically recognizable national and patriotic character and, on the other, the so called art of the young or New Expression

art, which distanced itself both from the regime, as well as the Church. Regardless of the changing fads, trends or generations of artists, the questions which had been very acutely posed in those times, still remain very much open today: What is the place of the artist in the society? How to define artistic autonomy and how to use it? Can an artist remain independent from social and political changes? What is the risk an artist has to bear by actively engaging in these processes? These issues seem to be of particular relevance today, as has been best proven by the programme of the 7th Berlin Biennale curated by Artur Żmijewski. On the other hand, we should bear in mind that the 1980’s was a time when the new system of Polish art as known in the 1990’s was just being outlined. It meant the ever more important position of curators, a developing art market and an increasing role of private galleries which were new institutions altogether. To what extent the attitudes created then have been influential in terms of the present institutional standing of art? When planning our research, we first thought of the organic work that has never been performed. A series of working meetings resulted in a conference open to the public. The conference, however, has not helped to create a synthetic image of Polish art of the 80’s. On the contrary, the often heated discussions have Introduction

5


revealed the extent to which the art history discourses are entangled in the current political disputes, which are often times quite distorted. Not shirking from unmasking the political stance of an art historian and problematizing the complicated and difficult relations between the now and the historical experience, we have nonetheless decided to shift the accents in the present publication. The on-line presentation of the materials resulting from the «Rejected Heritage» project, is a compilation of analyses, reports and discussions. It starts with a presentation of the leading personalities of the art milieu of the time, shedding a new light on these figures – on the one hand, the «pre-curator» Janusz Bogucki, organizer of church exhibitions, author of the anticipated concept of the merging of the «sacrum of art» with the «original sacrum» (Dorota Jarecka), as well as the first important Polish art merchant, Andrzej Bonarski, with his long-term business visions and sights into the future of art laying in the purchasing power of the middle class (Łukasz Gorczyca). In the discussion at the conference, the concepts offered by the two researchers have been confronted with the ideas of the actual participants of the analysed situations – Bonarski and the wife and collaborator of Bogucki – Nina Smolarz. Another series of papers have been devoted to the extent, to which the art of the 1980’s was aware of being different and 6

Introduction

how it can now be perceived from the vantage point of today. Attempts at its definition have been made throughout the entire decade. One such attempt entailed a questionnaire, discussed here by Aleksandra Ściegienna. We have juxtaposed it with an analysis of the efforts of the authorities aimed at regaining trust and support of the artistic circles. Karol Sienkiewicz sees a symptom of these efforts in the establishment of the Centre for Contemporary Art, while Luiza Nader sees it in the submergence of the historiography of the time in the current artistic processes, and offers her interpretation of Wojciech Włodarczyk’s book on socialist realism to prove her case. The publication also includes a number of more detailed elaborations on important events of the decade (Construction in Process – Aleksandra Jach), as well as milieus (Wrocław – Piotr Stasiowski, Zielona Góra – Wojciech Kozłowski, Wyspa in Gdansk – Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar), publishing projects (Tumult – Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar), and places where Polish artists could meet Western art (Alexandra Alisauskas). When working on the project, we would constantly mix up the title «Rejected Heritage» with «Heritage Forgotten» or «Heritage Regained» – as if we couldn’t really decide what is actually the deal with the art of the 1980’s. Has it been intentionally abandoned, or incidentally forgotten in face of the overproduction of new material, or has it been regained, if only in a small part? We


were not, however, seeking so much a coherent picture of Polish art of the 80’s, as we were interested in looking for moments which could prove its relevance.

ďťż Introduction

7


Dorota Jarecka

Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

8

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

[1]


The aim of the present text is to propose a critical view of the phenomenon of the exhibitions/undertakings organized by Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz, beginning with the Sign of the Cross [Znak Krzyża] in 1983, and ending with the Epitaph and the Seven Spaces [Epitafium i siedem przestrzeni] in 1991. These projects are interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, they have been poorly described – the last publication on the curatorial work of Janusz Bogucki and his associate from 1982, Nina Smolarz, appeared in 1991 and was written by Bogucki himself[2]. Another reason is the increasing significance of the work of a curator. I want to stipulate that if I choose to use the word ‘curator’ here, I am doing so fully aware that it is outdated. ‘Curator’ is a term absent in the Polish reality of the 1980’s; the word used then was ‘commissioner’ which, however, Bogucki never used in reference to himself at the time. He actually never used any self-definitions apart from ‘project author’, ‘script author’ or ‘general director’. Any sign of authorship appeared only some time after the exhibitions, which was a routine practice in case of any underground activities. In a folder for «Encounters with art The Apocalypse – a Light in the Darkness», which was organized in 1984 in the lower Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, Janusz Bogucki is mentioned only as the author of the short introduction. Avoiding any official positions and roles was also a way of making a political statement. Such a strategy could also be connected with the

place where these projects took place, namely the church, which required Christian humbleness. In the Bogucki-Smolarz curatorial team, Janusz Bogucki played the role of the promoter of ideas and the visionary. Though he shared his field of creativity with his partner, it was his personality, utopias, visions, desires, and experience that had a profound impact on the shape of his activities. His projects were of the curatorial type, even if the term ‘curator’ was unknown at the time. Roman Woźniak, artist, performer, and participant in Bogucki’s projects in the 1980’s, suggests the notion of a ‘pre-curator’[3]. It is a feasible terminological option. Similar is the situation with the term ‘exhibition’. Whilst the word obviously appears in interviews and texts, Janusz Bogacki was more inclined to use alternative categories in reference to his activities, calling them ‘undertakings’, ‘encounters with art’, ‘space arrangements’. He also talked about creating an ‘iconosphere’ or constructing a ‘mental space’. Such abandonment of popular terminology is meaningful. The decision was a clear statement, shifting the focus from the presentation of a series of artistic personalities and the concept of a ‘salon’ onto a social and spiritual space of interpersonal and informal contacts and exchange. This decision also meant a partial breaking away from the ‘artistic system of connections’ of the 1970’s.

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

9


It is a paradox, but I have no other choice but to place the interdisciplinary undertakings of Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz within the history of exhibiting in Poland, despite having made the caveat that their authors consciously differentiated their projects from exhibitions per se. They are, however, the missing link and the moment of transition between the thematic presentations engaging the national iconosphere (such as The Self-portrait of Poles [Polaków portret własny] or Romantism and Romanticism [Romantyzm i romantyczność] by Marek Rostworowski from the 1970’s), and the collective exhibitions of the 1990’s based on the independent concepts of their organizers. These include Paradise Lost [Raj utracony] by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz, as well as Sorcerers and Mystics [Magowie i wróżbici] by Grzegorz Kowalski and Waldemar Baraniewski, organized at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw in 1991, or Where is Abel, Thy Brother? by Anda Rottenberg in 1995 at Zachęta. All were based on a specific curatorial idea, be it esthetic, political or historiosophical. Apart from being valuable in terms of the works of art presented, these projects offered one new quality – that of the exhibition itself.

nta 5 in Kassel in 1972, when contemporary art entered the ‘era of the spectacle’[4]. Questions and the New Community In the 1980’s, the one serious alternative to the official artistic life were the so called ‘church exhibitions’, organized outside of the system of state galleries, financing or censorship. They were held in churches, parish buildings, or museums collaborating with the Church[5]. The trend grew to such a great scale that the ‘church exhibitions’ have become almost synonymous with the art of the decade. Their current assessment is still close to the harsh words of Piotr Piotrowski, who in 1991 said that their artistic quality was «close to the intellectual babble of the pseudo-avant garde». The exhibitions that Piotrowksi saw as nothing more than a mirror reflection of the regime-sponsored events of the 1970’s which, this time, were sponsored by the Church, included two undertakings by Bogucki and Smolarz: «Sign of the Cross» (1983) and «The Apocalypse – A Light in the Darkness [Apokalipsa – światło w ciemności]» (1984). How does the artistic quality of those

The above trend should be looked at from a global perspective.

events look today? Were they built on nothing but conformism? In

The event which is seen as the breaking point in this process of

other words, could the access of artists and critics to the sponsor

the evolution of the exhibiting practice towards exhibitions beco-

of the time, namely the Church, be seen as genuine emancipa-

ming autonomous works of art was Harald Szeemann’s docuem-

tion? We could return to the question asked by Piotr Piotrowski twenty years ago: «To what extent was this process profound, and

10

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?


to what degree were the changes initiated actually about revaluating the mechanisms of culture?»[6]. Boris Groys defines the global condition of the two decades which followed the fall of the Berlin wall as ‘post-communist’[7], as hiding in the shadow and still feeling the impact of the failure of the political project of Soviet communism. He thus sees the entire art of the 1990’s – both ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ art – as post-communist. Groys believes that if it were not for this historical experience, the phenomenon of participative art could never have happened. I would be interested to analyze the exhibitions of Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz from the above perspective. Did they have any influence on the shaping of such post-communist condition? Looking at them now, they seem to have been an effort to reconstruct a community - an effort which was one of many. One could ask whether, for example, the concept of community activities carried out as part of the actions and exhibitions organized by the two curators in the 1980’s does not curiously coincide with the idea of Common Area, Own Area [Obszar Wspólny, Obszar Własny], which was the name of the set of tasks and exercises assigned to students of Gregorz Kowalski at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts[8]. Should the undertakings of Bogucki and Smolarz not be included in the model of other experiences of the 1980’s which broke away from the typical model of an arti-

stic career of the 1970’s, such as the exhibition Construction in Process from October 1981 in Łódź[9] or the independent space of Granary Island [Wyspa Spichrzów], active in the second half of the 1980’s, with the focal role played by Grzegorz Klaman? The common denominator of all these projects would be the desire to create a community which would be an alternative to both the official state structures, as well the Church – as was the case with Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz. In the «Report on the State of Criticism»[Raport o stanie krytyki] from 1980, three authors, including Janusz Bogucki, defined the cultural policy of the Polish state under the leadership of First Secretary Edward Gierek as a ‘policy of breaking social ties’[10]. In this context, the project of the Sign of the Cross and the meetings which preceded and accompanied the undertaking can be seen as an attempt at mending these ties. It was not about overcoming neo-avant-garde strategies, but about releasing an emancipating potential of which they had been stripped in the 1970’s, when neoavant garde had its affair with the state. If we were to use the terms proposed by Victor Turner in his research on rituals and rites of passage, these undertakings, including the ‘church exhibitions’ of Bogucki and Smolarz, would have the common aim of building a communitas, contrasted with what Turner calls a ‘social structure’[11]. Working on the exhibition would already be an attempt at creating communitas in Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

11


opposition to the ‘social structures’, such as the structure of the Church which, at the time, was unconditionally open to such activities. The ‘interdisciplinary artistic undertaking’ under the title Sign of the Cross took place in the Church of Divine Mercy, destroyed during the war and later rebuilt by its parishioners, at Żytnia Street in Warsaw on June 14 – 30, 1983. The project was preceded by many weeks of preparatory work with the participation of the artists, volunteers from the parish, as well as the local priest, father Wojciech Czarnowski, who also used the church for charitable purposes. The church building was under construction, or rather reconstruction. Many people volunteered to work alongside the professional construction workers. The daily rituals included joint meals and prayers. The project of Bogucki and Smolarz included everyday lectures and discussions, film screenings, theater shows, concerts and performances. Janusz Bogucki defined the endeavor not as an exhibition but as «meetings and joint actions of artists interested in the revival of the internal relations between the experience of art and faith»[12].

les defined by Bogucki and Smolarz, even in such minute details as the inclusion of current press photos. In terms of the content and general plan, however, the event was a step backward. The subject was not the personal experience of faith and art but anxiety about the ‘dissolution of the image of the human being in the art of our times’, as Marek Rostworowski explained, as well as a longing for the reconstruction of a utopian and holistic image of a human because «in the eras when heaven was inhabited, the paths of art were also clear»[13]. The space of the exhibition remained similar, the participating artists also seemed to be the same (Jerzy Bereś, Jerzy Kalina, Jerzy Tchórzewski, Stefan Gierowski, Jacek Sempoliński). What was different, however, was the ideological vector, which can be called nothing but conservative. The Political Stances The undertakings organized by Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz, which often were accompanied by a spectacular scenography and impressive spatial arrangements, were the result of

Naturally, any communitas, or a spontaneous and anti-systemic community, is in danger of becoming petrified into a ‘social structure’. The exhibition and undertakings under the joint title Sign of the Cross set out a certain model of how art functioned in the church. The next exhibition organized in the same space, A New Heaven, A New Earth? [Niebo nowe i ziemia nowa] scripted by Marek Rostworowski in 1985, was very much in line with the ru12

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

Bogucki’s long term evolution, both artistically and politically. A painter by education (Bogucki studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the studio of painter Felicjan Szczęsny Kowarski), as well as an art historian (he never graduated due to the outbreak of the war), Bogucki was born in 1916 in Warsaw and from the 1940’s continued to be an active author of exhibitions.


From the very beginning, he combined in his work the ideas of a social activism with Catholicism[14]. An element which, no doubt, had an impact on the formation of his outlook was the center of progressive Catholicism in Laski near Warsaw, with which he had family connections. During the war, the young Bogucki dreamed of setting up an artists’ cooperative which would give up on authorship and profits and work on improving the quality of artistic knowledge and awareness of the society[15]. When the war ended, he first worked at the Ministry of Culture and later, in the years 1948 – 1953, in the National Museum in Krakow, where he managed the department of ‘roadshow exhibitions’. He later began working for Warsaw’s CPARA – the Advice Centre of the Art Movement [Centralna Poradnia Ruchu Artystycznego], where he organized series of lectures and talks about art, and where he also managed, together with his first wife, Maria Bogucka, Galeria Widza i Artysty w Świątyni Diany in Łazienki. From 1965, they also jointly managed the gallery at MPiK club in Warsaw, affiliated with the «Ruch»company, in the building of the Great Theatre. They named it Galeria Współczesna. Though never a party member, Janusz Bogucki was known to be someone who knew how to ‘play with the authorities’. Interesting was the moment when he came to the conclusion that he was no longer able to play that game with the authorities and that all

possibilities of a compromise had come to an end. It happened in the first half of the 1970’s. In 1974 Bogucki caused a crisis by leaving Galeria Współczesna and deciding to function outside of the system[16]. When with the gallery, he had to constantly negotiate the admissible areas of freedom within the existing system, where gestures of resistance, be it personal[17] or institutional, were really important. The latter included, for example, such exhibitions as «The New Art of the Times of the October Revolution [Nowa sztuka czasów Rewolucji Październikowej]»[18] which opened on November 8, 1967, or the exhibition organized in 1968 on the occasion of the celebrations of the International Year of Human Rights, in which case the political context was set by the arrest of the protesters participating in the March events in Poland[19]. The above gestures, though critical, were made within the system in force – their form had to be painfully negotiated with the party apparatus and the censors. The crisis took place upon Janusz Bogucki’s return from Kassel in the summer of 1972, where he saw Documenta 5, arranged by the Swiss curator of leftist and anarchist beliefs – Harald Szeemann. Bogucki experienced an esthetic shock, which he wrote about extensively. But he was also shocked politically – and this fact is less known. When he came back, he proposed to reformulate the concept of Galeria Współczesna, turning it from Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

13


a regular gallery into a program of social and educational activities[20]. It was to be a ‘new type of gallery’ which was a place of action and interaction with the public, based on the model the critic saw at Documenta 5 in Kassel. It was at that very exhibition that Joseph Beuys founded the «Bureau for Direct Democracy». Was it a coincidence that in 1962 the gallery space was reduced by a hall in the basement, which was taken away because it was apparently needed by the «Ruch»company to expand its warehouse space? In any case, 1973-1974 was a period of grappling with the management of the gallery[21]. On July 10, 1974, Bogucki submitted his resignation. His leaving Galeria Współczesna was an event widely commented in the press. It may even be that the famous article by Wiesław Borowski, «Pseudoavant garde»[Pseudoawangarda], which was directed against the shallowness of neoavant-garde poetics, including those practiced at Galeria Współczesna under new management, was indirectly referring to that very fact[22]. The meetings which Bogucki organized in the years 1979-1981 with a group of artists and critics in the convent in Laski were intended to seek an alternative. It was at these meetings that the idea of the Sign of the Cross exhibition was forged. It all happened a long time before the imposition of martial law, however in a place which was very important for the opposition and the foundation of the Committee for the Defense of Workers - KOR. At one of the meetings in 1979, Andrzej Kostołowski delivered 14

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

a speech on ‘ethical art’; other meetings were attended by Jerzy Ludwiński. Both men, just as Janusz Bogucki, were active participants of the neoavante-garde plain-air workshops in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The convent in Laski, however, was also frequented by intellectuals associated with the Catholic Church. These included the Dominican friar Jan Andrzej Kłoczowski, or the art historian and lecturer at the Lublin Catholic University, Jacek Woźniakowski. The choice of venue and guest speakers was not a sign of any conformism toward the Church. It was more a search for possible ways out in light of the situation in which all channels of communication were closed by the communist state. It was also a response to a policy of ‘breaking social ties’. It was not a subservience to the Church but more of an effort to also try to influence the Church via the Church itself. In his notes to the Sign of the Cross exhibition from September 1982, next to the entry ‘RESACRALISATION’ (of culture) Bogucki wrote ‘DECLARICALIZATION’ (of the Church), and a postulate, «to educate the institutional Church in the construction of culture»[23]. It should also be added that up to 1983, the position of the Church towards the opposition was not entirely straightforward, and the idea to enter the sacral space with contemporary art could not have been seen at that time as simple opportunism[24]. While in the 1960’s, the place of the unsuccessful encounter of artists with society was the factory – in the late 1970’s it was the


Church. Another utopia of the new world, but realized only in part. Utopia of the New World This utopia is heralded by the texts of Janusz Bogucki from the 1970’s. It is an anti-systemic idea born in the circles of the Neoavant-garde and inspired by conceptualism. In her book on Polish conceptualism, Luiza Nader brought out the political, critical sense of the statement made by Jerzy Ludwiński, such as «Art in the Post-artistic Epoch»[Sztuka w epoce postartystycznej](1970), where he had outlined a vision of art without authors and the possibility of art existing «outside of the system which we learned to associate with art»[25].

ment of releasing oneself from the confines. He believed that art in this phase would be related to the existence of small «communities of friends, where living for others and living internally could also be expressed by means of actions, signs, concepts or spatial situations»[28]. It was obviously a vision of the future. There was no place for such independent activity and artistic creation in whatever confines of the ‘contemporary artistic system’, be it the western one, which is market-oriented, or the socialist one – centrally planned. In the works of both critics, it is not difficult to find a source of inspiration in the form of the thought of the Frankfurt school,

Bogucki and Ludwiński, two critics and art theoreticians, who were also friends, seem to have had much in common, both in terms of the notions and metaphors used[26], as well as the ‘phase-based’ thinking about art which, they believed, was in the state of constant development or progressing change, eventually leading to the final phase of delight or even salvation of mankind[27]. To both Ludwiński and Bogucki, the last phase would mean leaving behind the system of exhibitions, galleries and museums, which they thought was enslaving to both the artist and the viewer. Ludwiński referred to an encounter of art and reality, which had brought the two so close that only the awareness of art processes would make the art processes different from the others. Bogucki assigned a stronger social accent to this mo-

propagated in Poland by Stefan Morawski[29]. Morawski, who was also an active participant in the plain-air workshops mentioned, analyzed in his excellent texts from the 1970’s the crisis of western culture, with all its aporias, contradictions, and entanglements, including the incapacity for actual emancipation in a situation in which any resistance is absorbed. Incidentally, one cannot sometimes escape the impression that it was actually a cover-up for the criticism of socialist realism, which does not diminish its value as criticism of contemporary western culture. It is striking how powerfully the thought of the three authors was dominated by the Marxist model of the consecutive phases in the development of mankind. Once they are accomplished, one Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

15


can finally free oneself from alienation, which can, of course, be overcome with the help of art. What makes Bogucki different from the above theoreticians is the application of the category of the sacrum. In his most important text, «Three Magnetisms or a Small Prognostic Treaty»[Trzy magnetyzmy, czyli mały traktat prognostyczny], delivered for the first time at the plain-air workshop in Miastko in 1978, Bogucki proposed three perspectives of attitudes which are appropriate to artists: pop, ezo, and sacrum. He promised emancipation only in the sphere which he termed as sacrum, where the division between the ‘sacrum of art’ and the sacrum in the original religious sense – as it was perceived by Mircea Eliade – would blur. Bogucki anticipated that emancipation would take place as the result of a deep ‘internal experience’, as a result of the individual becoming independent from ‘any welfare systems’. Artists would finally free themselves from the ‘civilization of rush and success’, and the ‘contemporary artistic system of connections’. It should also be stressed that Janusz Bogucki had already formulated in advance the rules of the artists: collaboration with the Church, though they would function in an area where the sanctity of art would be the same as religious sanctity, they would maintain their independence from the existing Churches[30].

language which would be related to intuition and spirituality (if only to compare telepathy to a means of communicating art in the final, ‘zero’ phase of the development of art, according to Ludwiński[31]). It would actually be interesting to take a closer look at the current in Polish art which appeared in the late 1970’s, mainly at plain-air meetings, which focused on mysticism, sensuality, nature, and communication with the recipient. I am thinking here about the performances of Jerzy Bereś or Zbigniew Warpechowski at Miastko 78[32], for example, or the actions by Teresa Murak[33] and other endeavours of those associated with the Warsaw galleries of Repassage and Re-repassage[34]. These were interesting community projects, focused on communicating with the recipient and on a dialogue. Eventually, they were lost in the pathos of communities created in the name of the homeland, faith and the people. «Sign of the Cross»does actually have certain things in common with a plain-air. At least this is how it was treated by Teresa Murak, who decided with Danuta Zakrzewska to first sow cress on the cross and later make a performance by carrying the cross to its place in the presbytery. «Has the community come?» we could repeat after Agamben, who also served as a reference of the recent exhibition at Mu-

These declarations from the 1970’s cannot be ignored. At the time, Bogucki was not the only one to seek categories and a 16

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

zeum Sztuki w Łodzi dedicated to «Construction in Process».


A community is very difficult to gauge and measure. It is also difficult to determine the level of emancipation. From the testimonies of that time, we hear that there was a climate of community which was built with the significant selfless contribution of artists and their helpers, volunteer parishioners, or curators who gave their time working as guards at the exhibition. The collaboration of artists and curators with the local people during the Sign of the Cross project was also extraordinarily close. The church building was a war ruin and under permanent reconstruction. The so called ‘wheelbarrow path’ ran across the exhibition as the organizers had to leave a path for the workers taking out the rubble. The authors of the exhibition and the participating artists were allowed to enter the church as a result of previous negotiations with the citizens who at the time, in line with the spirit of the place and time, were called ‘parishioners’. In passing, it is interesting to see Bogucki’s approach to the question of the authorship of exhibitions. From 1982, he worked together with Nina Smolarz[35], thus creating a small two-person community (an architect by education and photojournalist by practice, Smolarz worked as a photo-editor in the Razem magazine, among other places). Could Bogucki have known Szeemann’s concept of creating exhibitions by co-operatives of curators? The criticism of the mo-

«Sign of the Cross» exhibition, foreground: Jerzy Kalina, ‚Last Supper’, Church of Divine Mercy on Żytnia street in Warsaw, 1983, phot. Leszek Fidusiewicz

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

17


dernist ethos of the artist had to be logically linked to the criticism of the authorhips of exhibitions. Hence Szeemann’s concept to create an anonymous collective when in 1969, after leaving Kunsthalle in Bern, he founded Agentur für Geistige Gastarbeit (the concept, by the way, never left the paper). The only exhibition that was signed by the Agency was Jungesellenmachinen in 1975[36], though it was actually Harald Szeemann himself hiding behind this sign. He said he had been ‘delegated’ by the Agency to make the exhibition. The Bogucki-Smolarz tandem worked more democratically – it was a team first and foremost. Janusz Bogucki had the role of the visionary and creator of the ideological construct of the exhibition, while Nina Smolarz vested incredible amounts of energy in organizational issues, though she was also active in the artistic part. Her achievements, such as introducing contemporary journalistic photography to the area of contemporary art, would be hard to dismiss. In «Sign of the Cross», she was mainly responsible for organizing the photography part. With time, however, her influence on the form and shape of the undertakings became continuously greater. Sign of the Cross, The Apocalypse and The Labyrinth – From Events to Structure Bogucki thought that Documenta 5 in Kassel was the ideal mo18

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

del of exhibiting. It is something he also had in mind, from «Sign of the Cross» [37] to the Epitaph and the Seven Spaces shown in 1991 at Zachęta. Let us take a look at Sign of the Cross The inspiration seems to have come from Harald Szeemann’s Documenta 5, which was turned into an ‘event of a 100 days’. It is seen in the inclusion of journalistic photography, or photography in general (Zofia Rydet’s Sociological Record [Zapis socjologiczny] being given a separate space), site specific works, such as the Pieta of Wola [Pieta Woli] (photographs by Eugeniusz Lokajski presented in the part of the church related to the events of the Warsaw uprising) or the installation by Jerzy Kalina The Last Supper [Ostatnia wieczerza], set in the nave, which was full of rubble. The presentation also included folk and amateur art, and the whole ‘exhibition’ was turned into an event – just as in the project by Harald Szeemann. In his later exhibitions, Bogucki comes closer to Szeemann also in terms of the concept of the ‘individual zones’. The way to show in a single exhibition a number of different artistic personalities who cannot be made to follow a single superior thematic message is to simply give them separate spaces, capsules in which they can each realize their own autonomies. Hence the concept of mini-exhibitions «Church of Divine Mercy», Warsaw 1987 or «Labyrinth – The Underground Space [Labirynt – przestrzeń podziemna]».


In case of «Epitaph and the Seven Spaces» (1991), the curators chose a similar model and gave the artists tents designed by Magdalena Abakanowicz. I see this solution as being inspired by Szeemann’s «Individual Mythologies» from documenta 5. One of the works, Paul Thek’s The Pyramid, made a strong imprint in the memory of Janusz Bogucki. Whenever he was asked what he thought could be the sacrum in art, he often talked about this very installation in which the artist «takes us through a thin crack into the interior of the Pyramid». It was the pyramid he must have been thinking of when he invited Grzegorz Klaman to build the Holy Mountain [Święta Góra] at Zachęta in 1991. Perhaps it had existed as a model when, in 1989, Bogucki and Nina Smolarz were working on the structure of the Labyrinth for the underground Church of the Divine Ascension in the district of Ursynów in Warsaw. The structure, just as Thek’s installation, was based on the concept of a journey, which included a moment of falling into the reality created by the artist, and the moment of enlightenment, of passage. The «Labyrinth» project requires a broader analysis. Whilst in the case of the «Sign of the Cross» the curator asked the artists to «show the presence of the cross in art and in life», in the Labyrinth the authors themselves impose the idea of the structure which is to define the space and geography of the exhibition. It was to be a narrative (which would also include documentary

photographs) about the human fate on two planes: the individual and the universal. On the one hand, it was to be a story about the life of every man, on the other – about the history of the species, from its appearance on earth to salvation. Two dimensions intertwined throughout the entire structure of the exhibition – the universal and the individual. The story was to be put in order by a superstructure, which was to be made by sculptor Grzegorz Klaman. A structure of wood and steel, occupying several hundred square metres, was placed in the underground church. Black and white documentary photographs were hung on its walls. The above is one of the elements which made the project different from the previous ones (such as «Sign of the Cross» or «The Apocalypse – Light in the Darkness»), which were subservient to the structure of the church, including the altar and the chapels. In the case of this particular exhibition, the labyrinth was arbitrarily inserted in the vaults of the church by means of an external artistic gesture. The labyrinth became a part of the broader narrative structure of the entire exhibition, which referred to the questions of sin and redemption. Over 30 artists were included, who had contributed their paintings, sculptures or installations to the project. When entering the Labyrinth, one had to pass by Marek Kijewski’s sculpture, The Tree of News [Drzewo Wiadomości].

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

19


Alojzy Gryt’s The Pyramid of Light [Piramida światła] was placed by the exit. In Klaman’s interpretation, however, the labyrinth completely dominated and overwhelmed this consoling Christian narrative. It was a part of it but, at the same time, it broke away from it. In the eyes of the artist, it was more a ‘Gnostic labyrinth’ which showed the world as a fallen place, as a dead end. The gloomy and dilapidated matter constructed of coarse wooden boards and aluminum sheets evoked a pessimistic interpretation. The burnt The Tower of Babel [Wieża Babel] by Jerzy Kalina – located in the very center of the labyrinth and stuck in the ceiling of the lower church – can also be interpreted twofold: as a path leading upwards, but also as a huge underground gutter, a machine which sucks out what is at the top. What is interesting is that for reason of the context of historical events, The Labyrinth became a specific political metaphor: during the time of the exhibition, from the beginning of its installation at the end of March 1989, until the closing of the presentation itself, the external structure of the communist state was broken[38]. While this was happening, a vessel was built, which – like Noah’s ark - was to leave the old world towards the new one[39]. The walls of the raw construction carried approximately 800 photographs which came from the Polish archives and were 20

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

placed in the order from birth till death. They displayed the recent 150 years of the country’s history and, at the same time, 150 years of the history of photography (1989 was the anniversary year). The Labyrinth presented spotlighted paintings which seemed to be pulsating like images excerpted from the collective memory or amnesia. The dilapidated used steel sheet walls did not exactly evoke associations with a ‘treasure vault’ containing the national memory but more of a junk yard, or perhaps... a warehouse. The vision of the great brain, an egg, of something concentric and unifying the memories and images evokes natural associations with a different structure which had dominated the social imagination at the time, namely the gigantic round piece of furniture placed in the Office of the Council of Ministers in Warsaw. It was at this piece of furniture that the new order was negotiated: the Round Table[40]. In no previous exhibition by Bogucki and Smolarz had photographs played such an important role. Whilst it would be possible to imagine the Sign of the Cross without photographs, it would be absolutely unimaginable in case of the «Labyrinth». The exhibition was an archive which was ‘live’ and constantly on the move[41]. The selection of photographs was extremely interesting. The co -author of the exhibition, Nina Smolarz, asked the members of


her team to dive into the archives[42] and pick the images intuitively – if anything caught their attention then that was «it». It was the idea of Barthes’s punctum. When entering the labyrinth, the first pictures were of infants. The images at the exit displayed old age and death. All the photographs were grouped in constellations. If any comparisons were to be drawn, perhaps the arrangements could bring to mind Pierre Nora’s ‘sites of memory’ – in other words, a history which is non-linear and refers not only to the exceptional but also to the anonymous individual. It is thus a history understood as a collection of symbols, or perhaps even images. Let me mention a few such constellations: the revolutionaries, the exiled, Feliks Dzierżyński, the sportsmen in the photographs by Leszek Fidusiewicz, the dead insurgents of 1963, the Polish Jews, children, tsarist police photographs, World War II and the Holocaust. The question is: how is this arrangement to be interpreted? It was as ambiguous as an archive could possibly be. It could be understood as an attempt to reconstruct a community in light of its possible dissolution. Such universalizing narrative would soon be impossible – the memory of the left would be different from that of the right, or from that of the feminists, Jews, Silesians, or all the remaining Others. In that sense, it was an archive of the borderland of transformation. The two key moments here seem to be that of forgetting and that of remembering. If the archive is the relict of history[43], thus letting us relive history as the past,

then the exhibition was a means of departure from the events, however recent they were, and a way to contain them in some kind of a framework. The labyrinth also contained photographs of the Round Table talks, general Jaruzelski taking the presidential oath, or the appointment of the government of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. On the other hand, such an intuitively constructed broad stream of images, which was not subject to rigid orderly thought, could be a risk. But the decision was a symptom of the feeling of freeing history from hiding, from the shackles of censorship and self-censorship. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Institute of National Remembrance was established soon afterwards. A guard was needed to tame this spontaneous river of memory. The installation was also very important as far as the art of Grzegorz Klaman was concerned. First of all, it was the biggest one in his career to date. The artist created a structure resembling the ganglia in a human brain and introduced it into the space of the church. Was his Emblems series in 1993, when Klaman inserted a real physical human brain in a vessel in the shape of a cross, a repetition of this original gesture? In this case, it would be difficult to speak of any criticism of the Church or Catholicism – it was more about the restitution of the spiritual dimension, lost in contemporary culture, to the body or its remains[44].

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

21


Klaman’s Emblems are not that far off from the next dramatic encounter of the body and the cross in Polish art, namely Dorota Nieznalska’s installation Pasja from 2001. Though the language use is different – no longer pompous but grotesque, if not satirical – the intention seems to be similar, namely to criticize reification and to protest against a culture which is focused on the worldliness and cult of the body stripped of the spiritual dimension. I would be inclined to even venture a thesis that the exhibitions of Bogucki and Smolarz, as well as the participation of Grzegorz Klaman in them, should serve as a new vantage point from which to again cast a look at the genesis and messages of the Polish ‘critical art’. As difficult as it may have been, I believe that the encounter with the space of the church was also significant to Teresa Murak. I have already mentioned her cross of cress from 1983 from the «Sign of the Cross» exhibition. The artist made a soft belt of fabric with grass sown on it, which she planned to attach to the foot of the cross so that it would hang a few metres below for ‘people to touch it’. She recalls she had to take it down as the author of the exhibition claimed that it did not fit its original concept. The artist also sowed seeds on a dress she wore, and she bathed in water with seeds, which sprouted on her body. Her attempt at caressing or humanizing the cross could have been perceived as erotic, as if Murak dressing the body of Christ in her robe.

22

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

But was not Jacek Murkiewicz’s adoration of the cross close to such a gesture? In his ‘iconoclastic’ performance from 1993, the naked artist fondled a crucifix lying on the floor. Was such art still within the domain of the sacrum or was it a criticism of the sacrum? After all, ritual orgiastic activities are also part of the sacrum. Interestingly, the mystical espousal of Teresa Murak with the body of Jesus has not yet been dealt with by feminist criticism. In the «Labyrinth», the gesture of Teresa Murak was subversive also against Klaman’s superstructure. Paradoxically, it was a reminder of the sacred nature of the space. She limited her presence to the vestibule, spreading mud from the local river on the wall before the entrance. The episode is omitted in current interpretations of Murak’s work, as if even the valuable and the brave could be an object as long, however, as it remained inside the church building. Summary The exhibition of Bogucki and Smolarz cannot be considered without a broader international context. In 1983, it was no longer Szeemann’s Documenta 5 that should have been their point of reference but the hotly discussed projects such as New Spirit in Painting by Norman Rosenthal, Nicholas Serota and Christos Joachimides at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1981, Documenta 7 by Rudi Fuchs in Kassel in 1982 or Zeitgeist by Rosenthal and Joachimides at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin


in 1982. These exhibitions marked the beginning of the great popularity of the Neue Wilde painting (Neoexpressionism), though they were criticized by the left for withdrawing the discussion about art back to the modernist attitudes, to the area of the unquestionable autonomy of art. The ‘great exhibitions’ of the 1980’s, which focused mainly on painting, predominantly by men, and which treated art as an object – most often a big object – were in contradiction to the need expressed by the avant garde of the 1970’s to participate in politics. They reversed the anti-market vector of dematerializing art. The connections between these exhibitions and the market was immediately recognized[45]. I am far from suggesting that the exhibitions by Bogucki and Smolarz were in a dialog with such criticism. It must have been due to the ‘spirit of the times’, and also to the unmistakable intuition of Bogucki, who had always been sensitive to the gradually intensifying shortcomings of the ‘civilization of rush and success’, that their exhibitions were slowly but surely departing from painting seen as an autonomous artistic expression. That wasn’t necessarily an anti-commercialism gesture. It could have been mistrust of a fad. In any case, these exhibitions were probably the least painterly in the whole of the 1980’s. The Sign of the Cross from 1983 was the last to be seen in the eyes of the participants and the viewers as an exhibition of painting. And as such, it was criticized – many saw it as a failed at-

tempt at the sacralization of art. «One had the strong impression that many authors identified the sign of the cross with the crossing of straight lines. Others treated it as merely a theme of an art competition, or decided to use it as an identification sign»[46], - as Nawojka Cieślińska wrote about the exhibition. Indeed, the «Sign of the Cross» was still to a large extent a presentation of traditional media – painting (Henryk Stażewski, Stefan Gierowski, Janusz Tarabuła, Henryk Błachnio), sculpture (the large metal crosses by Edward Krasiński), smaller compositions such as a chair with the soft rag cross by Andrzej Matuszewksi, or the wall composition by Paweł Kwiek with his self-portrait photograph and quotes from Maria Dąbrowska. In the following exhibitions, such works were treated as individual artistic expressions and thus hidden in the ‘individual zones’. A structural and holistic spatial concept stands out in the foreground. The curatorial evolution of Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz is not entirely about abandoning painting, but more about the blurring of the autonomy of art objects. Barely a year later, at the exhibition of «Apocalypse – The Light in the Darnkess», the works of art, large-scale installations, were interconnected such that any attempt at dividing the presentation into separate parts could have deprived them of sense.

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

23


To reach the sculpture-installations by Włodzimierz Borowski and Jerzy Kalina, one had to cross a long corridor made of a steel net by Grzegorz Kowalski, which had screens mounted on the inside. The installation by Roman Woźniak – a cloud painted on fabric stretched under the roof of the church – was actually a prop for a performance presented on the last day of the exhibition, in which the curtain of heaven was torn. Anda Rottenberg called The Apocalypse «the highest artistic achievement», underlining the fact that it was the different works that created a new quality[47]. In neither the «Labyrinth» (1989) nor in «Epitaph and the Seven Spaces» (1991), which was the last big exhibition by Bogucki and Smolarz, did painting or sculpture regain its autonomy. In The Labyrinth the construction by Klaman dominates and makes the works of other artists dependent on it. The manner of presenting the paintings by Jacek Sempoliński, on the other hand, evokes controversy – the curator made a separate creation of these images, turned them into a curtain, or an element of interior design, showing them in a way completely different from the customary way of displaying in galleries. The painters, such as Marek Sobczyk, show installations and not paintings. In Epitaph and the Seven Spaces, the Luxus collective led by Paweł Jarodzki, decided to build an apocalyptic landscape – a model of a capitalist consumerist city.

24

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

It is merely an example of an artwork which is perishable, it falls apart once the exhibition is over. To me, it is an ideological declaration. Perhaps in the Poland of the 1980’s it was difficult to choose a reality which would be different than a non-commercial one. At the end of the decade, however, the choice was perhaps a bit more feasible. The same applied to the space. What was seen as a contestation of the modernist gallery space in the West seemed just a touch imposed in Poland. Those who wanted independence in the 1980’s were pretty much limited to a church or a factory. The two places were, obviously, «outside of the white cube»- as Brian O’Doherty would say. At the end of the decade, however, the galleries and museums hosted exhibitions of the newest art, and the state policy in the domain of culture was also subject to gradual liberalization. But Janusz Bogucki and Nina Solarz decided to choose the church even in 1989. It was an esthetic, as well as a political declaration. One could, therefore, ask (applying the categories known from American criticism and referring to the alternative outlined by Hal Foster): did these exhibitions belong to the postmodernism of resistance or a reactive, conservative postmodernism[48]? It was definitely a subversive gesture against the Church. Even the concept of ecumenism proposed in 1987 by Bogucki and


Smolarz was already explosive to the church then and would most probably be unacceptable today. (As part of a project titled «The Path of Lights – Ecumenical Meetings», the space of the Catholic Church of Divine Mercy on Żytnia street in Warsaw was turned into a Jewish chamber and Protestant, Orthodox, Moslem and Buddhist chapels.) No doubt, if we were to look at it all from the perspective of the alternative attitudes and circles such as Strych from Łódź, kultura Zrzuty, Luxus, etc., then we would see no revolutionary or subversive concept lying at the foundation of the exhibitions by Bogucki and Smolarz, but rather a utopia of the return to faith and a dream of reconstructing the humanistic, integral vision of a human being and culture. However, one must not lose sight of the broader political situation, about blocking the development of culture by censorship and other forms of repression, and about that specific freezing of the entire artistic life which took place during martial law and throughout the entire decade of the 1980’s. In this context, these projects carried a huge emancipating power. Grzegorz Kowalski recalls that in 1984 he was talked into taking part in The Apocalypse – The Lights in the Darnknes in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, though he thought of himself as a ‘libertine’. He was convinced, however, that Bogucki «was not a man of the Church but someone interested in spirituality»[49]. For that reason I would see the projects by Bogucki and Smolarz

closer to the ethos of resistance, especially that the works of such artists as Klaman, Kozyra, Althamer or, for that matter, Nieznalska, which make references to the body and are against its reification, seem to owe quite a lot to the attitudes expressed in that past milieu. The last joint event in the form of an exhibition was Epitaph and the Seven Spaces in 1991 at Zachęta. The later projects organized by Bogucki and Smolarz were meetings, fleeting events[50], subjective to the performative structure developing in time. They were contemplating finding a permanent seat for the ‘monastery’ of art»they had founded. It is as if the language of a huge multidisciplinary exhibition was the one to use when arguing against a specific political system. Once the system was gone, so was the language of resistance. Dorota Jarecka, an art historian and critic, writes reviews, longer texts and interviews for Gazeta Wyborcza. In 2011 she co-curated the exhibition Erna Rosenstein. I can repeat only unconsciously at the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw. A laureate of the Jerzy Stajuda Art Criticism Award (2012). Notes 1. The author would like to thank Nina Smolarz for providing access to the archive, Teresa Bogucka, Michał Bogucki, Wiesław Borowski, Małgorzata Iwa-

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

25


nowska-Ludwińska, Grzegorz Klaman, Grzegorz Kowalski, Teresa Murak, Marek Sobczyk, Roman Woźniak for the interviews, Leszek Fidusiewicz, Anna Beata Bohdziewicz, Tadeuszow Rolke and Erazm Ciołek for the photographs. 2. J. Bogucki, «Od rozmów ekumenicznych do Labiryntu», Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, 1991. 3. The author’s interview with RomanWoźniak, Warsaw, 2010. 4. See H. Kim, «Conclusion», in: «Harald Szeemann. Individual Methodology», ed. Florence Derieux, JRP/Ringier, Zurich, 2007, p. 147. 5. The undertakings were mainly financed from the Independent Culture Fund (Fundusz Kultury Niezależnej). For his participation in the exhibition «Apocalypse – Light in the Darkness», Grzegorz Kowalski received 50 litres of olive oil from foreign assistance to Poland. A new element appeared in 1989: apart from the underground fund, one of the sponsors of the exhibition «The Labyrinth - Underground Space»was a manufacturer of washing powder (information from Nina Smolarz). 6. P. Piotrowski, «Dekada. O syndromie lat siedemdziesiątych, kulturze artystycznej, krytyce, sztuce - wybiórczo i subiektywnie», Obserwator, Poznań, 1991, p. 76. 7. «Boris Groys interviewed by Judy Ditner», in: «Ostalgia», exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 58. 8. From 1980 to 1985, Grzegorz Kowalski was head of a studio at the Department of Industrial Design, and from 1985 at the Department of Sculpture at Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts. See: Obszar Wspólny, Obszar Własny, ed. K. Sienkiewicz, Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Warsaw, 2011. 9. Current interpretations of that exhibition underline the community moment. See: «Konstrukcja w Procesie 1981 – wspólnota, która nadeszła?», exhibition

26

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

newsletter, ed. A. Saciuk-Gąsowska, A. Jach, 15 IV–29 V 2011, Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź, 2011. 10. J. Bogucki, W. Borowski, A. Turowski, «Raport o stanie krytyki», Odra no. 1/1981, p. 42. 11. See: V. Turner, «Passages, Margins and Poverty: Religious Symbols of Communitas», Polish translation in: idem, «Gry społeczne, pola i metafory. Symboliczne działanie w społeczeństwie», Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Krakow, 2005. 12. «Tadeusz Rolke in Conversation with Janusz Bogucki», in: J. Bogucki, E. Bryll, M. Rostworowski, A. Wajda, M. Wieczorkowski, «Niebo nowe ziemia nowa?», Oficyna Wydawnicza Medium, Warsaw, 1987. 13. In a publication to the exhibition, Marek Rostworowski wrote: «If the second half of the 20th c. shows a human being at all, then it is most often devoid of any subliming characteristics or contexts… Today, we get an image, it is either impersonal and neutral, as if statistical and representing a collective, and if we accept it, then it means that our psyche is gone. The alternative is that an artist comes closer to a person, as a result of which the figure is deformed, suffering, brutal or grotesque, expressing no hope, irony, aggression or sexual attraction as the only positive. M. Rostworowski, «Co znaczyłaby ludzkość», in: «Niebo nowe ziemia nowa?», exhi»bition folder, Warsaw, 1985. 14. On the significance of this formation to the attitudes of Polish intelligentsia, see B. Cywiński, «Rodowody niepokornych», Warsaw, 1971. 15. «O pobudzaniu faktów artystycznych i przewidywaniu tego, co się zdarzy. Wywiad z Januszem Boguckim», in: W. Wierzchowska, «Sąd nieocenzurowany, czyli 23 wywiady z krytykami sztuki», Film i Literatura, Łódź, 1989, p. 2. 16. Bogucki had already had some bad experiences. In 1959, he was demo-


ted from the position of editor in chief of the Plastyka supplement to Życie Literackie published in Krakow. The decision was taken after Bogucki had organized the exhibition of the Phases movement and the Surrealists at Krzysztofory gallery. A message from André Breton to Polish intellectuals was played at the show, where Breton awards the intellectuals with the prime duty of being missionaries of freedom and pays tribute to the relentless attitude towards the authorities (see: A. Turowski, Jerzy Kujawski, exh. cat. National Museum in Poznań, Poznań, 2005, p. 113; the complete text of the address can be found in: »Koniec podróży», catalogue to the exhibition series «Ideozy», Institute of Art History Warsaw University, Fundacja Galerii Foksal, Warsaw, 2010). Teresa Bogucka, the daughter of Bogucki, recalls that the immediate reason for closing Plastyka was the exposition of a leaflet at the Krzysztofory, signed in Mexico by Breton and Trotsky (interview of the author with Teresa Bogucka, Warsaw, 2010: «that was the basis for categorizing my father a Trotskyist and letting him go from Plastyka»). 17. Teresa Bogucka recalls that her father, Janusz Bogucki, signed a letter in 1968 against anti-Semitism together with Artur Sandauer, Erna Rosenstein and Julian Przyboś. 18. Initially, it was to be called Avant garde and Revolution, however the management of Ruch rejected it. The exhibition presented prints and spatial models, books, magazines, paintings, letters and ceramics by the Russian Avant garde. A permanent reconstruction of the propaganda tram by Malevich from 1971 was set outside. Meetings with Anatol Stern, Seweryn Pollak, Edmund Goldzamt, Andrzej Strumiłło and Szymon Bojko were organised. There were also film screenings, including The Fall of the Romanoffs and The Strike by Eisenstein (Archives of Galeria Współczesna at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw). 19. There were also posters there from the times of the student revolution in Mexico in 1968 depicting the brutality of the police, as well as a leaflet of a propaganda entertainment show in Spain against the Franco regime, contem-

porary French posters against the war in Vietnam and paintings by Andrzej Wróblewski, Leszek Sobocki, and Ignacy Witz, and posters by Mieczysław Berman (Archives of Galeria Współczesna at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw). 20. In a report from July 31, 1972, Janusz Boguski writes that what calls for special attention are attempts undertaken at Dokuemnta 5 aimed at «creating new relations between art and society. They are related to the pursuit of a new model, a new type of a gallery museum as an institution which not only collects and provides access to the collection but which is also a) a place of action: of experimentation where artists can use the studios, the different pieces of equipment, and organise actions supporting the contact with the audiences, b) a place where the audience is pulled in to participate in different artistic endeavours (fine arts, music, theatre, film), and where it is not only the artists who have a chance to practice their artistic activity, c) a place of systematic research and experimentation regarding the social situation of art and its perception». As the partio of Galeria Współczesna, Ruch could, in the opinion of Bogucki, «become a very serious partner to foreign milieus seeking new solutions in the scope of the social impact of art»(Archives of Galeria Współczesna at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw). 21. There were already attempts to throw him out of his managerial post as early as spring, 1973. In the fall of 1973, a Krzysztof Zarębski gave a performance at Galeria Współczesna, after which the management of Ruch received an anonymous letter claiming that morality had been offended. An Art and Programme Commission at KMPIK Galeria Współczesna was set up in October, 1973, composed of Maria Bogucka, Szymon Bojko, Zbigniew Dłubak, Jan Świdziński, Krzysztof Wodiczko, and Tadeusz Kielan from the Department of Culture of the Central Committee. The chairman was Juliusz Starzyński. In the spring of 1974, a failed attempt was made to detach the gallery from RSW Prasa and merge it with WAG (Archives of Galeria Współczesna at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw).

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

27


22. Such interpretation has been confirmed by Wiesław Borowski. The author in an interview with Wiesław Borowski, Warsaw, 2010. 23. Archive of Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz made available by Nina Smolarz. 24. For Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz this collaboration did not have the form of an arbitrarily issued consent but of negotiations. Smolarz recalls that Wojciech Czarnowski, the parish priest of the Divine Mercy parish at Żytnia street in Warsaw, claimed that he would accept the undertaking Sign of the Cross on the condition that its form would be negotiated with the parishioners. In the years 1980–83, the attitude of the Church towards the opposition was not yet straightforward. It was not until the second pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Poland (June 16-23, 1983) that the hesitation was finally abandoned. See: A. Michnik, «Takie czasy, rzecz o kompromisie», Aneks, 1985, p. 116. The project Sign of the Cross was planned exactly for the Pope’s visit in Poland. It was hoped that the presence of western journalists would serve as protection and that the authorities would not dare pacify the exhibition.

28

28. Janusz Bogucki writes: «Should art give up on being in a rush, it will undermine the contemporary artistic setting as a tool which has been constructed to service and exploit such rush in art. This setting, and its cult of the creative individual, as well as the autonomous development of art stimulated by triggers of novelty and avant garde, will degrade and then will partly dissolve and partly petrify.»Ibidem, p. 33. 29. See S. Morawski, «Na zakręcie: od sztuki do po-sztuki», Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krakow, 1985. 30. Bogucki wrote: «The people enthralled by the magnetism of the SACRUM will turn out to be – as creators – reticent in their willingness to cooperate with the traditional religious organizations, also in case of actively confessing the faith promoted by these organizations.»J. Bogucki, «Trzy magnetyzmy...», op. cit., p. 40. 31. See: J. Ludwiński, «Sztuka w epoce postartystycznej», op. cit.

25. See: J. Ludwiński, «Sztuka w epoce postartystycznej«, in: idem, «Epoka błękitu», ed. J. Hanusek, «Otwarta Pracownia», Krakow, 2003, p. 163; L. Nader, «Konceptualizm w PRL», Fundacja Galerii Foksal, Warsaw, 2009, p. 396.

32. The action by Jerzy Bereś titled Monument of the Artist in 1978 (Miastko 78 plain air meeting) or Zbigniew Warpechowski swimming across the lake and quoting tao philosophy at the same meeting.

26. Ludwiński talks about a ’zero phase’ in the development of art, when art will function only in the consciousness and will be transmitted telepathically (Sztuka w epoce postartystycznej). Janusz Bogucki talked about a ’zero line’ and a ’zero space’, which the avant-garde artists were approaching and beyond which seeking new forms made no sense (texts «O możliwościach wyjścia i pozostania»from 1976 or «Dewaluacja współczesnego układu artystycznego»from 1977).

33. Teresa Murak performed one of her first sowing projects at the Repassage in Warsaw. In the spring of 1981 she sowed cress in the form of a cross in the village of Kiełczewice.

27. See: J. Bogucki, «Trzy magnetyzmy, czyli mały traktat prognostyczny»(1978), in: idem, «Pop. Ezo. Sacrum, Pallottinum», Poznań, 1990.

35. Nina Smolarz and Janusz Bogucki married in 1987.

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

34. In 1979, Roman Woźniak invited Janusz Bogucki to the Re-repassage gallery with his Mały traktat prognostyczny. Woźniak had been very much impressed by Bogucki’s speech at the plain air in Miasto the previous year.


36. See: Harald Szeemann. «Individual Methodology», op. cit., and in particular the text: F. Pinaroli, «The Agency for Intellectual Guest Labor», p. 65. 37. As the author of the concept wrote when referring to his notes from 1982, «The main assumption was to show the presence of this sign both in contemporary art, as well as in our lives, traditions, customs, and different levels of culture. It was to be a consciously accepted resemblance to the mixed languages of the imagination as seen at Dokuemnta 5 in Kassel – assuming that the common point, or perhaps the sign of reference, to all the participants will somewhat oppose this mixing up and the separation of the different ways of pictorial communication.»J. Bogucki, «Od rozmów ekumenicznych…», op. cit., p. 51. 38. It was the time of the incorporation of Solidarity, as well as parliamentary elections, the election of general Jaruzelski to the position of president, and the constitution of the administration of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. The name of the state had not yet been changed, and the economic reforms of Leszek Balcerowicz had not yet been started. 39. In his text «Labirynty samoświadomości»from 1981, Andrzej Kostołowski compares the labyrinth to a ‘huge uterus’ and the ‘human brain’. Both connotations are present in Klaman’s structure. 40. The idea of the labyrinth was not new in the curatorial practice of Janusz Bogucki. In Galeria Współczesna he had presented installations in the form of labyrinths by Feliks Falk (1967), as well as Teresa Kelm and Wojciech Krauze (1968). The theme of the labyrinth is also present in the works of conceptual artists, and in land art, e.g. Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Brian O’Doherty. 41. Nina Smolarz recalls that during the exhibition she would change the photographs around, thus introducing an effect of the images constantly pulsating in a continuously new configuration.

42. These were ADM, National Library, Museum of the History of the City of Warsaw, Lenin’s Museum, Museum of the History of the Polish Revolutionary Movement, Tomas Kizny’s Independent Photography Agency Dementi, Central Archives of the Polish United Workers Party, CAF and PAP Interpress. 43. See: P. Fédida, «Relikwia i praca żałoby», in: «Tytuł roboczy: archiwum # 3», Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, Łódź, 2009. 44. According to the words of the artist, the works from the Emblems series were a «sacralisation paradoxically performed by a rather emotional presentation of the impossible further development of the rational civilization without going back to the spiritual». See: «Pesy-mistyczna odkrywka Grzegorza Klamana. Wywiad z artystą przeprowadzony przez Ryszarda Ziarkiewicza w maju 1994 roku», Magazyn Sztuki no. 4/1994. 45. D. Crimp, «The Art of Exhibition», October 1984, Autumn, vol. 30, s. 49– 81. On the instrumentalisation of the art of Joseph Beuys by great museums of art, see B. Buchloh, «Twilight of the Idol», Artforum, January, 1980. 46. Nawojka Cieślińska, «Spotkanie», Przegląd Powszechny no. 10/1983. 47. A. Rottenberg, «Polski barok», Zeszyty Literackie no. 11/1985, reprint in: A. Rottenberg, «Przeciąg. Teksty o sztuce polskiej lat 80.», Warsaw, 2009. 48. Quote: P. Piotrowski, «W cieniu Duchampa. Notatki nowojorskie», Obserwator, (Poznań, 1993), p. 73. 49. Author in conversation with Grzegorz Kowalski, Warsaw 2010. 50. In the consecutive order: Midsummer or Midsummer Night’s Dream [Noc świętojańska albo sen nocy letniej] (Prague 1992), The Grand Dutchy [Wielkie Xięstwo] (Warsaw 1993), Enlargement of Imagination – Uniting the Divided [Powiększanie wyobraźni – łączenie podzielonego] , Ogień krzepnie blask ciemnieje [The Fire Dies, The Light Dims] (Warsaw 1994), Between the By-


zantium and Disneyland [Miedzy Bizancjum a Disneylandem], In the Door and Behind the Door. On This and That Side [W drzwiach i za drzwiami. Po tej i po tamtej stronie] (Warsaw 1995).

30

Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?


Dorota Jarecka Janusz Bogucki, the Polish Szeemann?

31


Łukasz Gorczyca

«The Polish Chic» and the middle class. Andrzej Bonarski’s exhibitions in the years 1986-1991


The 1980’s was a time in Polish contemporary art, and around it, when many things happened for the first time. One such unprecedented phenomenon was the series of exhibitions organized in Warsaw by Andrzej Bonarski[1]. A writer, journalist and businessman, Bonarski managed to organize presentations of the newest art using his own capital and personal connections. The scale of the endeavor, which was completely private and independent of political, institutional, social and intellectual terms, was an exceptional achievement in the context of the artistic life of the time. All in all, 22 exhibitions and showcases were organised within a period of 4 years. These included a number of extensive collective expositions with a very distinct curatorial touch. Bonarski became the first such important private promoter of the newest art in the entire post-war period. He was also an engaged collector who followed his own convictions and revealed a brave artistic intuition, if only to mention the last of his exhibitions – The Polish Chic at Warsaw’s Zachęta in 1991. This extensive institutional presentation was also a sign of just how important Bonarski was to the local art milieu of the second half of the 1980’s, the representatives of which he so eagerly promoted. Starting from the position of an affluent outsider, Bonarski gained high repute in the artistic community. The fact is proven, for example, by his participation in the 3rd Biennial of New Art

in Zielona Góra in 1989, but also when looking at the quality of his associates, among whom we find such renowned figures as Maryla Sitkowska, Ryszard Ziarkiewicz, or Jolanta Brach-Czaina. It was owing to Sitkowska, actually, that Bonarski’s exhibition achievements have been, if only initially, documented and analysed (on the occasion of the exhibition organized in 2002 at Warsaw’s Królikarnia entitled «The Way It Was… Paintings From the Collection of Barbara and Andrzej Bonarski [To było tak... Obrazy z kolekcji Barbary i Andrzeja Bonarskich]»[2]). The specificity of Bonarski’s project – we can call it that since it was an endeavour carried out consciously and with much ambition – was very much interlinked with the reality of the late communist times in Poland: the period between martial law and the Round Table talks. It should be stressed that, paradoxically, the very atmosphere of those «destitute times», of the emotional vacuum into which the society fell after the Solidarity carnival and the sudden shock caused by the imposition of martial law in December 1981, was one of the factors triggering not only the emergence of a completely new art but also new methods of its promotion which suited that specific situation. Bonarski’s personal experience seems also quite important in this context. A 50 year old man with a rich life experience and many connections, he represented not only a different generation from the New Expression artists, but was also a man of very diverse life and cultural qualifications. Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

33


Andrzej Bonarski was born in 1932 into a middle class Krakow family. He grew up in an atmosphere of high culture and patriotism, typical of his background. He recalled how his upbringing quite efficiently put him off the works of Sienkiewicz, the Kossaks, and the Polish colourists so revered in his family circles. After the war, he studied astronomy and mathematics at Warsaw University. However what was key to the choice of his further education and interests was his relationship with Arika Madeyska. She introduced him to the post-thaw artistic bohemian circles of Warsaw, the milieu of Klub and Galeria Krzywego Koła, the future founders of Galeria Foksal, but also to political dignitaries (such as Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz), who frequented her home. After seeing the 1955 exhibition at the Arsenal, Bonarski thought the event was an artistic disappointment – he had already become quite knowledgeable about the goings on in European art. In 1956 he traveled to the West for the first time – he visited London. Upon his return, he began to write fiction, and also worked as a journalist and screenwriter. He was, for example, the co-author of a number of screenplays for films by Andrzej Kondratiuk (Hydrozagadka, Dziura w ziemi, Skorpion, panna i łucznik) and of Rewizja osobista by Kostenko and Leszczyński. In the early 1970’s he also collaborated with Jerzy Grotowski, whom he termed his «master», though probably more in the pragmatic than the spiritual sense. He would later say: «Grotowski taught me capitalism». His friendship with Grotowski would also later result 34

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

in more book publications. In the second half of the 1970’s, Bonarski worked as a journalist with the monthly Polska. All this time he was also an active art collector. Initially, he collected Polish art from the inter-war period. Later he concentrated on the classical works of post-war painting. He sold off his entire collection in the 1980’s, when he shifted his focus completely to new art. In 1981, he went to visit his architect friends in Paris. From there he traveled to New York where he was hit with the news of martial law in Poland. His stay in the Big Apple stretched to two years. There he worked, for example, as a night taxi driver, but he also traded on the stock exchange and became acquainted with the artistic circles of the Lower East Side. He met Magda Savon, the future founder of Postmasters gallery, and also artists and curators. His fascination with the bubbling artistic melting pot had a later impact on his decision to start his own exhibition practice in Poland. It was his friendship with the influential financier, the Czech emigrant Jan Mládek, and his wife Meda, which turned out to be of key importance. These export collectors[3] introduced Bonarski, if only superficially, to the leading figures of the New York art scene, such as Julian Schnabel. Seeing no greater prospects for him in the States, Mládek convinced Bonarski that he should return to Poland – and so he did. Shortly after the lifting of martial law in 1983, he was back in the country with the money he


had earned. He first tried his hand at business[4], but it was the young and just developing art scene that became his passion. He was particularly swept by the painterly stream of the New Expression. In it, he was finally able to find «interesting pictures», a completely new energy and a fresh quality in Polish art, which finally managed to depart from the post-colourist traditions and find its own way, which was different from the avant garde and the neo-avant garde of the 1970’s. The place Bonarski frequented at the time was Dziekanka in Warsaw – a gallery showing young graduates of the local art academy (including Gruppa). Its programme had a visible impact on the artistic choices later made by Bonarski, though only in the painterly part. The breakthrough which led him to the final decision to start his own exhibiting practice was Expression of the 80’s [Ekspresja lat 80.] by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz at the BWA in Sopot in 1986. The first exposition put together by Bonarski, entitled nomen omen The Painting Show [Pokaz obrazów], was a presentation of the works by Zbigniew Maciej Dowgiałło and Wojciech Tracewski on 20 December 1986 at the SARP pavilion at Foksal street in Warsaw. The initiative was clearly the work of a person with well formed artistic opinions, fascinated with new painting, and convinced about the possibilities of introducing capitalist know-how into the poor infrastructure of the local art life, thus slowly constructing a

private market and an influential upper class public. It could be a real alternative to the artistically disappointing exhibitions organized with the support of the church and in church premises on the one hand, and to the modest initiatives of independent galleries on the other. Bonarski’s most important and, at the same time, best known project of the New Expression wave was his exhibition «What’s Up [Co słychać]», organised in the old Norblin Factory in Warsaw at the turn of November and December 1987[5]. The exhibition was, in effect, a response to the breakthrough presentation by Ziarkiewicz in Sopot. Though it was not perhaps overly original in terms of the artists selected (over half of those chosen had exhibited at Expression of the 80’s), its reception was definitely much broader. It also had a much stronger impact in terms of introducing the canon of the most important New Expression artists to the public awareness[6]. However hesitant, Bonarski had the courage to include in the exhibition a work which was radically beyond the dominating painterly or sculptural convention – the video by Zbigniew Libera entitled How to Train Little Girls [Jak tresuje się dziewczynki] (1987), which the curator had «hidden» under one of the plinths in the old factory hall. It was not until the wave of feminist revision of the newest art and the popularity of critical art that Libera’s work was fully discovered[7]. Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

35


«What’s Up» probably would never have played the significant role that it did, if it had not been for the substantial support provided for Bednarski by those who were in close ties with the young art milieu, especially Maryla Sitkowska, who worked at the National Museum at the time, and the artist Joanna Stańko, a graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and a close collaborator of Dziekanka. It was thanks to Maryla Sitkowska, who had accompanied Bonarski’s exhibitions fairly from the very beginning[8], that the exhibition in the Norblin factory concentrated on the art of the youngest generation. The concept was not in line with the initial intention of Bonarski, who had planned to make a multi-generational exhibition, inviting such artists as Jerzy Tchórzewski and Henryk Stażewski. Sitkowska was also instrumental in editing and publishing the catalogue to the exhibition, which actually did not appear until two years later, and which still remains a fundamental source of knowledge about the young Polish art of the 1980’s[9]. As part of her collaboration with Bonarski, Sitkowska also curated the exhibition «A Pole, a German, a Russian [Polak, Niemiec, Rosjanin]» (1989), and advised Bonarski on his project of «The Polish Chic [Polski szyk]» (1991). For the artists, the fact that the cosmopolitan collector and art sponsor was supported by a renowned and respected curator meant that the cooperation was 36

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

a safe one and that this private initiative by somebody virtually unknown in the community was a credible venture. Most of the exhibitions organized by Bonarski were solo presentations which lasted from one up to a few days. Despite their short durations, they were extensive and important showcases of different artists, if only to mention I am 32 and live in Warsaw by Jarosław Modzelewski, Tra-la-la by Szymon Urbański or Didactic Charts by Włodzimierz Pawlak. Bonarski was definitely focused on New Expression painting, but – and what makes him different from a typical art dealer specializing in new art – his exhibitions also had the ambition to be problem-centred. His projects were much in line with the processes of important re-evaluations of post-war art, which were taking place in the late 1980’s, including the critical recapitulation of socialist realism, settling accounts with totalitarianism, reflecting on political art («A Pole, a German, a Russian», 1989), and also discovered new grounds for critical exploration. Such was the exhibition «In the Image and Likeness. The New Religious Expression [Na obraz i podobieństwo. Nowa ekspresja religijna]» (1989), which was a brave attempt to stir up a discussion about the peculiar marriage of contemporary art and the Church (the latter being the dominant partner in this union) witnessed in Poland at the time[10].


A project by Bonarski which was truly unique was his joint initiative with Ziarkiewicz to present the new Russian painting. The effect of a study visit to Russia, an exhibition entitled «The New Russians [Nowi Rosjanie]» was held at the Palace of Culture and Science in July 1988[11]. Logistically and artistically, the project was the bravest of all of Bonarski’s initiatives, and one which he himself valued the most. It revealed his ambitions, which went beyond the local arena, and aspirations to try his hand at «grand art» on an international scale. Though he had no curatorial experience or critical and artistic background in the strict sense of these words, Bonarski’s interests and convictions regarding the themes and forms of the exhibitions he organized were quite explicit. He participated in the selection of works and their arrangement, and more than once he presented rather brave and inspiring curatorial decisions. The latter was particularly visible in the case of The Polish Chic, where Bonarski showed Władysław Hasior (at the time subject to social ostracism) in a very original manner (including his Cinema [Kino] – a slide archive), and at the same time, drawing inspiration from Maryla Sitkowska, exhibited works by KwieKulik , including the large format painting from 1977 which was a joint work produced with two other couples: the Wnuks and the Dwurniks. It was painted on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Oc-

tober Revolution. Looking back, we can say that Bonarski thus anticipated the return of these artists to contemporary art history. The exhibition, however, also marked the end of Bonarski’s public activities. Seeing his mission accomplished, he said: «The role of the intelligentsia in Poland has come to an end»[12]. His decision also stemmed from the ideological conviction, or perhaps a hope, that the fall of the Polish People’s Republic was not just the beginning of a new reality in terms of the political system and standards of action, but that it was also the end of a huge cultural tradition, something he saw as the «Polish chic». It was the tradition from which he came but which he hoped would be overcome. In a number of texts he had published on the occasion of his exhibitions, Bonarski comes across as someone who is intellectually engaged in the discussion about the legacy of Polish Romanticism and Messianism[13]. «Artists should be engaged in nothing else but God’s world» - he wrote loftily, however ending on a more mundane note: «[…]so as not to live and create for a dime other than the one who someone, someone very concrete and individual, wants to spare on art»[14]. This last statement reveals the paradoxical essence of Bonarski’s mission – the fight for art’s absolute independence which, however, is feasible under one condition: the presence of an enlightened private sponsor.

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

37


38

The activity of Bonarski was one of the more ambitious and consistent exhibition projects of new art in the second part of the 1980’s. In the context of the boycott of official institutions, New Expression was shown at exhibitions and galleries managed and visited by only a limited group of people. It was only occasionally that broader and more public presentations took place. Nevertheless, Bonarski was able to create a new quality in the relations between the progressive art scene and the sphere of public life. The social space of his exhibitions was very specific. On the one hand, it was still the space of the disgraced and degenerated bureaucratic structures of authority and its institutions and, on the other, one which began a process of progressive economic and cultural liberalization (e.g. the authorities consented to such events as the rock festival in Jarocin, and they allowed private business to develop).

Polish Architects, or the post-industrial interiors of the Norblin factory. The choice of venues added to the feeling of the events being exterritorial, exceptional and phenomenal.

The exhibitions organized by Bonarski filled a void by providing an artistic offer which was completely independent from the official cultural policy. This offer stretched far beyond the boundaries of the art community ghetto and flattered the snobbish reactions of the social and cultural elites with the aura of a genuinely private initiative with all its necessary props: the western-style clad art dealer, the lingering aroma of posh perfume, and hostesses serving expensive spirits. On top of that, most of the exhibitions took place in spaces which normally had nothing to do with contemporary art, e.g. the exhibition pavilion of the Association of

The style of Bonarski, which was aimed to make New Expression fashionable, or at least attractive, to the snobbish audience, and which sought confrontation with the broader public, though it introduced a commercial context, evoked reservation among many of those who were close to the art scene.

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

The aura created by Bonarski himself was very alluring to the socialite milieu of Warsaw, the local celebrities and diplomats residing here. His exhibitions were also frequented by famous film makers since Bonarski was also professionally active in that field. Another group that the sponsor was interested in, treating it as a potential audience of his exhibitions, were the young. It was with the young viewers in mind that Bonarski constructed his promotional actions. What’s Up was advertised in a television commercial (sic!). There were also advertising stickers in trams and on mailboxes. Though tickets were sold for large exhibitions organised in the Norblin Factory, young viewers had free admission.

Anda Rottenberg, for example, distanced herself from Bonarski’s activities. She referred to him only as «art dealer», and she called the artists he presented «the protégés of Mr. Bonarski». She saw the whole project as an attempt to «create a market of con-


temporary art in Poland»[15]. Others, however, who were not as emotionally linked with the artists promoted by Bonarski, were enthusiastic about his endeavours, seeing them as a «never-ending carnival on a bridge which is too long»[16]. The initial mistrust towards Bonarski, which was understandable considering the gloomy times of Communism and the fact that he was an outsider to the art community, was gradually overcome by respect or even, as was the case with Maryla Sitkowska, a natural reaction to help and support an initiative of private patronage, which was something very unique at the time. The commercial potential of the new art was to Bonarski one of the impulses to pursue his exhibition efforts, though he had been aware from the very beginning that any prospects of financial benefits were more than remote. What he found more important was the need to create a practice of private art sponsorship in Poland. He wrote: «My activities are aimed at streaming private money to the most contemporary art by introducing this art to the homes of the richest members of the society. I am thus fulfilling the dream of art becoming a public good; […] the exchange between the money elites and the art elites is of tantamount importance, for both of these groups. I intend to create such an exchange»[17]. Bonarski thought that a private market was the only way to finance art and guarantee its healthy development. Such opinion

stemmed from the obviously critical reception of the patronage of the communist state, but also from the popular conviction that the capital system was superior to the socialist one and, in particular, to socialist realism. We should remember that Bonarski’s convictions were also based on his own personal experience. He dreamt of a «market of the newest art, a market which would be independent, objectively treated by the critics, and with an auctioning mechanism». His longing, which he expressed in 1989 and which was treated as exotic extravagance at the time, was soon to become the magic mantra for the entire artistic community. However, over the four years of his art dealing career, Bonarski was able to sell not more than a few paintings[18]. The main buyer of the works of art presented at the exhibitions he organised was Bonarski himself (some of the paintings ended up in his collection free of charge – as compensation for the exhibition costs). The commercial aspect of the entire endeavor was, therefore, worse than mediocre, especially that Bonarski’s margin on the works sold was 15-20%[19]. The mission to create a genuine art market was thus never accomplished. Still, considering the state of the field at the time, his attempts may have seemed radical, but they were actually closer to regular gallery practices than what was exercised by the official galleries of contemporary art. In contrast to the state and private Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

39


galleries, which mostly offered a more or less ambitious selection of works by current artists (with the random addition of artisan pieces and jewelry), Bonarski had no permanent exhibition space or infrastructure, but he still was able to propose a sound exhibition programme of the newest art, successfully promoting his selection of young artists. The exhibitions were accompanied by critical texts, and the group presentations were always organized in line with a specific curatorial vision. In practice, such activity was not only close to the standards of an ambitious private gallery of contemporary art, but actually followed the norms of public galleries, which were unable to carry out such a mission, given the specific reality of the time. «Independence» - the fetish word was on everybody’s tongues in the 1980’s. It was exploited by both the politically engaged opposition, as well as the young artists and musicians – indeed it was a cute euphemism for all pro-freedom, pro-democratic and emancipatory attitudes, as well as an artistic alternative for the cultural mainstream. Bonarski’s exhibitions became a part of this broad social move of «independence» at yet another, situational level. His projects were not only artistically «independent» or «independent» from the standards which were binding in the art milieu, but were, most importantly, free from the official procedures of organizing either cultural events or business activities. As an «independent» art promoter, Bonarski knew how to skillfully and effectively find his way in the gray area. From the legal vantage 40

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

point all his endeavours were illegal. The exhibition catalogues were printed afterhours by printers he paid under the table. The texts for the catalogues were approved – if ever there was time to read them – by censorship officials who had been made more agreeable by the delicate persuasion skills of the organizer himself. At the same time, many of Bonarski’s ideas would never have been realized if it had not been for the backing of supporters at the highest tiers of authority. Hence the seemingly paradoxical thank you in the catalogue to What’s Up addressed to, among others, Mieczysław Rakowski, a member of the Central Committee of the Polish United People’s Party and prime minister in the years 1988 – 1989. Despite the serious doubts of the book’s editor, Maryla Sitkowska, the note was included and seen by some artists as seriously offensive and compromising to Bonarski. But it was actually thanks to Rakowski that the exhibition The New Russians could take place in the summer of 1988 in the interiors of the Palace of Culture and Science[20]. Similarly paradoxical was the support for the catalogue to «What’s Up» received from the Ministry of Culture and Art[21]. In light of the gradual dissolution of the political and economic systems in the final phase of communist Poland, it was private contacts or uncomplicated arguments of a financial nature that were more important than dead formal procedures. The pheno-


menon of Bonarski’s organizational success derived from his awareness of the system’s dysfunctionality and a pragmatic attitude to execute his projects by the simplest means available, without minding the official procedures, but also without any excessive concern about the opposition-imposed canon of political correctness. The regime structures were also taken advantage of – including the public media, in particular the television boycotted by the artistic community. Representatives of these structures were invited to all the openings[22]. What made Bonarski’s artistic initiatives different at the time was the scale and ambition of attracting a wider public instead of just a closed circle of specialists. His projects were designed to interact with the sphere of public life more broadly and not just the art world. In this sense, they were unprecedented and changed the mental climate of the New Expression art. The process of changes launched by Bonarski was not revived until the late 1990’s, when the political and economic circumstances were very different. «He is not aware that certain things simply cannot be done, so he does them» - as Sitkowska very aptly summed up Bonarski, referring to the famous quote by Stefan Bratkowski[23]. The tangible fruit of Bonarski’s exhibition endeavours is the collection of Polish art of the 1980’s that he created (placed on deposit at the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw). It is one of the most representative sets of New Expression painting

which, when compared to other collections which are mostly held in museums, is rather diverse and complete in terms of the list of artists (over twenty) and important pieces (if only to mention the iconic paintings such as Trudności w poruszaniu się by Jarosław Modzelewski, Łamanie szklanych rurek by Włodzimierz Pawlak or Jimi Hendrix wykurwia z wiosłem na deski w Bytomiu by Marek Sobczyk). A collection of posters and printed materials produced on the occasion of the exhibitions organized by Bonarski should also be noted. Most of these were created by Piotr Młodożeniec, who was able to uniquely adapt the painterly language of New Expression to the practice of applied graphic art, wedding it with early attempts at computer graphics, revealing a great feel for the specific «immediate» character of posters, which was manifested by the use of silk-screen printing on «poor» wrapping paper. Finally, one other thing which needs to be mentioned is the publishing activity of Wydawnictwo Andrzej Bonarski [Andrzej Bonarski Publishing House], responsible for the post factum publication of four catalogues to four key exhibitions of the second half of the 1980’s – Bonarski’s own exhibition What’s Up, as well as expositions curated by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz: «The Expression of the 80’s» (1986), «Radical Realism, Concrete Abstraction» (1987), and «Paradise Lost» (1990). These publications serve as a symbolic closure of the promotional ambitions of Bonarski and Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

41


his attachment to a given artistic formation, which was best, though somewhat tersely, recapped by Bonarski himself: «Polish art began in 1986».

Short Storie» [Najlepsze polskie opowiadania] (1999) and «Half Empty» [W połowie puste] (2010, with Łukasz Ronduda). Notes

Apart from its artistic significance and the unfulfilled commercial dimension, the ambition of the project undertaken by Andrzej Bonarski was more of a social and cultural rather than a political nature – at least in the understanding of the political sense of the time. The rhetorical distinction between «we» and «they», between the authority and the society, was defined by Bonarski somewhat uniquely, and was very explicitly declared on the occasion of his farewell exhibition The Polish Chic. We read: «Thus far art was mainly for the intelligentsia; but naturally art is not over now that the intelligentsia is gone. It will be consumed by the developing middle classes. No changes in Poland will be possible without a middle class. However, its taste, for the time being, is apparently determined by their love for satellite antennas and video recorders»[24]. Łukasz Gorczyca, born in 1972, co-founder (with Michał Kaczyński) of the Raster art magazine (1995-2003), then the Raster Gallery (since 2001). Active as an art critic and curator (among others Relax at the Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok, 2001; De Ma Fenêtre at Ecole Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts in Paris, 2004), worked for the cultural section of the Polish public television TVP (2000-2002). Published literary works «The Best Polish 42

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

1. Bonarski organised only three exhibitions outside of Warsaw: in the studio of Władysław Hasior in Zakopane (Agnieszka Niziurska-Sobczyk, Czy można kochać nie mając serca?, 1987), at the 3rd Biennial of New Art in Zielona Góra, and at the Zderzak gallery in Krakow (exhibition of A. Leiderman and Konstantin E. Latyshev A Higher Pilotage or the Great Rest [Wyższy Pilotaż czyli Wielkie Odpoczywanie], moved from the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, 1989). 2. The catalogue to the exhibition contains a complete list of all exhibitions organised by Bonarski, with their bibliography and documentation. To było tak... Obrazy z kolekcji Barbary i Andrzeja Bonarskich – depozyt w Muzeum ASP w Warszawie, exhibition catalogue, ed. M. Sitkowska, Królikarnia, Muzeum Rzeźby im. Xawerego Dunikowskiego, Deaprtmetn of the National Museum in Warsaw, 22 March –20 September 2002, Warsaw 2002. The present paper was drafted on the basis of interviews which the author conducted with Andrzej Bonarski (including an interview conducted by Paulina Wrocławska), Maryla Sitkowska and Marek Sobczyk as well as the archival records of Andrzej Bonarski maintained by Sitkowska. 3. After the death of Jan Mládek, his wife Meda gave the collection to the city of Prague, and her foundation was turned into the Kampa Museum on Mala Strana. The Mládek collection contained eminent works by František Kupka and Otto Gutfreund, but also contemporary Polish artists, including Magdalena Abakanowicz and Edward Dwurnik. 4. After his return to Poland, Bonarski set up a timber company , and after 1989 he went into the publishing business (e.g. he opened a yellow pages company).After the death of Jan Mládek, his wife Meda gave the collection


to the city of Prague, and her foundation was turned into the Kampa Museum on Mala Strana. The Mládek collection contained eminent works by František Kupka and Otto Gutfreund, but also contemporary Polish artists, including Magdalena Abakanowicz and Edward Dwurnik. 5. The following artists participated in the What’s Up exhibition in the Norblin Factory (14 November –6 December 1987): Mirosław Bałka, Jerzy Caryk, Anna Ciba, Zbigniew Maciej Dowgiałło, Mirosław Filonik, Anna Gruszczyńska, Ryszard Grzyb, Bożena Grzyb-Jarodzka, Paweł Jarodzki, Grzegorz Klaman, Jerzy Kopeć, Paweł Kowalewski, Mariusz Kruk, Piotr Kurka, Zbigniew Libera, Katarzyna Markiewicz, Gabriela Miłowska-Moląg, Piotr Młodożeniec, Jarosław Modzelewski, Michał Moląg, Agnieszka Niziurska-Sobczyk, Włodzimierz Pawlak, Tadeusz Rolke, Tomasz Sikorski, Mikołaj Smoczyński, Marek Sobczyk, Tadeusz Świniarski, Leon Tarasewicz, Wojciech Tracewski, Jerzy Truszkowski, Szymon Władysław Urbański, Wiesław Waszkiewicz, Sławomir Witkowski, Ryszard Woźniak.

third exhibition organised by Bonarski. 9. «Co słychać. Sztuka najnowsza», ed. M. Sitkowska, Warsaw 1989. 10. In «Polski szyk» Andrzej Bonarski wrote: «When I saw the exhibition The Way and the Truth [Droga i Prawda] at the Church of the Holy Cross in Wroclaw, I felt as if it had been put together by the communist party’s department of culture upon their sudden conversion to the full version of Polish Catholicism».– A. Bonarski, «Polski szyk» (text to the exhibition catalogue «The Polish Chic»), in: «To było tak...», op. cit., p. 81. 11. Interestingly, as was the case with What’s Up which was followed a year later by the Arsenal 88 presentation, a year after the Russian exhibition organized by Bonarski, a project called Red & White took place which had been put together by the same curators but with the support of the authorities. 12. A. Bonarski, «Polski szyk», op. cit., p. 82.

6. The popularity of the exhibition was also boosted by the fact that a week after the closing of What’s Up another presentation by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz and Janusz Zagrodzki was opened at the National Museum in Warsaw - Radical Realism, Concrete Abstraction [Realizm radykalny, abstrakcja konkretna].

13. Also see: A. Bonarski, «Pan Bóg i artysta», in: «Co słychać», op. cit., pp. 74–78.

7. A similar step into the future which also anticipated the critical and artistic discussions of the 1990’s was the text by Jolanta Brach-Czaina, «The Metaphysics of Meat»[Metafizyka mięsa] (pp 64–73) which was included in the catalogue to What’s Up. Her book, published in 1992, «The Cracks of Existence» [Szczeliny istnienia], which elaborated on the idea of the metaphysics of the body, became one of the most important reference points for the so called body art of the 1990’s.

15. A, Rottenberg, «Na podobieństwo», Tumult. Niezależne pismo społeczno -kulturalne no 5/1989, p. 65; quote from: idem, «Przeciąg. Teksty o sztuce polskiej lat 80.», Warsaw (2009), pp. 255–256.

8. The first exhibition by Bonarski seen by Sitkowska was a joint presentation of Marek Sobczyk and Ryszard Woźniak Each of Your Orphans, Michealangelo [Każda z twoich sierot Michale Aniele] in the SARP pavilion in April 1987– the

14. Ibidem, p. 78.

16. R. Mleczko, «To było tak...», in: «To było tak...», op. cit., p. 6. 17. A. Bonarski, b.t. «Inrtoduction», «Od ponad czterdziestu lat...», in: «Co słychać...», op. cit., pp. 14–15. 18. Bonarski recalls that one was purchased by the famous singer, Maryla Rodowicz, another one – by the film director Jerzy Skolimowski, and another

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class

43


one still by a collector from the US. Since the art dealer functioned informally, there are no records of the sales and procurements. 19. The margin imposed by Bonarski is very different from the current galery standard which is 50% of the price of the work of art. 20. Bonarski himself claimed that the transportation of paintings across the Polish-Soviet border was possible thanks to the intervention of Rakowski with one of the authors of the perestroika, Alexander Yakovlev. 21. The subsidy, organised by Tadeusz Zielniewicz, the general conservator of historical architecture at the Ministry of Culture, was received by Bonarski, and thus was legalized via the Association of Art Historians. 22. There was even a press conference held before the opening of What’s Up 23. M. Sitkowska, b.t., «Introduction» in: «To było tak...», op. cit., p. 12. 24. A. Bonarski, «Polski szyk», op. cit., p. 82.

44

Łukasz Gorczyca «The Polish Chic» and the middle class


ナ「kasz Gorczyca ツォThe Polish Chicツサ and the middle class

45


Discussion

Curators and art merchants. From sacrum to art market


Waldemar Baraniewski: In the paper by Łukasz Gorczyca I picked up on a statement that it was a mission to create a new market. Was this indeed a mission to create a new market? Andrzej Bonarski: It is extremely difficult for me to say anything because I have a feeling that the snow of the past has melted to water which is neither too bitter nor too sweet. We are talking about things which are long gone. … It so happened that a book was written – not of my doing, frankly speaking – called What’s Up. I have a single copy of it and I think that it is the best source of information about the things discussed here. At least, some of the things, as it definitely does not touch on what Ms. Jarecka is talking about here. It does not describe the different attempts undertaken by Mr. Piotr Nowcki, Mr. – if the memory serves me right – Rudomino. But these were developments of lesser magnitude. The book would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for the people who are not here today. First of all, I would like to mention my wife, Joasia Stańko, as well as the authors who – as I learned yesterday – were paid by Maryla out of her own pocket. […] Everything was done helter-skelter, pure madness. Though there was a method in all that craziness. […] Marta Tarabuła was personally a great support for me – and not only intellectually; many of the conversations I had with her were an encouragement. […] Ryszard Ziarkiewicz was also such a man, his contributions were absolutely priceless. Ziarkiewicz is not an easy man to work with, but that does not matter at all. Ziarkiewicz was no doubt a

man who’d shaken the world in its foundations. Naturally, some of these efforts were quite ridiculous as when one artist tried to take away from me, not entirely legally, a painting, claiming that I had no moral right to possess it for reason of my friendship with Mr. Rakowski - a somewhat problematic line of thought. I was able to get the picture back with the help of a lawyer. Let me come back to your question. It so fortunately happened that in the States I was neither the victim of communism, nor was I washing dishes in some diner. Indeed, there were times when I was broke, so I made a living by driving a cab in New York in the middle of the night – not exactly a nice job. Though generally speaking, when in the States I had money, and thanks to the contacts and work with Grotowski, I had access to the intellectual circles of New York. […] I thought I would make money, which I did. […] Due to the fact that I lived in Manhattan, I had the opportunity to visit great museums. I also traveled across the States. […] I found out what the situation with the art market was like in the States. I went to Texas, I saw the great collections. […] And then I thought to myself – somewhat naively perhaps, particularly from the perspective of today – that if communism was in any case going to hell then. […] You may criticize me here, but communism was not so much overthrown by the workers and Solidarity as by the fact that the power of Zeitgeist came to exhaustion. It simply lost its metaphysics. I would like to recommend here the work by the art historian, Groys, «Stalin as a Total Work of Art», in Discussion Curators and art merchants

47


which the author warns against the dangers of the avant garde. I would actually want to say a few words about avant garde later on. It was mainly scum who came to the exhibitions because whiskey was served. And whiskey was cheap because I had made money in the States and you could get a bottle of Johnny Walker for a dollar twenty in Peweks. Masses of people would come when whiskey was served. The crowds attracted more crowds, then snobs, actresses, followed by some guys, etc. It was at the second or third exhibition that this socialite circle was formed. It was quite funny, actually. People would call and ask why they were not invited. I was hoping that since these people had money they would start buying the art. In my entire career I have sold maybe three paintings. In the case of one, it could have as well been thrown into the river. Then Maryla Rodowicz bought one, and a second was bought by Skolimowski. […] And I was like this foolish primrose, sticking my head out from beneath the snow too soon. So, in response to your question: yes, of course I wanted to create an art market, though there were no conditions for that at the time. […] I failed, though in a sense this failure was very inspiring. There is a certain topic I would like to bring up, one I feel is very important. Especially in this strange museum which is a virtual museum, a museum which has its roots in Galeria Foksal. Please 48

Discussion Curators and art merchants

do not feel offended, but I do have some experience with the so called safe avant garde. I was not in the opposition, but after my disenchantment with ZMP [Association of Polish Youth], as I happened to be a very red activist, I was rather an opponent of the system. […] But I have this concept, namely that communism, especially Polish communism, loved exported goods. That we were not all that bad. […] I have always felt that this avant garde for showing off abroad, and which originated from Galeria Foksal, was a bit castrated. It was an academic trend, a kind of a ditto of the experiences from the 1930’s and 1940’s, which completely disregarded the existence of the huge and phenomenal body of American painting. It was because I knew what this body of American painting looked like that I felt regretful about the exhibition at the Arsenal. I understand that people were afraid, I can relate to that. But when I read the title of the conference «legacy regained»– regained how? Had anybody appropriated it? It’s nonsense. Nobody had appropriated it. Woźniak, who is sitting here, was a professor at the Academy; his paintings sell very well. There is no Sobczyk, no Modzelewski. Pawlak, unfortunately, is not in the best of form,, neither is Urbański. Kowalewski is in excellent form, but his paintings go for tens of thousands of zloty. Nobody has appropriated anything. […] When I was doing my thing, together with Maryla Sitkowska and a whole group of people, the communist system was almost dying, almost no venom left. […] When the censor came to the What’s Up? exhibition and wanted to take down Urbański’s painting, Station Solidarity [Stacja Solidarność],


I said to him: «Come on, for fuck’s sake, let’s go have something to drink». Indeed, I was a bit afraid about Libera’s film, The Mystic Perversion [Perwersja mistyczna] as the film remains scandalous to this day. And if that film had a public screening anywhere then all hell would break loose, just like in the case of Nieznalska. Because the film is a very drastic one, touching on very difficult and painful issues. […] But today, all of these people are the masters in our domestic Polish scene. Mr. Modzelewski, Mr. Sobczyk, Mr. Woźniak – these are all outstanding painters. Dorota Jarecka: But it was not about appropriation here but about forgetting. Andrzej Bonarski: But who is forgetting? Dorota, put a good painting of Pawlak up for auction, and you’ll see how quickly it goes. There are many young collectors who live in Ursynów, work in banks or the advertising business, earn 40-50K a month, and buy this or that. There is a whole number of very decent collections – Łukasz Gorczyca could say a lot more about it than I because I don’t really deal in paintings. Waldemar Baraniewski: Thank you very much. It was not our intention to act against anybody who was supposed to appropriate since there was no appropriation. It was more about a space of oblivion. It’s one thing, of course, the position of painters, the prices for their paintings, and it is another whether there is

a memory about historical processes, about what was actually happening. Also because this memory was not exactly recorded, actually it was sometimes destroyed. A point in case here is the fate of the archives of Janusz Bogucki, which were transferred to the Art Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, from where they were taken to Konstancin, to the paper factory, and destroyed. It shows that the memory question is difficult. Your activities happen to be very well described, though many of the things that Łukasz presented in his paper are new – especially to the younger generation. Luiza Nader: I would very much like to thank Dorota for her presentation. Her text was actually such a recuperation of memory. I have a question regarding the seminars organized by Andrzej Matuszewski in the 1970’s in Dłusk, Pawłowice and other places where – if I remember correctly – Mr. Janusz Bogucki was also present. Was it there that the text «Pop-ezo-sacrum»was delivered for the first time? Did these actions, being, after all, some kind of small communities – bear any influence on your later activities? My other question is related to the sacred and transgression. I am interested in your relation to the Church, to the sacrum and profanum. How did that look? Dorota Jarecka: Indeed, the text «Pop-ezo-sacrum. The Three Magnetisms»comes from 1978. However the concept was gaining shape throughout the 1970’s. Certain things were repeDiscussion Curators and art merchants

49


ated, others were developed, etc. The word sacrum already came up before that. However in 1978 it was formulated strongly and without shame. It was a notion which, to an effect, was a bit embarrassing, particularly in the circles of Bogucki, in the circles of the neoavant garde […]

to a different location, or about a colony of spiders. These letters, so very different in style, make up an extraordinary compilation. When it comes to sacrum, indeed it was the basic idea Janusz promoted. From what I understand, Dorota focused more on the visual side and the certain political and ideological contexts. In

Nina Smolarz: First of all, I would like to thank Dorota for the

terms of ideas, Janusz’s take on the sacred would actually call

text, which I found shocking and very interesting. The Sign of

for a separate paper and separate studies. […] Wanting to get

the Cross at the beginning and the cross by Nieznalska at the

the readers familiarized with his ideas presented in «Pop-exo-

end – it reminded me of a text by Marx which, to my surprise,

sacrum», he writes on the first page: «These opinions are based

you quoted in reference to the activities of Janusz, namely that

on the conviction that faith and art sprout from the same trunk of

a repetition from history is its parody. This is how I see the coda

our spiritual existence. That the purest act of faith and the purest

you have made. In terms of the text «Pop-ezo-sacrum», it is a bo-

acts of creation are born in the same spring of primal energy. This

oklet, a small and very modest publication, in which Janusz pre-

energy is divine love which has brought the world out of nothin-

sented his basic thoughts. He wrote these texts in the 1970’s,

gness, and whose spark hidden in each and every human being,

from 1975 to 1985. He delivered them at meetings with artists,

makes him or her a person created in the image and likeness of

the avant garde, or critics. I attended only one such meeting in

the Creator. It is due to this common origin, the common source

1984, in Wrocław. A fragment of that discussion is even recorded

of faith and creation, that in the ancient, pre-modern cultures,

in his book. As to Matuszewski, that was his great friend. They

which had been established on the basis of the undivided en-

wrote extraordinary letters to each other. The letters, in which

tirety of spiritual life, there was not a difference between that

Andrzej Matuszewski would write, «fuck this, again whatever...»,

which was sacred for the artist and that which was sacred for the

and then again, this or that random word, contained very intere-

ordinary man. In most of the ancient cultures, the old religious

sting observations about art. Janusz would write back in a highly

sacrum and the sacrum seem to be one and the same thing or

sophisticated, baroque style, describing how lady bugs appeared

perhaps two sides of the same phenomenon».

in great numbers at the seaside and how they had to be carried 50

Discussion Curators and art merchants


When asked in an interview: «When was your concept of the formation of the sacrum in art coined?», Janusz does not talk about Kassel but simply says: «For a long time now I have been intrigued with the thought that art and sacrum are internally interlocked. The thought became suddenly concrete only in 1958, in Chartres, during my stay in France. I came to the conclusion then that I needed a different syntax. When in Chartres, one experiences all that is changing and all that is permanent in every single minute thanks to the light living in the stained glass windows». Chartres was the biggest spiritual experience for Janusz, and he often repeated that. «It comes from the external shifts in seasons of the year, times of the day, whimsical weather, travelling clouds in the sky, even the movement of trees swaying in the wind. One isits there as if in a huge cosmic cave and looks at the stained glass windows which are no longer glass, decorations, symbols, or iconography, but become the pillars of human spirit, made up of colored light, something to the effect of a materialized and pulsating prayer which has been happening there for centuries.»Let this be a supplement to this interesting picture that Dorota so beautifully presented when writing about The Labyrinth as an ark or river of memory which, however, should have a guard standing by. Karol Sienkiewicz: Dorota recalled an anecdote by Grzegorz Kowalski. I would be interested in the moment that the artists who called themselves libertines came in contact with the concept of Janusz Bogucki’s sacrum. At The Labyrinth exhibition this con-

cept met with the artists of the New Expression who distanced themselves from the Church, and whose initial presentations at church exhibitions usually ended with censorship, screwing out light bulbs and things like that. In any case, they decided to participate in the exhibition by Janusz Bogucki. The Labyrinth showed Sobczyk, Filonik, Kijewski, […] Dorota Jarecka: But it was Janusz Bogucki who, in comparison to the church curators, was seen as somebody different from that group. It was remembered that he participated in the neoavant-garde meetings, in the plain-air workshops which were not really religious but more ecological. There was talk about opening to nature. Kostołowski wrote a very interesting text in which he touched on «points of contact with reality». It was sort of an impulse. Or there was talk about an «ethical impulse». These are all very interesting things which begin to appear in the 1970’s. They have nothing to do with the Church, or any church institution for that matter. I have asked Grzegorz Klaman to tell me how it was. He had his reservations, of course. He was independent, wanted to be autonomous. But he was interested in it, even in the encounter with a certain project which is imposed and which is actually a compromise since certain things have been imposed – the «Labyrinth» was not his idea but the curator’s. He nevertheless found it interesting to surrender and see whether they were able to realize the kind of thing he had to offer. He still says that it was Discussion Curators and art merchants

51


the biggest work of art in his life. And he does not exclude the possibility that the «Labyrith» had an impact on his later art. Nina Smolarz: Grzegorz Klaman was given an additional handicap: he was supposed to make a huge sculpture, but also photographs were to be hung on it. […] Initially, it was to be a regular old-fashioned labyrinth, no idea what it was to be made from, maybe old bricks […] But at the «What’s Up?» exhibition at the Norblin factory, we saw this extraordinary sculpture by Klaman. We both knew it would be Klaman who would make the labyrinth. Grzegorz Kowalski: Janusz Bogucki was a very elegant man with a great power of persuasion. He knew how to approach an artist, so one just could not refuse him. Simple as that. We saw here the Luxus collective at an exhibition from 1991. How does that refer to the common stereotype of the sacrum? It doesn’t. And still Bogucki had the ability to combine these things. And they fit together. These exhibitions created a narrative which was thoroughly thought out and which had a specific message. Bogucki was lucky to find himself in an extraordinary period of time. First of all, it was a time of awakening and joy due to the newly regained freedom and regained voice – as was the case with most artists. It was a time when people did not refuse. People did not decline invitations to such undertakings. If anybody wanted to stand on the side, as some artists did – they consciously stood on the side and did not want to have anything to do with all that – 52

Discussion Curators and art merchants

then they excluded themselves from this absolutely unique experience of being together with other people, with all those who felt the awakening and inflow of the energy which was born in 1980 and then was kept aflame or cultivated during martial law. Janusz Bogucki was a mystic. He would speak with such faith in his voice that one felt it was worth joining in. He said that he saw a map of the city which indicated the routes of spiritual experience, and that these paths led to churches and galleries, that these were places of spiritual concentration. It was like a schism. He was completely beyond any of the Church canons. The best example of his power of influence was that after his death Marek Edelman decided to file a petition for Bogucki’s beatification. Nina Smolarz: Yes, indeed, Marek Edelman wrote a letter to the pope asking for the beatification of Janusz. He also published it in his book. Janusz was indeed a mystic, a person of extraordinary energy and vision. He was deeply convinced that the developments of that time were blazing a trail to the future, towards the salvation of the world. He said that it was necessary to found monasteries of spiritual renewal because people will not be able to stand the pressure of the new civilization. The exhibition The Epitaph and the Seven Spaces was not the last one. There was one more – The Boiler Room [Kotłownia] in Mokotów, the expansion of the imagination, a joining of the divided [powiększanie wyobraźni, łączenie podzielonego], and a few other exhibitions. However, the biggest one we prepared was with Marek Rostworowski, which


was to take place in Emaus, an old Benedictine monastery in the district of Praga in Warsaw. We had discovered an extraordinary edifice and wanted to enter it with «The Hole Mountain [Święta góra]», an eternal feast of many nations. The works were already in full swing but, unfortunately, it called for collaboration with artists from all the countries liberated from communism, and money which we did not have. […] Then Czechoslovakia broke apart, and the rend was more towards the West and not towards the area of changes happening here. Janusz felt that the suffering we went through – the two totalitarian regimes – releases an energy that can build the future for many people. Dorota Jarecka: I would like to add, however, that there were artists who went against the flow. Bogucki did have his opposition. […]

For example, «ecumenical meeting», when it was the presence of people which was more important than what was being shown. It was rather revolutionary for the church in 1987 to introduce, for example, a Buddhist prayer room and a Jewish chamber to a Catholic church. Grzegorz Kowalski: Maybe we should mention the name of that parish priest. Nina Smolarz: Father Wojciech Czarnowski. We only used the term «undertaking». I don’t know if Janusz ever wrote «exhibition» anywhere. Dorota Jarecka: He used the term in the book.

Jan Michalski: Did Janusz Bogucki use any genre term for a project like The Labyrinth? Because we are talking about an «exhibition»here. It is a very general term.

Nina Smolarz: In his texts he wrote that art had to return home and to the temple, not to the gallery. Home and the temple. Because other zones will be governed on the basis of the economy, covertly.

Dorota Jarecka: The alternative terms was «undertaking», however at the moment of the book’s publication, the term was «exhibition». I was wondering what to do with these categories. Sometimes Bogucki writes «exhibition», then on other occasions, «undertaking». At one point there appears the term «meeting», which was also a very apt description of some of the events.

Waldemar Baraniewski: If we looked at it more calmly and professionally from the perspective of what is called curatorial practices then I think we should mention the name of Marek Rostworowski because it was his activities, the exhibitions «Romantism and Romaticism», «Self-portrait of Poles», which opened up the space for such curatorial practices which were also a point of deDiscussion Curators and art merchants

53


parture for Janusz Bogucki. He took a different path but we must still remember that, especially since Rostworowski also ends up on Żytnia street. New Earth, New Heaven is an exhibition which sums up his endavours. Bonarski’s last exhibition, The Polish Chic, also falls into the category of a similar attitude towards the artist and towards the matter with which the curator was dealing. Dorota Jarecka: Roman Woźniak offers the term «pre-curator».

Waldemar Baraniewski, an art historian, professor at the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw. Published, among others, «Kazimierz Skórewicz. An architect, conservator, architecture scholar»(2000). Co-curator of exhibitions at the National Museum and the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, including Sorcerers and mystics (1991). Deals in the art history of the 20th century, particular attention paying to spatial arts (architecture and sculpture), art in totalitarian systems, and art criticism. Andrzej Bonarski, writer, art dealer and collector, businessman; intending to develop the art market in Poland in the 1980’s, he organised a number of solo and group exhibitions of new art, including What’s Up (1987), The New Russians (1988), In the Image, After the Likeness (1989), A Pole, a German, a Russian (1989), The Polish Chic (1991), Andrzej Bonarski Publishing House has 54

Discussion Curators and art merchants

issued, among other items, catalogues to the exhibitions organized by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz. Dorota Jarecka, an art historian and critic, writes reviews, longer texts and interviews for «Gazeta Wyborcza». In 2011 she co-curated the exhibition Erna Rosenstein. I can repeat only unconsciously at the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw. A laureate of the Jerzy Stajuda Art Criticism Award (2012). Luiza Nader, born in 1976, art. historian, lectures at the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw. In 2005 she received a Fulbright scholarship. Published book «The Conceptual Art in the Polish Peoples’ Republic»(2009). Her main focus is on avantgarde and neo-avant-garde art, particularly in Central Europe, as well as on relations of memory and archives, theories of trauma and affect. Nina Smolarz, photographer, partner and a long time associate of Janusz Bogucki (from 1982), who has collaborated with him on exhibitions and undertakings, including: Sign of the Cross (1983), The Apocalypse – a Light in the Darkness (1984), The Labyrinth (1989), The Epitaph and the Seven Spaces (1991), Midsummer Night or Midsummer Night’s Dream (1992), The Grand Duchy (1993), The Expansion of Imagination – Unification of the Divided, Fire Freezes, Splendour Darkens (1994), In the Door and Behind the Door. On This and That Side (1995).


Karol Sienkiewicz, born in 1980, art historian and critic, editor of books, e.g. collection of texts on the art of the eighties, «Draft»by Anda Rottenberg (with Kasia Redzisz). As a critic he writes to dwutygodnik.com. A laureate of the Jerzy Stajuda Art Criticism Award (2012). Grzegorz Kowalski, artist and pedagogue, assistant of Oskar Hansen (1965-1968) andJanuszkiewicz (1968-1980), lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In the 1970’s, co-founder of Warsaw’s Repassage gallery; developed individual forms of artistic expression based on including the expression of others into one’s own work (actions-questions, collections, tableaux). In the 1980’s creator of his own syllabus titled «Shared Space, Own Space». Artists including Paweł Althamer, known as Kowalnia (smithy – from his surname, Kowalski, Polish equivalent of Smith – from the translator). Jan Michalski, art critic, together with Marta Tarabuła manager the Zderzak gallery in Krakow. Laureate of the Stajuda Award. His publications include «A Boy on a Yellow Background. On Andrzej Wróblewski» [Chłopiec na żółtym tle. Teksty o Andrzeju Wróblewskim] (2009), and recently «Four Essays on Wildness» [Cztery eseje o dzikości] (2011, together with Martą Tarabuła).

Discussion Curators and art merchants

55


Karol Sienkiewicz

ÂŤWithout the Proverbial Pomp and CircumstanceÂť . The Beginnings of the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Cultural Policy of the State


The social and political changes that hit Poland at the turn of the 1980’s and 1990’s were also felt in the domain of contemporary art, especially in its modest institutional system. Anda Rottenberg, who held the post of Director of the Fine Arts Department at the Ministry of Culture in 1990-1991, recalls the period in an interview: «Izabella Cywińska was trying to convince me that if one did something for the opposition, also in relation to artistic life, then they now have the duty to legally support the new government. I agreed. It was actually taking over power. Seeing how the process went on, however, made me fall into depression»[1]. Warsaw institutions were subject to fundamental changes. In December 1989, Barbara Majewska became the director of Zachęta, which for a short while yet remained the Central Office of Art Exhibitions [Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych]. She took over from Mieczysław Praśnik, who had held the function continuously since 1976. It seemed that Zachęta had drawn a «thick line», cutting itself off from the decades of its legacy as CBWA. In the 80’s, Majewska was active in the independent art milieu. Together with Kinga Kawalerowicz she had managed Galeria SHS at Piwna Street in Warsaw, and edited one of the most important samizdat publications – Szkice[2]». Her arrival at Zachęta marked the beginning of a series of the so called «accounts settling»exhibitions [wystawy rozliczeniowe][3]», which aimed at summing up the whole decade of the 80’s. And so, in 1990-1991, the following exhibitions were organized there:

• «Galleries of the 80’s [Galerie lat osiemdziesiątych]»(May 1990, which replaced the planned exposition of military artists The Road to Victory [Droga do zwycięstwa]), recapitulating the achievements of independent galleries, such as Warsaw’s Dziekanka or Wielka 19 from Poznań; • «… the red is losing [… czerwona przegrywa]»(August 1990), an exhibition of underground graphic art of Solidarity curated by Karzy Brukwicki; • «What are artists in the destitute time? Independent art of the 80’s [Cóż po artyście w czasie marnym? Sztuka niezależna lat 80.]», curated by Tadeusz Boruta, who was also the author of the scenography (turn of 1990/1991); • «The Polish Chic [Szyk polski]», prepared by Andrzeja Bonarski and Maryla Sitkowska (January 1991); • «The Epitaph and the Seven Spaces [Epitafium i Siedem Przestrzeni]» by Janusz Bogucki and Nina Smolarz (June – July 1991). And so the edifice at Małachowskiego Square opened its doors to artists and curators for whom it would have been unthinkable to enter it just a few years before for reason of its mandatory boycott shared by all, including the most important animators, such as Bogucki and Bonarski. The image of Zachęta, and perhaps Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

57


also the very identity of the institution, was now being redefined, its tradition now being the independent art of the 1980’s.

Ruchu, was what determined the shape and form of Warsaw’s art scene in the 1990’s.

At the same time, a new institution began to emerge at Ujazdowski Castle [Zamek Ujazdowski], which was to play a key role for contemporary art in the 1990’s – The Centre for Contemporary Art. With the support of the Polish Section of AICA (which had a much more powerful position then now), as well as Solidarity, the position of director was offered to Wojciech Krukowski, who had also been connected with the independent movement of the 80’s, though a different faction than that of Barbara Majewska.

The Centre also employed other people who had collaborated with Akademia Ruchu - Piotr Rypson and Janusz Bałdyga. In a recent interview, Rypson makes it clear: «In 1989 Akademia Ruchu was simply given Ujazdowski Castle and a mission to create a Centre for Contemporary Art, without a prior competition but by simple appointment. It was a refurbished part of a huge building in the middle of a gloomy grove of trees frequented by flashers. The entire exhibition area consisted of three halls with concrete slabs for a floor»[5].

Krukowski had been the leader of Akademia Ruchu, a theatre he had managed since the 1970’s. He had also collaborated with Pracownia Dziekanka. The activities of Akademia Ruchu were many and diverse[4], including the publishing of the newsletter Obieg. They were continued in the form of the multidisciplinary functions of the Centre. From the very beginning, the institution’s profile tilted towards performance, fluxus, the media, as well as conceptual and experimental art in the style of early Dziekanka rather than what was exhibited in church premises, or even as part of the so called new expression. The different origins of, on the one hand, Barbara Majewska (and also Anda Rottenberg, who replaced Majewska in the position of Zachęta’s director in 1993) and, on the other, of Wojciech Krukowski and Akademia 58

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

The first press conference of the new director took place on 2 May 1990, in a relatively small office space in the attic of the Castle. Wojciech Krukowski openly spoke about the «thick line», repeating the words which the first non-communist prime minister of Poland, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, had said in his famous opening speech at the parliament[6]. As was the case with the entire state, so too with the Centre, the «thick line»was to separate that which resulted in the founding of the Centre in the 1980’s, from what it was to become according to the vision of director Krukowski. However, the Centre for Contemporary Art had already had a ten-year tradition. Let us here move back a decade.


«Report on the State of Criticism» In the fall of 1980, a special editing committee was founded, composed of Wiesław Borowski, Janusz Bogucki, and Andrzej Turowski, which produced a «Report on the State of Criticism». Together with other reports, the document was a component of the holistic «Report on the State of Culture», prepared by the Negotiating Committee of Artistic and Scientific Committees [Komitet Porozumiewawczy Stowarzyszeń Twórczych i Naukowych], which had created and sent out a questionnaire to all the organizations associated in the committee. Among these was the Polish Section of AICA. The «Report on the State of Criticism»[7] dealt not only with art criticism, but also with the situation of institutions, art schools, art associations, etc. In the spirit of the first Solidarity movement, the authors condemned conformist attitudes and careerism on the one hand, and «opportunistic policy in the domain of fine arts», on the other. They wrote: «At every level, the propagation and promotion of art has ceased to be the domain of art itself, and instead has become the sphere of political propaganda by turning into an administrative mechanism of popularization»[8]. As a result «the activities […] of a large number of galleries do not reflect nor significantly contribute to the dynamics of the art life». Similar was the situation with press criticism: «The empty rhetoric and apparent dynamism of criticism has led to the creation of the mentio-

ned vacuum. A vacuum filled with cultural policy»[9]. The situation was described as a «policy of false pretences». For example, the monthly Sztuka was described as «superficially impressive and international, superficially ‘open’ to different forms of innovative artistic activity». This is how the report recapped the whole decade of the 1970’s. (Many years later, Piotr Piotrowski wrote an essay, «The Decade»[Dekada] based on these assessments). However, as we read in the «Report»: «the ideological criticism of the mechanisms of culture is a political taboo». The statement was, at the time, no longer entirely true as during the period of the so called carnival of Solidarity certain things could be expressed openly, also in the official discourse. The «Report»was published by the Wrocław-based Odra in January 1981. Unions and Associations The fundamental difference between the decades of the 1970’s and the 1980’s as described in the «Report»was that many subjects were no longer taboo. Just as censorship became more visible (the censored parts in the press were captioned with excerpts from the applicable legal paragraphs pursuant to which certain things had to be cut out), so did the cultural policy of the state and its tools become more open. It was one of the unquestionable achievements of the events of August 1980 [the so called August Accords concluded by the government and the Solidarity Trade Unions granting, among other things, the right to associate Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

59


in independent trade unions – from the translator]. Apart from the political events, the most important problems of the time included the dissolution of the Association of Polish Artists (ZPAP), which was, to an extent, a means of punishment, a boycott of the media and public institutions by the art circles, the purges of the editorial staffs of the different periodicals, and the role that the Catholic Church began to play, plus – in later years – the discussion about the possible return of state patronage. In 1980, the monopolist Association of Polish Artists and Designers [Związek Polskich Artystów Plastyków - ZPAP], with newly

cusing it of illegal political activities and neglecting the interests of the artistic community»[10]. The Board of ZPAP was required to repeal many decisions made after August 1980, in particular those which expressed solidarity with the workers’ strikes in Gdańsk and Szczecin, as well as the resolution of October 1981 on the Association’s collaboration with Solidarity. The refusal to follow these orders resulted in ZPAP being again suspended in April 1983, which made it impossible to organize the planned Assembly. On 20 June 1983, ZPAP was finally dissolved.

elected management, was the first official organization to declare its support for the strikes in the shipyard. In October 1981, an agreement on cooperation was signed with the Solidarity Trade Union. These documents preceded, in a way, the individual decisions on boycotting official institutions, when the Association was suspended in its activities upon the imposition of martial law on 13 December 1981. When the organization was allowed to function again in May 1982, a General Assembly was planned to take place in April 1983. The underground magazine, Kultura Niezależna reported: «Since the preparations and, in particular, the elections of the authorities in the regions and delegates to the General Assembly were not in line with the plans of the state authorities (independent candidates prevailed), a confrontational campaign of slanders against the Association was launched, ac60

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

ZPAP was created by the regime, though the organization had an illustrious pre-war tradition. Headed by Jerzy Puciata, it could not have been saved, but it did play an important symbolic role, placing the artistic community on the morally correct side of the barricade. At an editorial discussion at the Szkice [Drafts] periodical in 1988, Barbara Zbrożyna, the last president of ZPAP Warsaw Region, calmly commented on the situation: «For forty years we were constantly told to be together. […] But I have the feeling that it was actually a meaningless communist organization. […] Despite that, the association became important because a handful of people decided to openly express their opinions about what they thought the authorities had been doing to this country»[11]. Another speaker said: «This association had a very pretty ending»[12]. This aspect of ZPAP was very much taken


into consideration when the Association was being reconstructed during the round table talks in 1989 (as part of the subgroup on associations). Jacek Królak, a young artist, wrote: «We joined the [ZPAP Organisational] Committee because we wanted to identify with the Association in the moral sense as well»[13]. In a report written in 1983, when the Association was dissolved, the Department of Fine Arts at the Ministry of Art and Culture wrote about «the systematic anti-state activities carried out by the management of ZPAP»[14]. Karol Czejarek, the director of the Department, wrote elsewhere: «The direct reasons for the dissolution of ZPAP included the policy of the Management Board of the Association, which was subordinate to the activities of anti-socialist opposition, and which neglected the statutory tasks – to take care of the interest of art and the social and material status of the [artistic] community», «the actual weakening of the Association’s interest in matters of art», as well as «the introduction of political issues to the organization, dictated by anti-socialist circles»[15]. The opponents of the old ZPAP would criticize, rightly to an effect, the «ageing of the old association», which made it difficult for young artists to join, making the privileges stemming from membership inaccessible. Jan Karczewski, a painter and party activist, whom I will mention on several other occasions in this text, expressed his sorrow by saying: «There are no youth organizations in art schools, and in

the entire community there is not a single party member among students»[16]. The authorities noticed the split in the art community. Karol Czejarek from the Ministry wrote: «A part of the milieu, with an inclination towards the opposition, is aiming at creating new informal opposition structures on the basis of some of the cultural initiatives of the Church and is enjoying backing by some of the art schools. The main objectives of the opposition in the circles are to maintain the state of temporariness, to encourage the boycott of state art institutions, to resist any initiatives to organize new associations and unions, and to socially ban those artists who present their works in state institutions of art or who cooperate with the authorities»[17]. The authorities were right in their diagnosis of the processes in the community, however the tools at their disposal were too weak, and the steps they were taking too inefficient, to attract artists and pull them on their side. When ZPAP was dissolved, it had 12 thousand members (or 14 thousand according to other sources), for whom it acted as an agent commissioning jobs. It also had its own service and production company, ART (printing houses, shops, galleries, workshops, etc.), holiday houses, and office spaces in 20 regional branches nationwide. Then the Association was assigned a liquidator, and a Liquidation Office was created. The assets it owned which, as it was written in Independent Culture [Kultura niezależna], «were Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

61


public property, were appropriated by the state». A state company Sztuka Polska was organized as a result which was «a centre of state management and control over artists». The authorities continued to apply the never changing rhetoric of propaganda of success. As we learn from the reports of the Fine Arts Department at the Ministry, 1983 was already closed with «a positive balance at PP Sztuka Polska: the annual plan has been exceeded by approx. 15%»[18].

62

and Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Waldemar Świrgoń[21]. All the participants were aware of the role that the new association had to play. In his speech, Rakowski «referred to the events from two years before and the situation in the former ZPAP, whose management went into opposition against the policy of the socialist state, rejecting the readiness of the authorities to strike a compromise»[22].

A number of new associations were founded in replacement of ZPAP, this time dividing the artistic community according to professions – sculptors, painters, graphic artists and designers. The first organization, which had been created before the dissolution of ZPAP, was the Association of Sculptors [Związek Artystów Rzeźbiarzy - ZAR][19]. The others, were: Association of Polish Graphic Designers [Stowarzyszenie Polskich Grafików Projektantów] – September 1983)[20], Association of Polish Painters and Graphic Artists [Związek Polskich Artystów Malarzy i Grafików (ZPAMiG)] – March 1984, Association of Polish Artists [Związek Artystów Plastyków «Sztuka użytkowa»] and others.

The new associations were mainly composed of party members. In the situation of the bipolar division of the society in the initial months of martial law, membership in the new organizations was seen as collaboration with the communist regime. In the summer of 1984, the first issue of presented contradictory data about the scale of membership in the new organization. In one of the texts, we read that ZAR and ZPAMiG associated approximately 110 artists[23], while in another we read that ZPAMiG had 300 and ZAR 290 members[24]. The numbers given by the official press were much higher – according to the newsletter of Sztuka Polska [Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska] by mid July 1984, ZPAMiG had 420 members[25]. In 1989, the membership of all the new unions and associations was estimated at 5 thousand[26].

The first General Assembly of ZPAMiG took place on 13 May 1984 with the attendance of deputy prime minister Mieczysław F. Rakowski, Minister of Culture and Art, Kazimierz Żygulski, Chairman of the National Council of Culture, Bogdan Suchodolski

The Nationwide Party-Affiliated Artists’ Team [Ogólnopolski Zespół Partyjny Artystów Plastyków] was quite instrumental in the decision making process[27]. The activities of the Ministry towards artists were to be supported by the Art Council [Rada Pla-

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»


styki], founded by K. Żygulski and started on 1 March 1984. The task of the institution was to issue decisions and provide advice to the Minister with regard to fine arts and their promotion[28]». The new structure was reflective of the typical multiplication of red tape, where many people worked at a number of different agencies and held different positions at the same time – be it in the associations, at the Ministry (Art Council), or the Party (Nationwide Party-Affiliated Artists’ Team). These organisations, however, had little to do with the actual milieu. For reason of their complex, multilayered structures, they were weak in any decision making, and if any decisions were actually made – they were not binding. No doubt, these bodies were there for political purposes, which was clearly stated by Karol Czejark, Director of the Art Department at the Ministry of Culture and Art: «The programme of the art patronage will promote esthetic values which create humanistic, socially constructive and ideological meanings, but will also negatively assess any attempts at popularizing negative phenomena»[29]. As we see, the authorities simply resorted to the old carrot and stick approach. The Centre In the already mentioned «Report on Criticism»from 1980, Borowski, Bogucki and Turowski pointed to the weaknesses of the system of institution: «There is no museum of contemporary art in Poland, which is a negative sensation in the global situation».

In the final conclusions to the report, they postulated an «expansion of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź», a «reorganization of the system of exhibitions at BWA and ZPAP», or the «organization of a Centre for Contemporary Art or centres – interdisciplinary animators of the current artistic life in all its forms». The latter postulate was by no means new, it had been a recurring theme at least since the 1970’s. It was now again resorted to in order to rebuild the prestige of the authorities. From among the more or less successful initiatives, the idea to hand over Ujazdowski Castle for contemporary art purposes was, no doubt, received differently by different groups. For the authorities, however, it was to be a crown argument confirming their legitimacy. A few years later, it was also a crown argument for the establishment of the new artist associations. Ujazdowski Castle survived the war, though it was severely devastated. Whatever walls had remained were taken apart in 1954 by the order of marshal Rokossowski (the order still remains incomprehensible). There were plans to erect Theatre of the House of the Polish ArmyTeatr [Domu Wojska Polskiego] in its place. In the early 1970’s, when decisions were made to reconstruct the Royal Castle in Warsaw, it was also decided to rebuild Ujazdowski Castle. The works began in 1974. Initially, the Castle was to be used for representational purposes. The initial completion of the reconstruction had been planned for 1978, but it was successively Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

63


delayed – the cost estimates had to be constantly updated as a result of the deteriorating economic situation and rising prices. Despite the difficulties, an edifice of raw brick in the form of a Baroque castle slowly began to emerge from behind the wooden fence of the construction site. The economic crisis also led the authorities to adopt a more modest approach in terms of their representational ambitions. In the early 1980’s, the idea to turn the Castle into a hotel for dignitaries was abandoned, and a change in the profile of the future tenant was announced. Different institutions and pressure groups began to fight for the place: Association of Polish Architects [Stowarzyszenie Architektów Polskich – SARP], or the National Museum (seeking to organize there the exposition of ornamental art). There is also the rumour, or perhaps an urban myth which I repeat after a reader of Stolica, according to which there was even a proposal to «temporarily organize a casino at the Castle, mainly for foreigners […] so as to generate hard currency in order to cover the construction costs»[30]. The first decisions pertaining to the future of the Castle were made during the so called carnival of Solidarity. In 1981, the prime minister handed Ujazdowski Castle over to the disposal of the Minister of Culture and Art. On 15 October 1981, the Minister announced his decision to organize a Centre for Contemporary Art in the Castle. On 7 June 1982, the mayor of the capital city 64

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

of Warsaw bequeathed the Castle «with the adjacent area and all the structures there located»to the Minister of Culture and Art. In July the same year, the Minister declared the opening of the Centre for Contemporary Art Under Construction at Ujazdowski Castle – the decision remained solely on paper as the institution was never founded so, obviously, it could not be present at the Castle. The more binding decisions were not made until 1984, when the Centre was actually founded for the second time. It seems that the biggest influence on such course of events was exerted by the Nationwide Party-Affiliated Artists Team. The leader of the group, Jan Karczewski, was a staunch advocate of the Centre for Contemporary Art, lobbying for it at party gatherings and in the official press. On 4 January 1984, the Staff for Cultural Policy at the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party made a decision on the gradual activation of the Centre for Contemporary Art based on the decisions made thus far. At the same time, in the resolutions from the 2nd National Conference of the Party, we read about the need to carry out the project of the Centre as quickly as possible. In the periodical Tu i Teraz [Here and Now], Jan Karczewski wrote that: «the delivery of the final decisions was complicated, indeed forceps had to be applied, but the newborn is alive and kicking. The task now is to keep it alive and to make it the beloved toddler of our administration responsible for culture and art»[31].


In the opinion expressed in Sztuka: «the deed was accomplished mainly thanks to the systematic work of the Presidium of the Nationwide Party-Affiliated Artists Team and the support of the National Culture Council»[32]. The official communication of the Polish Press Agency included a description of the plans for the Centre: «The castle is to host: an information and documentation centre of contemporary art, a permanent gallery of Polish Folk Art created on the basis of the assets of the National Museum, as well as a presentation studio for the most outstanding current achievements in fine arts and other types of art created domestically or abroad. The Centre for Contemporary Art will also be a place of elaborating new methods for propagating and popularizing contemporary Polish art, creating opportunities for broader public participation, and in particular the participation of youth in the current artistic life and in taking advantage of its achievements»[33]. Franciszek Kuduk noted in his text in Sztuka that: «the Centre for Contemporary Art is inaugurating its activities in a completely different situation within the artistic community. The foundation of a number of associations and unions has initiated a process – difficult to say how long it will last - of revealing and establishing the differences in the needs and aspirations of the separate art disciplines. The task to provide artists with forms of activities which would not be limited to the framework of associations or

unions seems to be the undisputable duty of the Centre in the given situation»[34]. Getting the institution started dragged on. It was not until November 1984 that the Minister appointed the Programme Council of the Centre for Contemporary Art. The body was headed by Mieczysław Wejman, a graphic artist managing the newly established Association of Polish Painters and Graphic Artists[35]. The Council was mainly composed of representatives of the new associations. The inaugural meeting took place at the Royal Castle. The celebration was attended by Waldemar Świrgoń (secretary of the Party’s Central Committee), as well as Minister Kazimierz Żygulski himself who «informed the assembly about the opening of the Centre of Documentation of Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle which is to take place in a few months»[36]. When speaking about the future work of the Centre, the minister said that: «It should be of an interdisciplinary character, and should also integrate the artistic community». Mieczysław Wejman, on the other hand, concluded his speech saying: «In ending, I would like to express my thanks for bestowing on me the function of chairing the Council. I accept it as a representative of the artistic community: though perhaps only a part of it, but the part that believes in creating values by being active – values exemplified by the centre»[37].

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

65


The president of the Nationwide Party-Affiliated Artists Team, Karczewski, stressed that: «The foundation of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw is the fulfillment of the postulate that for decades has been put forward by artists, other creative communities, and the broadly understood public in this most neglected area of national culture»[38].

The first working session of the Programme Council of the Centre for Contemporary Art took place at the seat of the Management Board of ZAR on 21 December 1984[40]. Initial programme assumptions of the institution were adopted; plans to open a permanent exhibition titled Canon of Polish Contemporary Art were mentioned.

Karczewski was much more revealing in his article published in

In light of the banal and lofty declarations about the breakthrough role of the newly established centre, the reality of the castle was more than modest. Two years later, in 1986, the only space ready was that up in the attic, with a separate eastern entrance marked with a sign saying: Centre for Contemporary Art. The editorial staff of Sztuka, managed by Andrzej Skoczylas, also moved to offices in the castle [41]. Concerned with the snail pace of works at the Centre, the readers of the magazine noted the «abandoned state of the building site, visible to the bare eye – randomly scattered construction elements, scaffolding»[42].

Tu i Teraz dated 15 February 1984 (on the occasion of the Centre for Contemporary Art Under Construction being transformed into the Centre for Contemporary Art). He wrote: «As paradoxical as it may sound, it was the time of overcoming the crisis and the economic reforms which can provide a unique opportunity for assigning the fine arts their proper position in the life of the nation. In any case, the former ZPAP had camouflaged the myths for too long, and had for too long provided patronage, to an effect doing the job for the state. This absence of ZPAP has already enforced certain new decisions»[39]. Karczewski thus underlined the fact that the decision of founding the Centre was a result of the new division of power which emerged after the dissolution of ZPAP. It should be noted that all the decisions were made despite the economic crisis and despite the refurbishment and expansion of the building of Zachęta, which had been started in 1983 with the aim to double the exhibition space.

66

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

The Centre for Contemporary Art had its official inauguration in Ujazdowski Castle on 10 March 1986. The institution was placed under the management of director Witold Bobiński, who had a «fully employed»staff of thirteen. The opening was limited to only the library and the reading room. «The inauguration was untypical in every aspect, without the proverbial pomp and circumstance, invited dignitaries and the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, for which we will probably still have to wait a good few years»[43].


The Centre also held something that resembled the beginnings of a video library (several films about the art of renowned artists), as well as the start of a documentation collection: «[…] there are efforts to create a computer documentation (on leased hardware)»[44]. The long corridors of the castle’s attic hosted an exhibition of graphic art, «consisting of works awarded in graphic art competitions held over the past 20 years, and bequeathed by the Management Board of the Association of Polish Painters and Graphic Artists»[45].

The period is an episode in the Centre’s history which has for some reason fallen into oblivion. Most of the people mentioned had never become a part of the new team constructed by Wojciech Krukowski. The International Art Seminar organized by Mitan in 1988, was the true inauguration of the exposition activities of the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle. It seems that Andrzej Dłużniewski had anticipated the political events which were to follow by exhibiting his work titled ‚The Round Table’.

In April 1988, in the column «Issues of the Community»in Sztuka we read: «The Centre for Contemporary Art does exist though it seems as if it did not»[46]. A month later, the Minister of Culture and Art appointed Michał Matuszyn as director of the Centre – Matuszyn had been the Director General of the Association of Polish Painters and Graphic Artists. Again, in Sztuka we read: «Will the mood of stagnation hovering over the Centre for Contemporary Art finally be overcome?»[47].

The case of the Centre for Contemporary Art at the Castle shows that throughout the entire decade the authorities were unable to make any genuine gestures towards the institutions.Not much was achieved. The policy was not really aimed at attracting new followers or new artists but at awarding those who were loyal. Any discussions about the Centre for Contemporary Art interested the independent art circles very little – after all, it was just another institution to be hand-steered by the Ministry, and its construction dragged on forever.

But it was 1989 that was the year of radical changes, when the process of building an art institution, in the full sense of the word, was finally begun. The new director, Stefan Liszewski, employed Andrzej Mitan, the former manager of RR gallery. Soon others appeared at the Castle, including Alicja Kępińska, Anastazy Wiśniewski, Włodzimierz Borowski, Andrzej Dłużniewski, Janusz Byszewski, Bożena Kowalska.

The youngest generation of artists, who had their debuts in the 1980’s, was the first not to take advantage of the privileges that were historically available. Just like the rest of the society, they would rather go abroad to make some money instead of accepting any propaganda projects commissioned at home. The youngest of them could not care less about the dissolution of ZPAP, Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

67


with which they had not identified themselves (in an editorial discussion in Szkice Paweł Kowalewski said that: «unionization is symptomatic for the entire system»), nor about the activities of the authorities, even if some of them took the bait and took part in the widely advertised exhibition Arsenal ‘88. Karol Sienkiewicz, born in 1980, art historian and critic, editor of books, e.g. Collection of texts on the art of the eighties, Draft by Anda Rottenberg (with Kasia Redzisz). As a critic he writes to dwutygodnik.com. A laureate of the Jerzy Stajuda Art Criticism Award (2012).

which inspired the creative participation of children and adults», including a street cinema on Szembeka Square, a film club [DKF] - by Anna Bilska, «Akademia Ruchu», Radar 1986,13 November no 46 (615), p. 19. 5. [«Piotr Rypson interviewed by Jacek Tomczuk»], Przekrój 2011, 19 November, no 38(3455), p. 43. 6. The video recording of the conference was presented at the exhibition Schizm by its curator, Adam Mazur. 7. Janusz Bogucki, Wiesław Borowski, Andrzej Turowski, «Sztuka i krytyka», Odra, no 1 (239), year XXI, (January 1981), pp. 37-44. 8. Ibidem, p. 42. 9. Ibidem, p.41.

Notes 1. «Pisanie równoległe. Z Andą Rottenberg rozmawiają Kasia Redzisz i Karol Sienkiewicz», in: Anda Rottenberg, «Przeciąg. Teksty o sztuce lat 80.», ed. Kasia Redzisz, Karol Sienkiewicz, (Warsaw 2009), p. 370. 2. Barbara Majewski published under the pseudonim M. Wisnowska. 3. See: Aleksandra Zientecka, «Działalność Zachęty w latach 1989-2001», (Warsaw 2007), pp. 28-39. 4. At the turn of the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was awarded the status of an institution; and in its seat at the ZPO Cora Factory Culture Centre at Terespolska Street in Warsaw’s district of Praga, we read that «in a new workers environment, diverse forms of cultural and social activities were proposed. There were series dedicated to the issues of theatre, film, fine arts, photography, activities

68

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

10. Jan Krajowiec, «Stan kultury polskiej w 1983 roku», Kultura Niezależna, published by Komitet Kultury Niezależnej, no 1, (Warsaw, August 1984), p. 22. In the official Tu i Teraz, which replaced Kultura Niezależna, Jan Karczewski wrote: «After all, there were many ways of dissolving ZPAP – an association of 14,000 artists, the biggest organization of this type: from notifying the registering entity and declaring a will to cooperate – which, in any case, was stipulated in the bylaws – to the presidium stepping down. But it was the ambitions of the individual people that prevailed, who did not hesitate to put the interests of the entire artistic community at stake»by Jan Karczewski, «Osamotnienie. Po rozwiązaniu ZPAP», Tu i Teraz, no 34, (24 August 1983), p. 1. 11. «Dyskusja o środowisku artystów», Szkice. Pismo poświęcone problemom artystyczno-społecznym», 1988, no 8, p. 10. 12. JK, Ibidem, p. 15.


13. Jacek Królak, «Głos w sprawie ZPAP», Szkice 1989, no 9, p. 66. 14. «Działania Departamentu Plastyki w 1983 r.», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 1-2(3-4), p. 43. 15. Karol Czejarek, «Raport o aktualnej sytuacji środowiska plastycznego», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 3 (6), p. 2. 16. «Rozmowa z Janem Karczewskim», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 3(6), p. 35. 17. Karol Czejarek, «Raport o aktualnej sytuacji środowiska plastycznego», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 3 (6), p. 3. 18. Ibidem, p. 45.

Mieczysław Wejman was picked. He accepted the position of president. His deputies were Stanisław Dawski and Leon Michalski, and secretary – Andrzej Vogt. The Board was also joined by Włodzimierz Buczek, Władysław Hasior (perhaps he will finaly get a studio in Zakopane?) and Jan Świderski». – «Rekonstrukcja?», Kultura Niezależna, published by Komitet Kultury Niezależnej, no 1, (Warsaw, August 1984), p. 82. In June 1985, Wejman was replaced in the position of president by Władysław Jackiewicz. See: «Nowe władze Zarządu Głównego Związku Polskich Artystów Malarzy i Grafików», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1985, no 8, p. 10. 23. Jan Krajowiec, «Stan kultury polskiej w 1983 roku», Kultura Niezależna, published by Komitet Kultury Niezależnej, no 1, (Warsaw, August 1984), p. 23. 24. «Rekonstrukcja?», Kultura Niezależna, published by Komitet Kultury Niezależnej, no 1, (Warsaw, August 1984), p. 82.

19. The Association of Sculptors was headed by Władysław Frycz. See.: «Krzątamy się w bryle. Rozmowa z Władysławem Fryczem, prezesem Związku Artystów Rzeźbiarzy», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 1-2(4-5), pp. 5-8.

25. «Informacja o Związku Polskich Artystów Malarzy i Grafików», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 4-5, p. 3.

20. Marian Sztuka took over the position of president of the Association of Polish Graphic Designers, Stanisław Wieczorek became his deputy. See: «Stowarzyszenie Polskich Artystów Grafików Projektantów», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 1-2(4-5), pp. 9-13.

27. Nationwide Party-Affiliated Artists’ Team [Ogólnopolski Zespół Partyjny Artystów Plastyków] was formed in the 1950’s and stayed either under the auspices of the Culture Department of the Central Committee of the Polish United People’s Party or by the Management Board of ZPAP. It worked irregularly, more dynamically only before the General Assemblies of ZPAP. From 20 October 1983, the Team adopted new rules of functioning. It was composed of all the first secretaries of the Basic Party Organisation (POP), the first secretaries from art schools (two academies and five higher schools of art), people recommended by Voivodship Committees. The team operated at the Department of Culture of the Central Committee. It’s president at the time was Jan Karczewski. See: «Rozmowa z Janem Karczewskim», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 3(6), pp. 32-36. In March 1986, Karczewski

21. «I Walny Zjazd Związku Polskich Artystów Malarzy i Grafików», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, nn 4-5. 22. Kultura niezależna: «No pains were spared; there was a search for some king of a renowned and noble sage to join at any costs (a trick known from ZLP and ZASP). When it turned out that the recruiters had no luck with any of those designated by the Culture Department of the Party Central Committee,

26. «ZPAP – sprawa w toku», Szkice, 1989, no 9, p. 65.

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

69


was replaced by Julian Pałka. – Janusz Czechowicz, «Obrady Ogólnopolskiego Zespołu Partyjnego Artystów Plastyków przy Wydziale Kultury KC PZPR», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1986, no 4, p. 2. 28. The following persons were appointed to the Art Council: Roman Artymowski, Zbigniew Bednarowicz, Włodzimierz Buczek, Bogdan Chmielewski, Wojciech Czapski, Karol Czejarek (director of the Fine Arts Department at the Ministry), Władysław Czuba, Franciszek Duszeńko, Andrzej Fogtt, Władysław Frycz (president of ZAR), Wiesław Garboliński, Zbigniew Horbowy, Władysław Jackiewicz, Andrzej Janota, Ireneusz Kamiński, Jan Karczewski, Franciszek Kuduk, Eryk Lipiński, Krystyna Łyczywek, Jerzy Madejski, Andrzej Matynia, Leon Michalski, Jan Muszyński, Julian Pałka, Eugeniusz Piliszek, Andrzej Rajewski, Leszek Rózga, Andrzej Skoczylas, Artur Starczewski, Marian Sztuka, Andrzej Voellnagel, Mieczysław Wejman, Bronisława Wilimowska. On 28 March 1984, a presidium of the Council was formed, composed of: Andrzej Rajewski (Director General at the Ministry) – president, Wiesław Garboliński – deputy president, Zbigniew Bednarowicz – deputy president, Jan Karczewski, Mieczysław Wejman, Włądysław Frycz, Marian Sztuka, Andrzej Janota, Wojciech Czapski, Marian Pałka, Andrzej Voellnagel. – «Powołanie Rady Plastyki przy ministrze kultury i sztuki», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 1-2(4-5), pp. 1-2. 29. Karol Czejarek, «Raport o aktualnej sytuacji środowiska plastycznego», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 3 (6), p. 9. 30. «W sprawie Zamku Ujazdowskiego», Stolica 1986, 9 II, no 6 (1977), year XL, p. 15.

70

34. «Franciszek Kuduk, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej – nadzieje, możliwości...», Sztuka 1984, no 2/3, p. 45. 35. Janusz Czechowicz, «Inauguracyjne posiedzenie Rady Programowej Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej», Biuletyn informacyjny. Sztuka Polska, no 11, 1984, pp. 1-4. 36. Ibidem, p. 2. 37. Ibidem. 38. Ibidem. 39. Jan Karczewski, «Żaby i zjadacze żab», Tu i Teraz 1984, 15 II, p. 5. 40. The meeting was attended by 49 people. The council selected its Presidium. A motion was also accepted by the Council’s chaiman, Mieczysław Wejman, «proposing that the Minister appoint Krzysztof Hnatkowski to the position of the Centre’s administrative director». – «Posiedzenie Rady Programowej Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej», ed. Liliana Koperska, Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1984, no 12, p. 9. 41. Sztuka 1986, no 2, p. 1. 42. W sprawie Zamku Ujazdowskiego, Stolica 1986, 9 II, no 6 (1977), year XL, p. 15.

31. Jan Karczewski, «Żaby i zjadacze żab», Tu i Teraz 1984, 15 II, p. 5.

43. Janusz Czechowicz, «Inauguracja działalności Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1986, no 4, p. 3.

32. Sztuka 1984, no 2/3, p. 89.

44. Ibidem.

33. Sztuka 1984, no 2/3, p. 89.

45. Ibidem. In March 1986, the first exposition prepared by the Centre was

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»


opened – an exhibition by the Wektor collective at the book store in Nowy Świat Street. Janusz Czechowicz, «Obrady Ogólnopolskiego Zespołu Partyjnego Artystów Plastyków przy Wydziale Kultury KC PZPR», Biuletyn Informacyjny P.P. Sztuka Polska 1986, no 4, p. 3. 46. Sztuka 1988, no 4, p. 58. In 1985 – 1986, the future exploitation programme of the Castle was established: the basement was to hold a club and a café, on the ground floor – temporary exhibitions and specialist studios (including the «graphic workshops open to visitors, where they can learn about the different techniques of copying, and where professionals can also expand their skills and knowledge»), a multifunctional room, a reading room, and – on the first floor – a permanent exhibition entitled the Gallery of Polish Contemporary Art, with a specially equipped Zigismund Room; the entire second floor, i.e. the attic, was to host the centre for documentation and information. The management and administration, the storage facilities for the art works, the technical facility, the printing house and hotel rooms were planned to be located in the pavilions of the former hospital. 47. Sztuka 1988, no 5-6, p. 113.

Karol Sienkiewicz «Without the Proverbial Pomp and Circumstance»

71


Aleksandra Ściegienna

Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»


The survey «Visual Artists 1984-86», organized by the Association of Art Historians (SHS), was financed from the Fund for Study of National Culture of the 19th and 20th Century[1], operated by the University of Wrocław. The survey began in 1985 and was carried out by a team made up of Marek Beylin, Wojciech Cesarski, Nawojka Cieślińska, Marcin Giżycki, Jarosław Krawczyk, Ewa Mikina, Bożena Stokłosa.

«The Voice of the Past. Oral History»[3]. Thompson presents oral history as a historical research method and emphasises the importance of information about the lives of individuals as a vehicle of historical experience. Looking for evidence of a problem in a series of interviews and analysing them from different angles, one can put conclusions in a broader context. Interviews can also help to understand the structure of the context.

The survey was conceived as a record of changes in the art community at the turn of the 1980s, covering artists of different generations and groups. 77 interviews have survived. Probably not many more were completed, though the survey was to include around 220 interviews.

One should also remember that interviews are often much more than a story of the teller; they are the product of interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee. An interview should be interpreted as a joint effort of two individuals, a form of discourse shaped and structured by asking and replying to questions. Thompson stresses the need to analyse both questions and answers when interpreting an interview.

In addition to the obvious political context, the project followed the liquidation of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (ZPAP) and the art journals Projekt and Sztuka, whose editors and critics were part of the team co-ordinating the interviews. Wiesława Wierzchowska’s collection of interviews with art critics, published by an underground press in 1989 as «Sąd nieocenzurowany» [2], provides valuable background for the survey. Both sources are mutually complementary and present very similar issues. I have reviewed the SHS survey in the light of Paul Thompson’s commentary on interpretation of interviews published in his book

The project involved nearly the entire community of art critics and historians. Interviews were conducted by, among others, Waldemar Baraniewski, Krystyna Czerni, Tomasz Gryglewicz, Ewa Hronowska, Jaromir Jedliński, Jarosław Krawczyk, Anna Król, Ewa Mikina, Maria Morzuch, Anda Rottenberg, Maryla Sitkowska, Wojciech Skrodzki, Joanna Sosnowska, Paweł Sosnowski, Bożena Stokłosa, Piotr Szubert, Jan Trzupek, Anna Zacharska, Rafał Zakrzewski, Elżbieta Zawistowska, and Ryszard Ziarkiewicz. The questionnaire contained 38 questions phrased by Bożena

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»

73


Stokłosa and Ewa Mikinia and divided into two groups. According to the organisers, the first group of questions concerned the interviewed artists’ opinions and evaluations of their own work, its origin, development, distinctive features, chronology, membership of a direction, school, generation: in other words, self-definition. Another purpose of this group of questions was to gauge the artists’ knowledge of Polish post-war and contemporary art, its main concepts and problems such as tradition, the avant garde, «Polishness», «international» circulation, history of the art, and criticism. The other group of questions concerned the artists’ attitudes to-

conditions of the interview, the atmosphere, the artist’s behaviour, and the way that the interview transcript was edited[4]. The interviews were not signed with the name of the artist or the interviewer but they were numbered. Each interview was reviewed. The reviewers evaluated the interviewers’ objectivity and consistency with the questionnaire and instructions, which specified the context of questions and suggested possible answers. The instructions required the interviewers to keep their reactions to any opinions expressed by the artists in check, to keep a distance throughout the interview if the interviewer’s own opinions differed from those of the interviewee, and to refrain from arguing with the artist.

ward the implications of the political transformation of the early 1980s for art and art institutions: the scope and profile of information about art, the functions of museums and galleries, art in the era of Solidarity, the functions of sponsorship, the issue of ZPAP, creative freedom, and alternative art. The questions were very extensive. The questionnaire was more like a script for an in-depth interview than a list of closed-ended questions. Each interviewer was expected to deliver the tapes (which were probably destroyed) and an edited transcript of the interview (3-4 copies), as well as a commentary describing the 74

The extensive questions in the survey, the way they were phrased, and the very interesting instructions, which elaborated on the issues to be discussed and anticipated answers to many questions, suggest how art critics and historians perceived the art community in the mid-1980s and how they perceived themselves. Many of the questions and comments to the questions seem to be far from objective as they suggest specific answers. It is also interesting to see how many questions were asked on specific topics and themes. An analysis of interviews, according to the list of questions and

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»


instructions divided into groups in the order they were given, indicates several issues and problems on which the survey focused. The first part focused on the artists’ own work while the second part focused on the specificity of art and the lives of artists in the decade. I. The first four questions concern the artist’s reflections about his or her own work. The purpose is to present the artist’s oeuvre, the latest works, and to identify the turning points in the artist’s biography. While the artists’ responses often referred to private experience, the instructions requested the interviewers «to ascertain how the artist’s work and consciousness were impacted by political and social break-throughs in the history of Poland after 1945, up to August 1980 and December 1981.» Such evaluation of the events of the early 1980s and their impact on the artists’ work and attitudes is more or less explicitly suggested in several questions of the survey. However, the artists referred to such issues only when asked directly about the relevance of political developments. Further on, the survey contains questions which I believe were meant to introduce the subject of «engaged art.» The first issue is that of being contemporary and making contemporary art. While these concepts are defined in very general terms in the instruc-

tions (being contemporary as being in the present), the question is whether being contemporary here still retains the meaning which Piotr Juszkiewicz attributed to critics and artists during the Khrushchev Thaw. In his book «Od rozkoszy historiozofii do ‘Gry w nic‘», Juszkiewicz argued that contemporary art «was [then] understood as various concepts of improving social realism or, later, as ‘hot’ abstraction [5]. For many artists, being contemporary meant to relate to current trends in Western art, understood as modern «catching up» with the trends. Only some artists of the younger generation, including Marek Sobczyk and Leon Tarasewicz, described being contemporary simply as a subjective experience of everything around us here and now. Generational differences in the understanding of problems and events emerge in several points of the survey but seem rather nuanced. The next questions (Q7 and Q8) were control and follow-up questions for the preceding ones and referred to the connection between works of art and the time and place of their creation, as well as tradition, both tradition deserving continuation and tradition to be challenged. The commentary in the instructions clarified: «Find out whether the artist believes that he or she is a passive observer of reality or, conversely, its active participant who can influence reality through art, shape it, set an example for others’ attitudes to the times they live in […] It would be interesting to determine which motifs and values of the Polish cultural tradition the artist considers to be particularly important and de-

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»

75


serving of elaboration in art». The authors of the survey wanted not so much to encourage a discussion about conditions as one about modes of behaviour. Such deliberations naturally led directly to question 9: «How do you understand ‘engaged art’, what art practice do you relate it to?» As the authors of the questions suggested: «It is important to determine whether the artist is: strongly negative about engaged art because it is associated with opportunism or administrative requirements to raise social and political issues, as in social realism; ambivalent because the artist relates engaged art to both the foregoing and its opposite, i.e., raising specific issues, in particular political and social issues, against all censorship; or strongly positive because the artist understands engagement as limited to the latter, or largely expands it to include a range of problems in contemporary reality».

76

artists took very seriously is long gone while what they thought was fun has survived and really matters». Jacek Sempoliński: «[…] general engagement in seeking the truth, the mystery, ultimate things. It’s not true that artists who do that are not engaged, that they are tepid, live in an ivory tower. They are searching for general issues with total commitment and dedication. I consider myself to be one of them, to be engaged in a quest for ultimate things». Oskar Hansen: «How I understand engaged art is that you do your work true to what you believe in, not as a careerist who works by order against your own beliefs». Andrzej Dłużniewski: «Art has so many of its own functions that it does not need any additional obligations. When art takes on such obligations, it impairs art. However, art as art has to be engaged».

Some answers were emotional. Engaged art was usually equated with social realism or prompted reactions to the effect that «there is no art that would not be engaged»; some artists talked about being «engaged in art». A clear distinction was made between «I the artist» and «I the citizen», both roles being seen as mutually exclusive or juxtaposed.

Tomasz Ciecierski: «I think that the very term engaged art sounds awful in the Polish context. For me, engaged art has always been engaged in socialist reality and its apotheosis […] However, I think that all art is simply engaged, it is engaged in art, in reality, in all that is. In this context, I am an engaged artist».

Jacek Sienicki: «For me, this term is inadequate. Art is always engaged; otherwise, it is not art […] It often happens that what

Jacek Kryszkowski: «For me, engagement has a negative implication because it means that the concept is imposed on some-

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»


one who is good, who is on a quest. Engagement offered as a practice necessary to create a socially useful individual was for me doubtful and smacked of propaganda. The word carries a propaganda intention, it is a concept coined by propaganda and journalism. It is void of meaning». Jarosław Modzelewski: «My first reaction to this term is negative. This kind of art could do very stupid things. And yet strange, unique things could be made at the same time […] I myself have never been engaged head first. I am no activist». Marek Sobczyk: «Engaged art that I know, which corresponds well to that term, is the art of people engaged in a struggle, who are adamant. Sometimes it has its background in the Catholic Church, sometimes in the opposition movement, but generally it’s this type of art. But I think that engaged art can be made by normal people, without deviations, without a broken backbone. And then such art would have to be different, possibly not achievable in Poland, where, as a matter of fact, you can only get engaged in some bitter deliberations which give rise to a hope that is barely there». Similar statements appear in Wiesława Wierzchowska’s interviews with critics. What seems to be of greatest import is the autonomy of art because, as Andrzej Osęka argues: «Art which talks about the misfortunes inflicted upon us by socialism sooner or later

becomes journalism»[6]. Social and political developments of the 1980s are also seen as «inexpressible». Alicja Kępińska argues: «Current events, however important they are, like what we have gone through, do not immediately enter the bloodstream of the arts» as some things «cannot be expressed with a sign. The sign remains inadequate to the depth of the drama»[7]. Barbara Majewska points to the complexity of the problem: «The written history of Polish art assumes that there was a breakthrough from social realism to modernity. For me, it was a breakthrough from a lie to a truth of the artist; those who easily equated the truth of the artist with directions in art brought in from the world often lost sight of important values, which others considered more significant than catching up with one trend or another»[8]. In some interviews, critics like Zbigniew Makarewicz stress that the autonomy of art was dependent not on the attitude of the artist interested in purely artistic values, but on the existing situation produced by the government’s policy of winning over the art community. Due to that policy, art was made in a context bearing the brand of social realism. Zbigniew Makarewicz: «[…] But we still live in an era when Polish criticism after 1956 has remained a legacy of social realism. Stalin is dead but Stalinists live on. I don’t believe that anyone

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»

77


engaged in the doctrine of social realism could wake up one day as a competent avant-garde critic». Wiesława Wierzchowska: «People change their opinions not just for opportunist reasons […]» Zbigniew Makarewicz: «Well, I’m not thinking about people in general but about specific individuals. Stalinists live on, they have changed their aesthetic preferences. They were the ones who decided about the art movement, the education of artists and critics, the university curricula. Having broken up with the tradition of Polish criticism, subtle art criticism which had existed here after all, those people must have had huge problems with the interpretation of art developments after 1956. Their texts are a testimony to that. These texts reveal a subconscious compulsion inherent in the critic’s psyche to attribute some kind of statement to an abstract painting»[9]. The issue of engagement was followed up in the next question (Q10) concerning non-conformism. The authors of the survey wanted to «determine to what extent an understanding of artistic independence, just like an understanding of engagement, is tied up with the experience of post-war Polish art: for instance, do artists consider these two attitudes to be antinomies; do they reserve the notion of independence for the area of unrestrained search for form and technique; do they equate it with a rejection 78

of all pressure and influence regarding the quest for content and expression; do they associate this concept with the avant garde». Non-conformism is declared in the interviews in an apolitical context. On the other hand, in the opinion of many interviewees, if all art is engaged, then non-conformism is impossible. An artist who is «engaged in art» comes into contact with people through exhibitions and other activity, and thus cannot remain completely independent. The next question (Q11) asks about the rationale of identifying a distinct art practice. While the authors of the survey wanted to understand the attitude of artists to «gigs» – well-paid propaganda or advertising jobs, work for sale, work by commission, etc., most interviewees talked about ethics in abstract terms, detached from specific situations. The reduction of ethics to professional practice is a clear allusion to the boycott. Maciej Szańkowski: «Ethics is a fundamental point. Art must be ethical. If an artist is not ethical, it’s no art at all. Ethics in art means to be true to oneself and one’s beliefs. Other than that, you’re unethical». Typically, all things political are understood as reserved for the State; hence, what is political is seen as unethical. Responses to the question about contacts with world art (Q14)

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»


never referred to Eastern Europe. Not a single interviewee talked about art in Hungary, the Czech Republic or the USSR. In this context, it is interesting to note the commentary to the question in which the authors of the survey also refer exclusively to Western art: «Determine whether the artist has an inferiority complex as a Polish artist; whether the artist attributes the complex to all post-war Polish art with respect to West European and American art; and where the complex comes from». Interviews published in «Sąd nieocenzurowany» reveal a similar problem among art critics. There is a clear inferiority complex and a fascination with the West; even if travel in Eastern Europe is mentioned, the interviewees never talk about art in the visited countries. What is also striking is an ahistorical understanding of the concept of the avant garde (Q16), reiterated in almost all interviews. Quite often, the avant garde is understood stereotypically as innovativeness and inventiveness. Grzegorz Kowalski: «In the colloquial sense, the avant garde is a propensity to keep looking. I identify with such propensity […] It is tantamount to some degree of artistic freedom. It is an achievement of the avant garde to try and be free.» Maciej Szańkowski: «I think that the problem of the avant garde did exist: avant-garde artists versus those in the rear […] I had a seminal experience once: I was taking part in an art workshop

in Bochum, preparing an installation to be placed in a local housing estate. I established very close relations with the locals. The installation was first ‘tried out’ and discussed. There was a public debate one night at the local swimming pool, in front of which my installation was to be placed. Someone asked: ‘What if the local community does not accept your installation?’ I didn’t know how to answer a question I had never been asked before. Where I come from, no-one needs to be asked, you just put your thing in place. The question made me think. The installation was put in place and I think that the locals liked it, it was welcomed. But I was stunned. I realised that I was in another country with completely different rules, where people can say no. It did impact my general understanding of things». Zbigniew Warpechowski: «What I understand as the classic notion of the avant garde has always come in response to the slogans of ideologues and revolutionaries. The belief in science and progress was based on forward movement, but what was believed to be forward was not always so. There was a backlash and then the avant garde turned back. Some people in Poland have recently prophesised the ‘end’ or ‘death’ of the avant garde. As a notion, not a dogma or taboo, the avant garde exists and will continue to exist in every society». Jarosław Modzelewski: «For me, it is simply a kind of pioneering. I never thought about art in terms of progression or a quest in a

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»

79


specific direction. Consequently, I reject the idea of ever being part of the avant garde or anything like it. I don’t think much of it. It doesn’t matter to me what is currently believed to be the avant garde, but it doesn’t mean I underestimate it».

the concept of the avant garde to a definition similar to that used by the artists interviewed in the SHS survey.

Marek Sobczyk: «The concept of the avant garde is meaningful but not specific. It certainly means those people who advance, understand a little more, but it makes no reference to the art movement and its advocates: critics and promoters».

The second part of the survey, concerning the specificity of the 1980s, opened with questions about art criticism, its current status, its role in providing information about the current art production and selecting the production to identify the most valuable works of art (Q18-Q20). There was a question about the art journals «Projekt» and «Sztuka» (Q20).

Jarosław Kozłowski: «In the early 1970s, there was a lot of talk about the avant garde, and I even had the aspiration to be part of the avant garde. This related to the then current belief in progress in art, a group of leaders who are ahead of all others, while those others are ‘catching up.’ A continuous extension of the domain of the arts, something new emerging. For long now, however, this kind of thinking has been out of date. I don’t think that the development of art identified with progress can be really relevant». Wiesław Borowski’s article «Pseudoawangarda», published in Warsaw-based Kultura in 1975, was often referred to in the context of the question about the avant garde and in connection with a discussion of the alternative movement (question 26 in the second part of the questionnaire). Borowski ascribed to the avant garde the tendency to make works of art autonomous and thus denied it any connection with the reality. Thus, Borowski reduced 80

II.

Most of the answers presented a picture of the critic as a friend and companion engaged in works of art to mediate their reception and understanding: the critic as an archivist and advocate of an art collective or a direction of art. Many interviewees were sceptical about critics with their own agendas. Many interviews, both in the survey and in Wiesława Wierzchowska’s book, reiterate the issue of art criticism at its best at the time of the Khrushchev Thaw. In hindsight, Przegląd Artystyczny led by Aleksander Wojciechowski and the visual arts section of Współczesność edited by Jerzy Stajuda were strongly mythicized. «Sąd nieocenzurowany» quotes «Report on the State of the Art of Art Criticism and Art Institutions» [Raport o stanie krytyki i instytucji artystycznej] by Janusz Bogucki, Wiesław Borowski and

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»


Andrzej Turowski[10]. There was a palpable resistance to contemporary criticism of whatever origin. While the authors of the survey were very interested in the artists’ opinions of the art journals Projekt and Sztuka, these turned out to be hardly ever read. Jarosław Kozłowski: «The current situation is hopeless. Take the reports on global artistic events in Biuletyn Sztuki Polskiej and Sztuka. I don’t know who edits them, but both are embarrassingly bad.» Jerzy Stajuda (artist and art critic): «All prominent art critics use pre-Gutenberg means of communication. It has its advantages, but it’s difficult to evaluate the current role of criticism. Its social role seems to be negligible. Apart from Tygodnik Powszechny, which is too generous anyway, and a handful of other papers, which are hard to come by, the press offers nothing intelligent or trustworthy. Sometimes it looks like things are going to get better, but then it all ends with amateur bullshit. The press celebrated a year-long festival of an artist named Duda-Gracz but nobody noticed; we have all gone to the dogs». The next questions concerned the social perception of art (Q21 – Q23). The authors of the survey were interested in what kind of social groups the artists believed their audience belonged to; what the artists thought of the audience from the ranks of the workers, the intelligentsia, the art criticism «ghetto»; and

whether the artists’ opinions of those groups and their preferences evolved over the past years, especially after August 1980 and December 1981. The artists often talked about their work as if it began and ended in the studio; they emphasised sensuality, intimacy, subjectivity, the creative process. Hence, the resulting image of the audience as an exclusive group of the «cognoscenti» and friends, and the need for a specific closed institution like the author’s own gallery, an extension of the studio, typical of Poland. Works of art may have a public life, but only within elite circles. Jarosław Modzelewski: «The social reception of art is catastrophic. Horrible. It sounds dangerous, but it’s true despite art events which engage a bigger public […] If the situation wasn’t rosy before, it’s tragic now». Leon Tarasewicz: «If there is any reception of art in Poland now, then only in big cities and within very narrow circles. There is a need for art ‘in the cassock,’ as I call it, for ideological art moving in a specific direction in a very narrow circle, and of course for official art, publicised and promoted, which is received by very few people in cities, but by everyone in the provinces: they watch television and see what art is».

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»

81


There is no mention of the museum as a venue sparking discussions, collecting archives and documents, organising exhibitions abroad, selecting works and running competitions. It is an independent gallery, or the artist’s own gallery (Q23), such as EL (Elbląg), Mona Lisa (Wrocław), Współczesna, Foksal, Remont, Repassage, Dziekanka (Warsaw), Akumulatory (Poznań), Strych (Łódź), that is considered to be an organiser and publisher. Although many such galleries were closely linked to State institutions, they were perceived as independent. The next questions of the survey (Q24 – Q29) concerned State and Church sponsorship, the alternative movement, the boycott, and the impact of August 1980 and martial law on art. Only some interviewees identified and interpreted different art strategies of the State in different periods after 1945. The authors of the survey wanted to understand artists’ attitudes to the typical forms of «cultural policy»: their opinions of State support, ZPAP, Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych as an administrator of exhibitions, Pracownia Sztuk Plastycznych and the «gigs» it offered. On the other hand, the goal was to understand the scope of Church support and the alternative movement during the boycott. The instructions stressed: «It would be interesting to see whether the artist considers participation in art practices organised by the Church and the alternative movement as part of the boycott of

82

exhibitions and other events supported by the State, and whether the artist was of that opinion after December 1981». All interviewees thought little of the support of the Church. Most artists had had some experience with exhibitions in churches, censored by local parish priests; they had seen the exultation of national liberation and the lack of real interest in art. Younger artists plainly rejected such collaboration. Interviewees of the older generation seemed disappointed with the failure of building a common platform of understanding with the Church. Tadeusz Brzozowski: «I did not take part in official exhibitions. I am closely affiliated with the former association of artists, I was a member back in 1945. This is something you do not forget […] I personally take part in church exhibitions; not all, only those I agree with. I think we need some kind of normalisation, but gradually, not all at once, without giving orders all over again». Marek Sapetto: «The boycott was not initiated after 13 December, it started once the association was liquidated. I don’t call it a boycott, it’s simply a withdrawal. In February 1982, we were to have a big exhibition at Zachęta and we withdrew from it because we thought that emotions were not good for looking at our pictures. The boycott started when we found out that we were opposed, when they started to offend us».

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»


Andrzej Dłużniewski: «I was never in favour of the boycott. I must stress this because I was often criticised for my opinions by friends and others. This does not mean that I was active back then. I just didn’t feel like it, the emotional climate was bad. It was a terrible time, but I think the boycott itself was idiotic […] Boycotting whom? The government? Was art ever made for the government? Maybe some people made paintings for the government. I never did anything for the government, so I had no reason to turn my back on the government. I always had my back turned on the government […] I could never understand it. Especially when many people I didn’t trust took part in exhibitions in churches».

an individual reaction. Now I wouldn’t accept an exhibition at Zachęta or the Association».

Stefan Gierowski: «I had a very unpopular opinion of the boycott. In general, I approved of the boycott in principle: it was an understandable, natural reaction to martial law; but I also thought that the boycott could create an abnormal situation and from this perspective I was against the boycott. Was I afraid of it? Of a situation known from neighbouring countries, where there are apparently modern artists, rebels opposing the dominant cultural policy, but it’s artistically all very weak and, most importantly, made for non-artistic reasons».

The interviewees had negative opinions of ZPAP as a monopolist

Jerzy Onuch: «For me, the boycott was simple as I had never taken part in official association exhibitions at Zapiecek or BWA. Mroczek was different, he was never boycotted … Everyone has

The survey closes with a series of questions about the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (ZPAP) (Q30 – Q 35). The instructions read: «It is important to determine the opinion of the artists about the new associations from the perspective of political instrumentalisation; to what extent do non-members consider membership a sign of materialist opportunism; how polarised are opinions about moral and political aspects of ZPAP in the last few years depending on membership or non-membership of the new associations».

and a part of the system, accepted due to the practical resources of the institution. On the other hand, it was positively assessed for its surprisingly independent decision to support the 1980 strikes. Many interviewees commenting on ZPAP stressed the importance of an organisation or trade union which could «satisfy social needs concerning supplies or benefits». All interviewees were negative about the new associations and considered their formation a purely political move.

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»

83


Jarosław Modzelewski: «I think that if the Association existed under proper conditions with specific means, it could satisfy the needs of its members. Most of all, social needs concerning supplies or benefits. However, any potential further activities should respond to the needs of the members depending on their initiative in order to avoid automatic mechanisms. Apart from supplies and benefits, the association should offer options but never impose anything». The final questions (Q36 – Q38) concerned the risks and limitations of artistic freedom and the financial situation of the artist. Most interviewees shied away from giving an answer, cautiously circumvented the issue and quoted very general risks. The risks or limitations included «yielding to one’s own weaknesses», «materialism», «commercial art». Surprisingly, there was no mention of State financing, the policy of «winning the art community», control over galleries and institutions, control of information, censorship, or simply the political situation[11]. In this context, some statements referred to the advantages of a socialist system without a market economy, where the artist does not have to make commercial art. Such opinions were expressed both by interviewed artists and art critics. Maciej Szańkowski: «In the capitalist system, the artist is more commercialised and dependent on galleries, but has opportunities artists here do not have. Here, you simply can’t do much 84

unless you shut yourself in your studio, like I do, and do your thing just for yourself. There, artists who depend on art dealers can get lost for good. But some artists find their way in the system and get great opportunities to make independent art, which we don’t have here. We don’t have that because we live in a poor country where the conditions for achieving our aspirations are very limited». Jarosław Modzelewski: «Besides, there are very destructive factors also in other parts of the world. It’s a race and a struggle so intense that no-one can control it. When I sometimes browse through catalogues brought from the West, I get really depressed. I can see a huge effort of hundreds of artists who sacrifice themselves to do what they can. All in all, paradoxically, our situation is pretty comfortable. There is a black-out, the mood is calm, you can watch things and never get the feeling that everyone is running on but you’re running too slow». This is only an outline of the survey structure and an enumeration of several statements recorded during interviews with artists. Analysing interviews question by question is a generalisation necessary to summarise the project and keep clear the structure of the survey. In fact, the questions of the survey are interrelated and the artists’ answers create many additional references. Aleksandra Ściegienna graduate in art history from Warsaw University. Works at the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw.

Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»


Notes 1. Some documents refer to the title «Polish National Culture, Development Trends and Perception.»

talked about. Thus, a gallery attached to that institution had an unusual status and, consequently, some degree of institutional independence». Wiesław Borowski, O galerii i krytyce, in: Wiesława Wierzchowska, op. cit., p.19.

2. Wiesława Wierzchowska, «Sąd nieocenzurowany», (Łódź 1989). 3. Paul Thompson, «The Voice of the Past. Oral History», (Oxford 2000). 4. Interviewers were also requested to prepare a summary containing basic information including the artist’s biography, list of exhibitions, bibliography, and membership of social and political organisations. 5. Piotr Juszkiewicz, «Od rozkoszy historiozofii do ‘Gry w nic’. Polska krytyka artystyczna czasu odwilży», Poznań 2005, p. 259. 6. Wiesława Wierzchowska, op. cit., p. 148. 7. Ibidem, pp. 86-87. 8. Ibidem, pp. 93-94. 9. Ibidem, p.113. 10. Janusz Bogucki, Wiesław Borowski, Andrzej Turowski, Sztuka i krytyka, «Odra», Vol. 1, January 1981. 11. Wiesław Borowski told Wiesława Wierzchowska: «We did not want the institution to overtake art, we wanted the gallery to remain a weak institution. Institutions always create themselves. They create themselves and soon they pose a threat to the values of art. We always kept that in mimnd. Luckily, the gallery was affiliated with the Visual Art Workshop, an institution whose very name referred to ‘visual arts’ but was far removed from the art we made and Aleksandra Ściegienna Association of Art Historians Survey «Visual Artists 1984-86»

85


Luiza Nader

«Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s


In a publication of major importance to art history in Poland, «Sztuka polska po 1945 roku [Polish Art After 1945]», which appeared in 1987 and compiled the papers delivered at a session of the Association of Art Historians in November 1984, Waldemar Baraniewski proposed an extremely insightful take on the fascination evoked by socialist realism in the late 1970’s, which became even stronger in the 1980’s: «Socialist realism is ‘in’. Twelve years have passed since the first confrontation of socialist realist works with contemporaneity (Kassel, 1972). Recent years, however, have brought about an acceleration in the research on socialist realism, not only in Poland. Since the late 1970’s ‘soc’ is becoming increasingly popular. In 1979, a painting exhibition took place in Kazimierz Dolny. The March issue of Sztuka from 1980 contained a series of texts on socialist realism; a whole number of M.A. and Ph.D. dissertations are devoted to the subject, and students demand of their professors to teach them about socialist realism. In other words, the subject has become really hot. Even in the volume of this session, socialist realism has been referred to in almost every article – something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. What are the reasons for the situation? Apart from the clearly cognitive and extreme cases of perverse curiosity, the problem seems to be more complicated. It seems to me that it has been very much touched with the spirit of postmodernism, but there has also been an increased interest in all the issues

from outside of the domain of art – from the sphere of attitudes, entanglements and ideological choices»[1]. In the present text, I would like to focus on the sphere of «attitudes, entanglements and ideological choices» made by the historian in the 1980’s vis-à-vis the subject of research of such affective engagement, namely socialist realism. I would particularly like to dwell on the exchange of affects between the researcher and the subject of his explorations, carried out at the textual level. Was there indeed a shift in the research on socialist realism in the 1980’s? If so, had it anything to do with the challenges and tensions in art and historiography taking place at the time? In my deliberations, I intend to concentrate on the book by Wojciech Włodarczyk published in 1986 «Socrealizm. Sztuka polska w latach 1950–1954» [Socialist Realism. Polish Art in the Years 1950 – 1954]. The questions I plan to ask touch on the way that socialist realism has been constructed in the mentioned work as a subject of analysis. How is the work of transfer, as performed by the researcher, decisive in his/her research strategies? What is the influence of the research paradigm, present in the publication above, on contemporary art history? I am also interested in affects which are combined, trasmitted and transformed by this specific text from art history in reference to the reflection on socialist realism of the 1980’s[2]. In the contemporary analyses of the history of Central EuropeLuiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

87


an art, Stalinism (whose cultural derivative was socialist realism) is treated as the founding traumatic event in the area of visual arts[3]. The experience of socialist realism has been termed of key significance to the art after 1945, having a decisive effect on things like the understanding of the notion of autonomy, politically engaged art, or the question of resistance. During the period of the «thaw», with the art criticism and history that entailed in Poland, socialist realism was considered – to use the terminology offered by Jacek Bocheński – in categories of a «void space», a closed chapter which should be forgotten about as quickly as possible, moving on to business as usual and seeking a continuation of the «progressive tradition», recovering the «natural» courses of modern art which could be distorted should socialist realism develop[4]. At the same time, socialist realism was seen as an experience of ruthless violence, stretching beyond any possibilities of defence and protection of the sovereign decisions of the subject.

Until the beginning of the 1980’s, art history had perceived socialist realism as bad art or (to quote Aleksander Wat), as non-art. It was thus treated as a chapter left neglected, unwritten or dealing with a time halted[5]. Until that time, it had been seen by both critics and artists (with few exceptions) as a phenomenon which should be erased or (at least) exiled to oblivion. The connotations evoked by socialist realism were only negative. As a result, art promoting direct political involvement was met with aversion. The situation of artistic practices with the ambition of political and social transgression became complicated and the position of figuration and realism was turning ideologically ambiguous. The ideological and visual associations with socialist realism led to a critical assessment of, for example, Jan Świdziński’s contextualism, as was also the case with an earlier work by Wprostowcy. In the 1980’s, another term was coined «sacr-realism» to denote the art presented at exhibitions organised in church premises, which was termed as such for reasons of poor artistic quality verging on kitsch, but also due to its figurative and literary character[6].

The responsibility for socialist realism has been shifted onto its participants, rather clearly drawing the line between the relentless ones, meaning representatives of the avant garde, and the avowed socialist realists, though the diversity of the artists’ attitudes towards socialist realism was not analyzed (and neither was socialist realism, for that matter).

88

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

Socialist realist art began to attract broader attention in the late 1970’s. In 1979, the exhibition Malarstwo kształtowania się władzy ludowej w polsce 1949–1955 [The Art of Painting That Formed the Authority of the People 1949 – 1955] (Galeria Letnia, Muzeum Kazimierza Dolnego) was organised, which served as a reference to the text published a year later in Sztuka (no 3/7/80)


by Stefan Morawski, Teresa Kostyrko and Anna Zeidler (the catalogue to the exhibition also contains a sketch of hers)[7]. It should also be noted that the opinions which were to initiate the discussion on socialist realism as a result of the growing interest with the subject were rather apologetic in tone (especially the paper by Stefan Morawski); the authors dwelled on socialist realism in absolute detachment from the totalitarian context, neglecting the opressive nature of the field of culture of the 1950’s. Instead, they saw it as a direction in art which may have failed due to different «mistakes and distortions» but which still offered hope. Such tone came to a definite end with the change in the political situation in Poland: workers’ strikes and the events of August 1980. I think that it was actually true for the entire culture in Poland at the time. It was the beginning of settling accounts with childhood – both one’s own, as well as that of the system, whose early years were those of Stalinism. 1981 saw the making of such films as The Little Pendulum [Wahadełko] by Filip Bajon and The Shivering [Dreszcze] by Wojciech Marczewski[8] ; censorship restrictions were lifted in case of Hands Up [Ręce do góry] by Jerzy Skolimowski (1967), even though the film was not released for complete distribution. Of course the most spectacular return to socialist realism was Man of Marble [Człowiek z marmuru], 1976, by Andrzej Wajda.

The first opinions about socialist realism, which were tainted with revisionism, included those voiced by, again, Andrzej Wajda, as well as Witold Lutosławski (as well as Andrzej Braun and Tadeusz Kantor) at the Congress of Polish Culture in December (11-13 December) 1981. The objective of the Congress was to deliberate on the current condition of Polish culture and to outline the challenges and prospects of its development in light of the new social situation caused by the workers’ strikes and the August 1980 accords[9]. Socialist realism was a notion present in the interventions and discussions, seen as a problem which called for re-evaluation in face of the new political situation. In an address to the other speakers and also in response to the postulates of the Congress (i.e. assessment of the state of culture and its directive function – how to build culture for the future), Anda Rottenberg had prepared a text, which she never delivered, as on the third day the Congress was dissolved as a result of the imposition of martial law[10]. The text, however, seems extremely important, though it remained inactive at the time. Its importance stems from the fact that it reconstructs the type of knowledge that Michel Foucault called savoir: of quotidian discourses, practices, procedures and institutions, the rational and irrational terms and sources from which the formalised 80’s knowledge (or the connaissance) about socialist realism took its beginning[11].

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

89


Rottenberg’s text introduced completely new notions to art history which remained vibrant throughout the entire decade of the 1980’s and which were related to the interlocking of political and cultural events from the beginning of the 80’s, focusing again on the period of socialist realism. It was a settling of accounts, however, not with the builders of socialist realism but with the generation of Anda Rottenberg, who had internalised socialist realism, having experienced it in childhood. According to Rottenberg, the experience of socialist realism resulted in a state of eternal childhood, incapacitation, suspension of responsibility. The author offered the thesis that socialist realism should not only be seen as a closed chapter, but that it was a destructive experience which continues to impact the culture and consciousness in Poland. When referring to contemporaneity, namely the early 1980’s, Anda Rottenberg stressed that she was interested in the artistic expressions which were not so much challenging socialist realism as its mnemonic experience. I see this text as extremely significant because it shows socialist realism not as an external phenomenon but an internal experience, limiting and determining the identity, a work of the memory, the ethical and esthetical choices of subjects in the 1980’s. The right to self-determination by settling accounts with one’s own memory of socialist realism has been particularly highlighted here. Such memory can now be interpreted as being saturated with the affect of shame of the post-socialist realism generation. 90

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

This «post-generation» cannot feel responsible for acts it had not committed. In its feeling of shame about the memory of socialist realism, these people can only seek solace by both trying to look for answers and ethical responsibility for the time in which they live. Socialist realism, with its genealogy, cultural and social effects, as well as the attitudes it evokes, is also a subject of interest to younger researchers on the early 1980’s - Wojciech Włodarczyk, Waldemar Baraniewski, Maryla Sitkowska, Anna Zacharska or Jerzy Ilkosz. When martial law was imposed, Anna Zacharska and Maryla Sitkowska withdrew from the opening of an exhibition, The Faces of Socialist Realism, organised in March 1982 at the National Museum in Warsaw. The presentation did not take place until 1987, and when it did, it turned out to be one of the most important events of the decade. In November 1984, the already mentioned session of the Association of Art Historians took place, where in almost all the texts socialist realism was referred to as an experience requiring a rethinking and revisiting, a phenomenon redefining the entire avant-garde tradition and the notion of modernity. The volume with the session’s materials, published as late as 1987, still remains one of the fundamental readings for a contemporary art historian[12]. The publication includes such texts as «The Polish Ideosis» [Polska ideoza] by Andrzej Turowski, «Modernity and Its


Limits» [Nowoczesność i jej granice] by Wojciech Włodarczyk, «On Socialist Realism» [Wobec realizmu socjalistycznego] by Waldemar Baraniewski, «Puisque réalisme il y a» by Elżbieta Grabska, and an afterword by Mieczysław Porębski – to mention just a few which have referred to socialist realism, and which, at the same time, are very much embedded in the specific political situation of the 80’s.

times that followed: both in the 1980’ and 1990’s as well as in the last decade. Socialist Realism: the Guilt and Disgrace of the Avant Garde The question which I attempt to seek an answer to in my modest reading of the book is: what is the reaction between the critical and the symptomatic in the book? How can these relations be useful[15]?

Such juxtaposition of both the art and the cultural field which had created it of the late 1940’s with that of the 1980’s was also proposed by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz at the exhibition Paradise Lost – Polish Art in 1949 and 1989 [Raj utracony. Sztuka polska w roku 1949 i 1989]. Though the presentation took place at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw already in 1990, its comparative idiom and curatorial perspective was deeply rooted in the discussions of the 1980’s[13]. In 1983, Wojciech Włodarczyk defended his Ph.D. thesis «Polish Art in Times of Socialist Realism» [Sztuka polska w latach realizmu socjalistycznego] which he had written under the supervision of Prof Mieczysław Porębski. The thesis was later published in

First of all, Włodarczyk included socialist realism among other trends in 20th century art. Analysed not as «nothingness» but as a cultural phenomenon which can be subject to formal analysis, the author reconstructed socialist realism in the sphere of artistic decisions and choices. In his research, Włodarczyk not only worked on creating an image of socialist realism but also tried to explain the horizon of post-war art in Poland, including the art of his time, in light of this newly revisited phenomenon. It may be said that the motto of the book is the words by Jan Józef Szczepański: «it is impossible to understand contemporaniety without understanding the Polish conscience and consciousness of that period»[16].

book form by the French publishing house Libella, under the title «Socialist Realism. Polish Art in the Years 1950-1954» [Socrealizm. Sztuka polska w latach 1950–1954][14], and has become a source of reflection about socialist realism in Poland in the Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

91


The Subject of Research: Socialist Realism as the Reverse of the Avant Garde The detailed analyses proposed by the author result in a presentation of socialist realism as pure formalism, as mechanisms of esthetical choices made on canvas. Włodarczyk highlights the phatic functions of socialist realist painting, at the same time negating the persuasive ones, indicating its elementary traits, which are non-transparent and arbitrarily determined, such as ideology and the national form. He takes apart the image of socialist realism, stressing its stylistic diversity and, at the same time, certain virtually impossible theoretical assumptions which caused the socialist realist painting practices to fail: the extraordinarily codified creative process, as well as the supremacy of the order of the composition, which assumes that all the elements of the formal code should be balanced. The author outlines the genealogy of socialist realism, reaching back to 19th century realistic painting and proletariat culture. Most of all, however, he traces the affiliations and analogies between socialist realism and the avant garde and reconstructs the historical circumstances as well as the ideological foundation thanks to which socialist realism could be not so much imposed but accepted in Poland. This is why the book, «Socialist Realism […]» [Socrealizm. Sztuka polska w latach 1950–1954], has become not just an analysis of the socialist realist works, theories 92

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

or directives, but, first and foremost, a huge exercise in settling accounts with the ethos and practices of both the historical, as well as the contemporary avant garde. And it is the avant garde (Włodarczyk completely accepted its definition as proposed by Renato Poggioli), with its ethos of participation, social and political change, as well as historical determinism that, by means of its connections with radical political circles in the 1930’s, turned out to be the destructive power that determined the success of socialist realism. (p. 74). Włodarczyk believed that the avant garde adhered too much to the notion of the artist’s high social status, and that its concepts of political art left artists harmless against socialist realism (p.134). Then again, in the period of the thaw, as Włodarczyk continued his critical thesis, it was the representatives of the avant garde who contributed to wiping socialist realism from the memory, seeing it as emptiness, nothingness. Hence it was the avant-garde formation responsible for effectively discouraging artists from trying to settle accounts with socialist realism, leading them to fall into the hermetic meanders of intrinsic art (pp. 77, 146). The criticism of the avant garde on the pages of Włodarczyk’s book grows gradually to finally explode with full force at the end. It is not actually the proposed analyses of socialist realism but the criticism of avant-garde ideas which give the text a narrative cohesion, releasing its affective impact. Though its title may


suggest so, the book is not a description of socialist realism as a holistic phenomenon, rather an illusion of such. The publication is compiled of fragments which, in a sense, are socialist realist margins. Such nature would be to the book’s merit if the author had problematized these issues, giving them methodological value. Instead, the researcher imposes a model of logical deduction on the historical reality. At the same time, he unfolds an extremely rich, though rhetorically subtle, narrative: he makes use of different types of ellipses, allusions, hyperboles, effects of gradation and suspension. A huge challenge that, to my mind, calls for a separate analysis, which I cannot afford here, is a rhetorical study of «Socialist Realism […]» - a study of the authenticity of statements applied in the historical narrative as an effect of rhetorical figures. The most spectacular example of rhetorical operations present in the book by Wojciech Włodarczyk is the figure of socialist realism as a hyperbole of the condition of modernity in Poland. The effects of gradation and suspension are used predominantly in reference to the question of the responsibility of the avant garde for socialist realism, bearing in mind that the trick gives the narrative a dynamic tempo and articulation. The gradation related to the repetition and the inversion of meaning is particularly visible, if only to mention the example of the numerous quotes or references to the same statement of Maria Jarema about the uncertainty of her own silence about socialist realism (pp. 59, 68, 76).

Figure of speech is used here to reinforce the persuasive aspects of the text in its evaluating layer which, in this case, refers to the negatively interpreted ambiguity of the representatives of the avant garde vis-à-vis socialist realism. The abundant spectrum of the rhetorical figures drawing on the mission and the need for apposition (allusion, ellipsis, as well as hyperboles which assume a shared knowledge of the author and the reader about what has been exaggerated) seem to indicate that the author is addressing those readers who are close to him in terms of culture and outlook, hence who are able to decipher the language. Such readers are also able to understand the hierarchy of values adopted by Włodarczyk, at the peak of which stands the assumption that the current of art runs independently of the current of politics (p. 60). This community of communication between the author and the recipient, however, also bears ideological consequences. The philosophy applied by Wojciech Włodarczyk is more one of justification rather than argumentation. It is a discourse of authenticity which does not allow for controversy, uncertainty, clashes of standards of knowledge or truths[17]. Hence the assumption of a cognitive and ideological horizon which is common to the author and the reader. To the author of «Socialist Realism […]», history is of a processual character which is also sequential and rational, based on solid subjects and facts. It is not a vision of history Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

93


as «an infinite number of entangled events», which result from a «multitude of mistakes and fantasies»[18]. Włodarczyk’s version of history is stuck in a supra-historical regime, guaranteeing a fantasmatic diagnosis of the state of culture, a ruthless historical assessment which is also performed by the reader. The Transference Włodarczyk recognizes the complicated position of a researcher studying socialist realism and the extraordinary entanglement in the object of the research that it entails. The task calls for a synergy but, at the same time, a fluidity and transferability of positions between the researcher and the subject of his/her study. The author writes: «The continued vitality of the issue of socialist realism is generally an obstacle in studying this current, placing the researcher in a peculiar situation, especially in Poland. […] No researcher can ‘pretend’ that he/she is at a difficult to determine distance from the object, […] in a safe area of expertise, where his/her work is not distorted by error, limitation or prejudice». A researcher of socialist realism, however, is particularly entangled in these «errors, limitations, or prejudices». The entanglement stems not so much from the specificity of the very subject of the research as from the special conditions in which the «solitary» artist in the Stalinist era existed, and which are not alien to the researcher»[19]. 94

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

Thus Włodarczyk very ably describes the phenomenon of transference, which, in the historiographical studies of Dominick LaCapra, is seen as one of the decisive ones[20]. In historical research, such transference is understood as engagement in the subject of research with the tendency for repetition in the discourse or in the practice of the content present in the object or projected onto it, e.g. the repetition of the mechanism of the «scapegoat» in the studies of the phenomenon or the replication of Nazi terminology in the analysis of Nazism[21]. As La Capra indicates, the historian is obliged not so much to seek an external point in reference to the transference as to demolish it by means of description and analysis. The author of «Socialist Realism...» is only partly successful in this operation. On the one hand, he does recognize the disturbing community of experience now and then, for example, when he describes the phenomenon of the existential solitude which was the common denominator of the cognitive horizons of the socialist realist artist and the researcher of the art of the 1980’s. On the other hand, however, he is too quick to give up on analyzing his subjective position and this disturbing feeling of proximity. He decides on finding a fantasmatic external vantage point from which one could see all the political, social and national circumstances of socialist realism which had forged it (p. 9). As


the author writes, his point of view would correct the distortions stemming from the structure and nature of the doctrine itself. Thus Włodarczyk places himself in the position of the omnipotent Self, who is beyond politics, society, or memory. Such position does not protect him but exposes him to transference: the researcher repeats the valuating judgments present in the very ideology of socialist realism – the total depreciation of the avant garde and modernity – creating a negative myth of the avant garde. Neither in his vision of history does Włodarczyk escape the pitfalls of historicism, which he sees both as one of the most important elements of both poetics, as well as the ideology of avant garde and socialist realism. The chopping up of socialist realism into periods, with a distinguished initial phase, then a time of high development, and finally a decline, is a typical organic metamorphosis of the historical time. But if socialist realism meant the end of the avant garde and, at the same time, it was a «key» experience of modernity, it thus determined its structures completely. These are visions of history which are also close to the notions of finalism and fatalism. Socialist realism grows and dies like an organism (its death turns out to be necessary), and the space of the field of culture in Poland is totally marked with socialist realism. Furthermore, failing to refer to this experience forecasts the decline and the end of a given cultural formation. The further

the artistic practice and reflection is from socialist realism, the closer the symbolic death (in the context of «Socialist Realism...» it referred to the avant garde, while in another text, «Modernity and Its Limits» [Nowoczesność i jej granice] it concerned modernity). It could be said that the temptation of socialist realism is also felt here by the researcher, who is at the same time lured and repulsed by it. The existential category blurring the divisions between «now» and «then» which the author sees, following Hanna Arendt, as one defining social life in totalitarianism, is loneliness (p. 6). In this case, loneliness is understood as the solitude of the subject which has been disinherited from both the public and private domains, deprived of cultural and social identity, with an exhausted ability to participate in politics. The category of «existential solitude» can be compared to the category of «generational incapacitation» which Anda Rottenberg introduced to the area of art history (following Andrzej Kijowski, who had used the concept of incapacitation in reference to the condition of literature in the 1970’s 4). Such description of the condition of the subject seems to be dramatically apt in response to the need, and at the same time an aporetic challenge, for both critics and artists in Poland in the 1980’s[22], to redefine one’s Self (understood not only as a mental reality, but also as a professional identity) vis-à -vis the political framework.

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

95


Transcending the solitude and incapacitation by freeing the traumatic memory and opening up one’s subjectivity, exposing it to the disturbing otherness (e.g. to research on socialist realism) are all challenges which Włodarczyk recognizes the complicated position of a researcher studying socialist realism and the extraordinary entanglement in the object of the research that it entails. The task calls for a synergy but, at the same time, a fluidity and transferability of positions between the researcher and the subject of his/her study. The author writes, the intellectuals had to face when clashed with events of August 1980: solidarity, community, togetherness. It also meant the challenges that the society had to face after the imposition of martial law: shock, boycott, active resistance. History, Guilt, Shame Włodarczyk reconstructs socialist realism as a process of seduction and subordination of artists who yield to the authority and its directives. He does not take into consideration, however, that seduction does not exclude violence and force. All those who decided to join socialist realism were, in the author’s view, opportunistic, while those who fell silent were driven by fear. The avant garde in Włodarczyk’s book has been exposed in its fantasy of being a socially engaged art, with a dream of a communication utopia and political transgression. A mise en scène is created by the text, where one of the main characters – the avant garde – 96

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

is facing the social and political challenges of both the 1950’s, as well as the entire post-thaw culture, including Solidarity and martial law, and as such is unable to cope with it all. The avantgarde temptation of socialist realism and, at the same time, the uncertainty or lack of participation in socialist realism, is a step forward which is morally right –it is unmasked and exposed. The gesture of exposing, unmasking and publicly revealing the inadequacy is connected with the affects of shame and guilt which, for a long time, had been seen as transitive categories. As Ruth Leys, specializing in researching affects, writes, shame is motivated by external circumstances and the infringement of social norms and, as such, refers to the condition of the subject, i.e. myself and my imperfections. Guilt develops both in relation to the actual past actions, as well as to fantasies about them; it can be a reaction to transgression; it is associated with the need for and expectation of compensation[23]. Włodarczyk’s book, it is the avant garde which is made responsible for the ideological foundations giving rise to socialist realism, and shamed for failing to recognize its effects, as well as for keeping silent about it (the author believes that the silence was also driven by fear), for not experiencing it, and for not settling accounts with it. Here, socialist realism is presented by Włodarczyk as a temptation while the avant garde – regardless of the effects (be it of participating in socialist realism or keeping silent


about it) – is shamed for its susceptibility to temptation, its fantasy about temptation. The researcher does not consider these affects directly but merely hints at them, transmitting them via the text. They are revealed by the rhetorical and ideological stratum of the text, e.g. in sentences such as this: «The foundations of avant garde, taken to the absurd in socialist realism, were widely introduced owing to the specificity of the 1930’s. They became commonly accepted – a bitter experience for a 20th century artist. […] In Poland, socialist realism did not last long. It was avidly accepted, though often as a result of sheer calculation» (pp. 146 – 147). In this case, the persuasive functions were assigned not so much to argumentation as to the rhetoric of the text, with the application of gradation and use of highly evaluative vocabulary[24]. It is the author of the book who actually makes the judgment about avant garde, with the reader’s task to blame and shame avant garde for socialist realism. The guilt and shame presented in Włodarczyk’s book as affects are also a means of judgment, valuated negatively. They are, at the same time, ethical and political: their role boils down to settling accounts, cleansing, pointing at the guilty ones. They are also there to recover self-identity, though it is done by means of «exteriorizing evil» – distancing the described phenomena from, for example, writing art history. It is more a process of shaming than feeling ashamed. However, what other positive use could be made of such relations?

As Ruth Leys notes, shame is an affect of the helpless, it stems from social inequality and injustice, it does not have to be valued negatively. On the contrary, the introduction of the category of shame (in contrast to the category of trauma) bears fruit by recovering subjectivity, sovereignty, and responsibility – what Włodarczyk actually does. It brings to light its own subjective fragility, the permeability to the subject, its vulnerability to affective transmission. Furthermore, it has a potential to formulate a new subjectivity, giving hope for change[25]. Douglas Crimp noted that one should differentiate between the moralistic use of the affect of shame (shaming) and its ethical and political application. In the latter case: «In the act of taking on the shame that is properly someone else’s, I simultaneously feel my utter separateness from even that person whose shame it initially was. […] Thus, my shame is taken on in lieu of the other’s shame. In taking on the shame, I do not share in the other’s identity. I simply adopt the other’s vulnerability to being shamed. In this operation, most importantly, the other’s difference is preserved. […] In taking on or taking up his or her shame, I am not attempting to vanquish his or her otherness. I put myself in the place of the other only insofar as I recognize that I too am prone to shame»[26]. Following Eve Sedgwick, Crimp highlights the performative nature of shame in its double meaning: as a spectacle that requires a stage, and in the categories of the Austinian theory of acts of speech. If we were to transpose Crimp’s observations to the level Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

97


of writing history, we could assume that such a take on shame is possible when it is not understood as a unilateral operation of shaming, but when it also reveals its affective nature to which all subjects of the scene (which is historical, in this case) are susceptible: both the subjects which are subject to analysis in their actions, attitudes or decisions, as well as those which construct a narrative and make judgments. The shame, which assumes (if only fantasmatically) the experience of being visible, inflicts and permeates (in this case) all the instances of a historical performative (the historian and the events he/she describes, as well as the reader) leaving them in a state of ethical uncertainty and anxiety as to their own decisions, stances, and choices made in extreme situations. The book by Wojciech Włodarczyk served the function of evoking shame in the avant garde: settling accounts not so much with the socialist realists, but with the neo avant-garde formations, in particular with the modern (modernist) culture drawing on avantgarde tradition, which underwent a serious crisis in the 1980’s – not only in Poland, but also in the western culture. The root of the cause was, on the one hand, the appearance of contradictory post-modernist theories in art history and cultural research (the so called «post-modernism of resistance» seeking ruptures and aiming at disarming modernism, and conservative post-modernism, which aimed at historicising and rejected the experience

98

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

of modernity). On the other hand, however, it was also due to the spectacular comeback of the medium of painting. In the case of Polish culture, the two threads inevitably lead to the question of the artists’ responsibility vis-à-vis the very expressive political reality, about the possibilities of construction via art and the history of gestures of resistance. I believe that it is the reflection on socialist realism and the avant garde, as well as its immanent dispute with the formation of modernity, which should be interpreted as the gesture of resistance. Socialist realism, which was continuously promoted by the regime-supported exhibitions, such as the anniversary presentation of the works of Helena and Juliusz Krajewski (Zachęta, December 1985) or Budujemy nowy dom... Człowiek i praca w sztuce realizmu socjalistycznego (Muzeum Okręgowe in Lublin, 1987/1988) and, at the same time, pushed into oblivion by the artists, was for those reasons a challenge in the 1980’s though, at the same time, it also became a part of the critical cultural production which had to resist the attempts to strip it of value and identity (the attempts made by the then cultural policy of the state in the 1970’s). All these vectors: the 1970’s with their extremely pessimistic diagnosis, the formation of the free trade unions and Solidarity between August 1980 and 13 December 1982, the need for cleansing and action, martial law, the boycott of official art institutions and media and, on the other hand, the post-modern


climax and the depreciation of the achievements of the avant garde stemming from its conservative currents, constitute a grid of tensions to which the book by Wojciech Włodarczyk was also subject. The Omitted Paradigm Thanks to Wojciech Włodarczyk’s publication, socialist realism in Polish historiography changed from an «empty phenomenon» into one of far-reaching cultural consequences, into an active space impacting the nature and shape of Polish art after 1955. By constructing the memory of socialist realism, the book was also instrumental in establishing a certain mode of knowledge based on which it was not the war, but socialist realism which became the key experience for art and culture in Poland (it is particularly explicitly expressed on pages 74-75). In an attempt to describe the «consciousness», «conscience», and «mechanisms of making choices», the author completely lost sight of the reality of the 1940’s as a «world after a catastrophe», both civilizational and cultural, and, in the case of Poland, also moral. He writes that the «civilizational anxiety evoked by social changes and colossal technological development» (p. 67) was the main subject and problem of art in Poland in the latter half of the 1940’s. The rejection of the war as a turning point, which resulted in the significant omission of the Holocaust, as well as the elimination

of «absolute moral devastation» from art history, and a revisionist attitude towards the period of socialist realism (with the caveat that the revisionism applies to both the active participants of socialist realism, as well as the artist who had remained silent at the time), make for a paradigm which has been to a great extent constructed by the art historiography of the 1980’s. I believe, however, that the avant-garde shame as we see it in Włodarczyk’s book (the ideological responsibility for socialist realism) or the sin of engagement (participation in socialist realism) cover up a problem which is much more significant. In the eyes of the researcher, guilt and shame do not have to, but can mutually overlap in terms of their mechanisms with the logic of trauma. Therefore, if both these affects are to be treated in a traumatic manner (which would however entail a relegation of the subjective responsibility), it must be remembered that for a trauma to appear, there needs to be two of them. What is it that is covered up by guilt and shame, by this trauma of socialist realism that art history in Poland was so willing to absorb? I dare say that in this case, the engaged trauma is covering up the trauma which is not engaged, namely the post-war indifference of artists in Poland (I mean not the survivors but the observers of the Holocaust) to the Holocaust, as well as the absolute absence of reflection on the issue in Polish art history, which never tried to revisit its courses, hierarchies and canons vis-à-vis this event.

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

99


And if we were to give up on the trauma-based interpretation, then the guilt and shame which the researchers grappled with in the early 1980’s was actually the socialist realist past, while the challenge that the contemporary art history in Poland has to face is the absolute indifference of our discipline, in its domestic version, to the Holocaust and the suffering of the Other[27]. Every age has its challenges. It is not the revision of socialist realism, the memory of which has been domesticated thanks to the researchers of the 1980’s, but painful reflection on indifference, the position of the observer – the one who is a shameless onlooker of the suffering of others – which is the challenge of contemporaneity. A valuation of shame, an analysis of one’s subjective position and, at the same time, a recognition of the affective aspect of the narrative by the subjects writing the history would, to my mind, be very much called for. Luiza Nader, born in 1976, art. historian, lectures at the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw. In 2005 she received a Fulbright scholarship. Published book – «The Conceptual Art in the Polish Peoples’ Republic» (2009). Her main focus is on avantgarde and neo-avant-garde art, particularly in Central Europe, as well as on relations of memory and archives, theories of trauma and affect.

Notes 1. W. Baraniewski, «Wobec realizmu socjalistycznego», in: «Sztuka polska po 1945 roku. Materiały sesji Stowarzyszenia Historyków Sztuki», listopad 1984, (Warsaw 1987), pp. 186–187. 2. I would like to take this opportunity and extend my great many thanks to Karol Sienkiewicz for his invaluable help in writing this text; his very generous offer to let me use his library search results on exhibitions and critical texts about the re-emergence of the interest in socialist-realism in Poland of the 1980’s. 3. See P. Piotrowski, «Awangarda w cieniu Jałty», (Poznań 2005). . In this context Piotr Juszkiewicz points to the exceptional stance of Mieczysław Porębski, see P. Juszkiewicz, «Od rozkoszy historiozofii do ‘Gry w nic’. Polska krytyka artystyczna czasu odwilży», (Poznań 2005). 5. See A. Kępińska, «Nowa sztuka. Sztuka polska w latach 1945–1978», (Warsaw 1981); B. Kowalska, «Polska awangarda malarska 1945–1970. Szanse i mity», (Warsaw 1975). 6. The controversy surrounding the Wprost collective is also taken note of by W. Włodarczyk, «Lata 80.: sztuka młodych», Warszawa 1990. The terms «sacr-realizm» appears in a text by Marek Skwarnicki, «Sacr-realizm», Tygodnik Powszechny, 12 Jan 1986, no 2 (1907), p. 8. 7. S. Morawski, «Utopie i realia»; T. Kostyrko, «Realizm socjalistyczny – o niektórych źródłach jego niepowodzeń», A. Zeidler, «Malarstwo realizmu socjalistycznego – tradycja czy historia?», Sztuka no 3/7/1980, pp. 17–28. 8.The issue of childhood at the beginning of the 80’s and the two films were highlighted by the two excellent editors of the book Przeciąg by Anda Rotten-

100

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s


berg, Kasia Redzisz and Karol Sienkiewicz in a footnote no 2 to the text «Dla kogo ten kongres?», in: A. Rottenberg, «Przeciąg. Teksty o sztuce polskiej lat 80.», (Warsaw 2009), p. 81. 9. «Kongres Kultury Polskiej: 11–13 grudnia 1981», ed. W. Masiulanis, (Warsaw 2000). 10. A. Rottenberg, «Dla kogo ten kongres?», in: «Przeciąg», op. cit., pp. 77–81. 11. J.J. Scheurich, K. Bell McKenzie, «Metodologie Foucaulta. Archeologia i genealogia», in: «Metody badań jakościowych», ed. N.K. Denzin, Y.S. Lincoln, t. 2, (Warsaw 2010), pp. 294–295. 12. «Sztuka polska po 1945 roku. […]», op. cit. 13. «Raj utracony. Sztuka polska w roku 1949 i 1989», ed. R. Ziarkiewicz, (Warsaw 1990). 14. W. Włodarczyk, «Socrealizm. Sztuka polska w latach 1950–1954», (Paris 1986). 15. I ask this continuously important question following Domick LaCapra, see. D. LaCapra, «Rethinking intellectual history and reading texts», «History and Theory», vol. 19, no. 3/1980, p. 274. 16. W. Włodarczyk, op. cit., p. 6. 17. J. Topolski, «Jak się pisze i rozumie historię. Tajemnice narracji historycznej», (Poznań 2008), pp. 289–290. 18. This is how Michel Foucault desccribes the vision of history, see. J.J. Scheurich, K. Bell McKenzie, «Metodologie Foucaulta […]», op. cit., p. 304.

19. Ibidem, p. 6. 20. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis explain transference in psychoanalysis as «proces aktualizowania się nieświadomych pragnień wobec pewnych obiektów w pewnego typu relacjach z nimi, przede wszystkim w relacji analitycznej. Chodzi tu o przeżywanie dziecięcych wzorców, które przeżywane są tak, jakby działy się w rzeczywistości. […] Freud zauważał, że przeniesienia nie różnią się od siebie w zależności od tego, czy skierowane są na analityka czy na inną osobę; ponadto są one pomocne w leczeniu jedynie pod warunkiem, że są kolejno wyjaśniane i burzone. Przeniesienie jest zarazem formą oporu wobec leczenia, sygnalizując zarazem bliskość nieświadomego konfliktu». See J. Laplanche, J.-B. Pontalis, «Przeniesienie», in: «Słownik psychoanalizy», transl. E. Modzelewska, E. Wojciechowska, (Warsaw 1996), pp. 260–261. Dominick LaCapra pointed to the important role of transference in constructing history, as well as in the ethical and political lives of societies, see D. LaCapra, «History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory», (Ithaca– London 2003), while in reference to art and art history, the observation was made by Mignon Nixon, see M. Nixon, Oral Histories: Silvia Kolbowski and the «Dynamics of Transference», in: «Silvia Kolbowski. Inadequate... Like... Power», ed. R. Frank, cat., Secession, (Wien 2003), pp. 93–102. 21. LaCapra, «History in Transit», op. cit., p. 74. 22. In context of the observations of Andrzej Kijowski, the category was later noted by Wojciech Włodarczyk, see «Nowoczesność i jej granice», in: «Sztuka polska po 1945 roku», op. cit., p. 21; A. Kijowski, «Pisarz i urząd», in: idem, «Niedrukowane», (Warsaw 1978), p. 6. 23. R. Leys, «From guilt to shame. Auschwitz and after», (Princeton–Oxford 2007), pp. 11–14. 24. For rhetorical tropes in historical narrative see J. Topolski, «Jak się pisze i rozumie historię...», op. cit.

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s

101


25. R. Leys, op. cit., pp. 132–152. 26. D. Crimp, «Mario Montez», For Shame, in: «Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory», ed. Stephen M. Barber and David L. Clark, (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 65. 27. Izabela Kowalczyk was the first one to have written about a strained art history in this context, see I. Kowalczyk, «Zwichnięta historia sztuki? – o pominięciach problematyki żydowskiej w badaniach sztuki polskiej po 1945 roku», http://historiasztuki.uni.wroc.pl/opposite/opposite_nr1/izabela_kowalczyk. htm [data dostępu 22.09.2011].

102

Luiza Nader «Shame!» Socialist Realist Historiography in the 1980s


Discussion

Attitudes


Waldemar Baraniewski: Do you think that your deliberations could somehow be supplemented by Bauman’s perspective on modernity, which you are actually omitting here but to which Włodarczyk refers when discussing the avant garde? Luiza Nader: I am not really sure that he is referring to modernity in the sense adopted by Bauman. Bauman talks about a formation of modernity, having in mind the last 150 years of European culture. Włodarczyk, on the other hand, adopts a very different timeline. Bauman talks about modernism in a very broad, the broadest of senses, a modernism which led to the Holocaust. It would be interesting in reference to Strzemiński. Włodaryczk, however, speaks about the modernity after 1955, about the formation of the modern. I would be hard pressed to agree with such a categorical judgment, bringing socialist realism and the avant garde to the same level. Because such an evening out is actually taking place here. Dorota Jarecka: I find your thesis very inspiring. I remember that after reading Włodarczyk’s book I was intrigued by the very strong accusations he had formulated against the avant garde. I began thinking whether the pre-war avant garde did not have quite a lot in common with socialist realism. And when I began reading these texts, which are actually very non avant-garde, but which deal with the return to the order, with a recovery of certain rules in art and in reality, I discovered very strong connections. I am

thinking, for example, about Starzyński’s pre-war texts. Was not the denial of the Holocaust and the attempt to mask the shame also a denial of the pre-war heritage, which was often unpleasant and gloomy? A denial of the trends which were on the right side of the Polish thought on art and philosophy? Luiza Nader: Probably so. What I meant was a certain border event and a certain extreme experience. This experience, however, if we are to accept its broad definition, is also about all that happened before the Holocaust, namely the entire rightist rhetoric, which was completely not avant-garde, and which actually seems to be much closer to the socialist realist assumptions. It is important to consider how eager we were to believe that it was socialist realism that was our trauma. Why are we so eager to think of socialist realism as of our shame? It is a tendency seen not only in art history, its stronger echoes are found in literary studies. I thought that there may be a number of reasons for the situation, but I was especially drawn to that duality of the trauma. There are certain traumas which are more eagerly talked about – it is related to the fact that we can also victimize ourselves in the process. And there are also those traumas which are not talked about at all since, all of a sudden, we are taken from the position of the victim to a position which is not very nice – the position of the aggressor, or at least the heir of the aggressor. Piotr Rypson: I read the book by Wojciech Włodarczyk a very Discussion Attitudes

105


long time ago, and I can hardly remember it, but I think that there are two things missing – both in the book and your intervention. These two things are perhaps not as spectacular but, to my mind, are rather important: first of all, there is no report on the discourse about Polish socialist realism in the visual arts vis-à-vis socialist realism in literature, which actually preceded all that followed in the fine arts and, secondly, there is no analysis of what engaged art was in the 1930’s in Poland, how this discussion was carried over to the literary circles, and how it then entered the domain of art. This was the picture, more or less. I believe that one of the weaknesses of art history after the war is that all the research very much lacked the interdisciplinary character, to the effect that the whole area of the meanings created and the political discourse expressed in the domain of literature was not really taken into consideration in the studies of art. Luiza Nader: Thank you very much for giving me such ambitious tasks. This context is indeed lacking. It would also be very interesting in light of what was happening in literary studies in the 1980’s. Of course there was the whole void in terms of the notion of the avant garde of the 1930’s and of engagement, though the text by Włodarczyk did, to an effect, draw on such trans-disciplinary connections. After all, it was written upon the impulse of Sławiński’s seminars at the Institute of Literary Studies. I know little about this, and I was hoping that professor Włodarczyk would be here with us today to tell us more. I believe that 106

Discussion Attitudes

this impulse for reflection on socialist realism in Poland – something which, in any case, is present in Włodarczyk’s methodology and his writings – did not come from art history but actually from literary studies. Waldemar Baraniewski: Sławiński’s seminar was extremely important, in particular in terms of his research on socialist realist criticism. In his texts, such as «Voices from the House of the Dead [Głosy z domu umarłych]» or «A Different Type of Criticism[Krytyka innego typu]» , Sławiński inquired into the basic functions, namely what was the role of a work of art in Socialist Realism, or what was the binding model of the artist. And here, Włodarczyk definitely followed in the footsteps of Sławiński. Piotr Bernatowicz: What do you think about Boris Groys and the book that was mentioned here, «Stalin as a Work of Art?» You can find a similar thesis there. Could all of these issues regarding the affective attitude of the author also be applicable to Groys? Luiza Nader: Yes, all that is happening in «Socialist Realism in Poland in the Years 1950-1954» is also present in Groys’s book. He uses similar arguments, only that his reflection is more embedded in the context of Russian, Soviet art, Russian avantgarde, etc. To my mind, similar research would also be interesting in reference to Groys himself, namely research that would not be based on following the trope of factography […] I would once


again like to stress that I do not feel competent to be talking about the starting date of Socialist Realism in Poland, for example. I was more interested in the rhetoric of the text, how it functions, what knowledge it transmits, how effectively is this knowledge embedded. I believe that a similar approach can be adopted in case of Groys, one of whose main rhetorical figures is hyperbole, exaggeration. I would like to ask Karol about 1988 and what was happening at the Centre for Contemporary Art at the time, about the new team which was able to transform that gloomy place into a place of intense activity. Why were these short few months sacrificed in the name of the «thick line»? I feel that the Centre has never really self-reflected on this time, however short, which it had experienced. Karol Sienkiewicz: It is a very difficult question, and I am not sure if I am able to give you an answer. In any case, the work by Andrzej Dłużniewski which I have mentioned, was included at the exhibition Schizma curated by Adam Mazur. Maybe that made the title of the exhibition very apt in terms of what was happening there at the time. I don’t know to what extent it was a conscious decision of Adam Mazur to include video footage of a press conference of Wojciech Krukowski in the exhibition which was, by the way, organized on the twentieth anniversary of the Centre. It was assumed that the starting date, the date of the

beginning, was 1989. The episode of there being a larger group of active people at the Centre for Contemporary Art in 1988 was short. And most had left the centre. The only ones that, I think, remained were Grzegorz Borkowski and Janusz Byszewski. What was rather symptomatic was that all of them had already appeared there in 1988, which shows that it was a time when any talk about a boycott or the official nature of these institutions was already losing momentum. There were no exhibitions yet at Zachęta, with some exceptions. For example, Koło Klipsa appeared at Zachęta in 1988. Bożena Kowalska organized an exhibition The Language of Geometry, which was very much criticized. But at the Centre, being a new institution which opened up to others, such things could be organised with a smaller moral burden. Waldemar Baraniewski: You have mentioned Andrzej Mitan. Are you able to say anything about the programme of that group? Karol Sienkiewicz: I wasn’t really interested in that moment in time when I spoke to Andrzej Mitan. Piotr Rypson: Two words in addition, as indeed it was a very interesting moment, a very instructive time for us all. It taught us, for example, that one should not rise to power when the ancient regimè is about to fall, that’s the worst possible moment (only joking). If I remember correctly, in 1988 the magazine Res Publica was already legally published, and a discussion erupted Discussion Attitudes

107


in different circles about what was allowed and how to negotiate things with reality. The exhibition, which took place in 1988, was organized by the milieu affiliated with fluxus, by Mitan and Dłużniewski, and it was perceived as some kind of a rotten compromise. They are themselves laughing at the things they had to listen to. From what I remember, Andrzej Dłużniewski very quickly began to understand that the true field of his activity is art and not the animation of a dead corpse, which the Ujazdowski Castle was at the time. And there was no conflict, as it was not even a milieu. It was more like two moments, but not in conflict. One withdrew painlessly. Karol Sienkiewicz: I don’t know whether there was no conflict. Andrzej Mitan is not here, but if you talked to him you’d know that he never set foot at the Centre again. Piotr Rypson: Well, in this case we could indeed be talking about some kind of a conflict. In any case, Andrzej constantly tried to negotiate with those organs of authority which either consented or not to some artistic undertakings; but I would rather see it from the perspective of esthetic decision rather than any assessments of specific attitudes, or political attitudes for that matter. Dorota Jarecka: Luiza, in the current of the 1980’s, in the texts about socialist realism, do you see any moments which could be counter-current of becoming frozen, in need to find the guil108

Discussion Attitudes

ty one? Do you find Włodarczyk’s text an example of what was happening then, or was it an extreme stance against the more complex ones? I remember the message of Elżbieta Grabska’s text – that the realism simply was there. I see this as an attempt at recovering realism, even socialist realism. That was the attitude toward the reality which was open to trauma even. I am not sure if I remember it well, but still, we are talking about a generation that did participate in socialist realism. That was what the shame was about, a shame that was genuine. It was shame or individual guilt, it was not a displacement. Luiza Nader: I should explain that I did no perform a case study which I could use as a basis for generalizing my knowledge so as to encompass the entire milieu of art historians. It would be unfair and completely wrong. I found this book important because I thought it was an important point of reference, also for contemporary historiography in Poland, which repeats its assumptions rather blindly and uncritically. It was a very friendly debate on socialist realism. Socialist realism – because it is happening in the 1980’s and because the artist and critics or art historians are faced with ethical challenges of boycott and opposition activism. There are numerous other themes which seem very interesting here, including the text by Grabska and the summary that Porębski formulated at the end of this session, and which was based on completely contradictory premises. They intersect with Włodarczyk’s argumentation in one point only – because Włodarczyk


is also actually able to somehow recover socialist realism. It’s not that he condemns socialist realism. He condemns avant garde. In a sense, he tries to save socialist realism, its sense, and – with socialist realism, also figuration and painting. Łukasz Gorczyca: I have one more open question. The proposal of the interpretation of the criticism of avant garde presented by Włodarczyk from the perspective of the Holocaust is definitely convincing today. But I’m wondering, how are we to cope and find other methods of justifying such stances in the 1980’s. The problem is also somehow related to the attitude of Andrzej Bonarski, who said today that his stance was that of anti-avant garde. He detested avant garde, he still does. How does one cope with such attitudes? Is it really the key to such attitudes? One other thing was mentioned here today which appears in neo -avant garde, namely the need for the market. Obviously, it is a cliché taken from the international discussion, because if we take a look at the Polish situation then it does not make any sense at all. Painting appears in Poland in a very different context - a context in which Bonarski is present again. Karol Sienkiewicz: Wojciech Włodarczyk was the author of two very important books in that period – one was «Socialist Realism...», the other «The Art of The Young». The criticism of avant garde which you find in the book on socialist realism, Luiza, was it in a sense in anticipation of new painting?

Luiza Nader: Yes, in a sense, but not for any commercial reasons. You have very aptly picked up on that part, Łukasz. Perhaps I did not express it precisely, but I was of course referring to the discussion in the West. Such situation never happened in Poland, as we actually very clearly heard from Mr. Andrzej Bonarski who spoke after your paper. I do believe, however, that there is a certain disenchantment with the avant garde in the 1980’s, a huge disappointment with the possibilities of the avant garde. There is also the very important question about engagement, something that we talked about today. What is that engagement? What can it be filled with? It is a completely empty term in the 1980’s, how can one fill it with some kind of sense? All of these things coincide with the return of the painting, which is possible also by an alternative interpretation of socialist realism. This is what is extremely important in Włodarczyk’s book. And what is also critical – he does not reject socialist realism, he delaminates it, demythologizes it, pulls out the «Arsenal effect» from it. It is an attempt to recover both painting and realism, and the Wprost collective, and some kind of a form of engagement so as to recover one identity and language which can be used by both the art historian and the observer of the scene at the time. Waldemar Baraniewski: Let me recall this paragraph from the diary of Jerzy Stajuda: «Włodarczyk created Gruppa».

Discussion Attitudes

109


Ewa Małgorzata Tatar I have a question to Ola Ściegienna about the critical attitude and the recovering of identity and defining engagement, one’s own engagement. The generalization that you have offered and which stemmed from your analysis of the many questionnaires is that the I-the artist and I-the citizen came apart. I was wondering whether you have come across any attempt of overcoming or capturing, maybe of problematising this phenomenon in your survey. Aleksandra Ściegienna: When I read and analysed the questionnaires, I had the impression that there was a general avoidance to any political contexts. All the responses are apolitical, as if the whole issue was subject to denial. The construction of the questionnaire is such that, at first glance, it seems to be about everything while it is actually about engagement – it is its main focus. I guess the text from the last issue of Artium Quaestiones by Piotr Juszkiewicz, «The Shadow of Modernism» could serve as an apt commentary here. Juszkiewicz writes about how the political contexts are denied, somewhere in the shadows of modernism. It is something that also comes out in the questionnaires. Luiza Nader: I would like to add something as Karol had asked me why socialist realism was constantly talked about in the 1980’s. Exhibitions were organized and there was a very lively exchange of opinions and thought about socialist realism. One thing is common to all these endeavours – the denial of the war, 110

Discussion Attitudes

and the Holocaust with it. I thought it was a very interesting question as it leads me towards the interpretation focusing on the trauma. The 1980’s was an extremely dramatic time for both the entities and the individuals. I think that it was often a very traumatic experience for certain people – internment, for example. In the collective dimension, however, I think that martial law was not a traumatic event, not of the type that Badiou writes about, namely an experience which would call for a total redefinition of the cognitive horizon, a moment in which a community is created. Seen from this perspective, marital law seems to be an event of extremely positive – for lack of a better word – effects in terms of civic attitudes. We have hear here of the ZPAP, for example. Karol Sienkiewicz: I have used here the example of a group of people who decided that ZPAP would support the strikes in Gdańsk. It was the new management of ZPAP, elected in the beginning of 1980. Did that fact in a way provide a mandate or legitimize the focus on socialist realism? Łukasz Gorczyca: I would not want to provoke any very broad or open questions again, but what Luiza has just said forces me to think of that question about denial of the war and the Holocaust in the 1980’s. If we are to assume that Włodarczyk created Gruppa, then that takes us back to Włodarczyk. And Gruppa is an example of something opposite. In this context, Włodarczyk is somebody who is the linking element in this problem. We are


talking about somebody working on a book on socialist realism, but the book is actually a disguised discussion with the present situation. Wlodarczyk accompanies a group of artists who smuggle the problem of history, identity, and war and – it wasn’t discussed here – maybe also the Holocaust in their works. They are sometimes quite straightforward about it – as in the case of Pawlak and his portrait of Hitler. There is also the iconography very strongly related to totalitarianism. Of course, it would call for a longer discussion, but it is intuitively difficult for me to subscribe to the statement that the issue of the trauma of the Holocaust and the war was completely absent in the 1980’s. Perhaps it was so in the neo-avant garde, but later […]

from certain obvious historical consequences. I am talking about Yalta here. He makes that point very clear. So what he saw in the art of Gruppa was not forged into a historiography, into a historiographic experience.

Luiza Nader: The war – yes, the Holocaust – I would say no. I am not saying that there are not works of art that touch on the question of war, questions of the Holocaust that some could be interpreted in different ways, that they remain open. I believe that there are many works which were created after the war still out there for us to read. Art history was simply completely blind in seeing them; it was not seen as a problem. This is the issue I was actually trying to highlight – it was not a question of research since all that was interesting was related to 1950 and socialist realism. In his book, Wojciech Włodarczyk writes very openly, something that he later repeated in the text he delivered at the session of art historians, namely that war is no turning point in art history, neither is it a turning point in the awareness – apart

Luiza Nader: It is not a language which we know now. That language was there, it had been created.

Łukasz Gorczyca: It is a symptom of a crisis for the discipline which we are discussing, not the art or historiography all together. After all, the question of the Holocaust appears in the public discussion exactly in the 1980’s, I think. Dorota Jarecka: It is difficult to apply our criteria and accuse them of not having known the language which we know now.

Waldemar Baraniewski: That statement by Włodarczyk that the war was not a turning point in art history – it was formulated on the basis of a certain concept, namely the adoption of a rule for us to be researching artistic traditions. We are not researching the subject matter, the social scope, etc. but the artistic traditions. From the point of view of artistic traditions – and here I shall remain the faithful participant of Sławiński’s seminars – these outside historical events had no bearing on the course of the artistic processes.

Discussion Attitudes

111


Luiza Nader: Perhaps the whole problem of the Holocaust is that the term used in the 1980’s was tradition, while we are now more willing to talk about memory. What is very important in a memory is what is not there and what could perhaps be worth reconstructing, so as to regain oneself, to some extent at least. Grzegorz Kowalski: I have to admit that you are missing the question of the Holocaust, the presence of the Holocaust in the 1980’s. It was there, in all of Bogucki’s exhibitions. Luiza Nader: But I am talking about historiography. I am not talking about exhibitions, about art.

These are things that you should make notes of and research now while the participants of those events are still alive. For example, has anybody here heard of the role played by the Cieślars to make sure from abroad, from Paris, that Solidarity was constantly on the front pages? And they did that by means of para-artistic projects, by things which are rejected by the sophisticated researchers. The artists did all that so the word Solidarity would not leave the lips of commentators and journalists. It is a completely unknown fact. I would like to draw your attention to that key moment when an artist made a decision after 1980 to stay with the society. This

Grzegorz Kowalski: So perhaps we should change the direction

is the key issue: this art was engaged art, regardless of the qu-

of this discussion a bit. There are areas which are either unk-

ality. I personally remember when one of the Catholic weeklies

nown or untouched by researchers, namely the decisions, I would

published interviews with an artist on the occasion of Boguski’s

even say heroic decisions, of artists to join in the events taking

Apocalypse... exhibition. I also allowed myself to say something

place and give up on the position of an observer, commentator

then because I too was put off by all that kitsch next to some ri-

– the decision to become a participant and to share the feeling

ghteous ideas. I said it was an abuse. And it was Jacek Sempoliń-

and experience of what is happening with the rest of the society.

śki who set me right. He said: «All of art is an abuse». Art is abuse

After all, there was the trade union of ten million members in the

because we should all be doing something else in that time. But

background. The present membership is something like 650 tho-

we did what we could. I have to say that I recall this period as an

usand. The role of the Church was also very important in all that.

extremely important one, despite the fact that it was a time of

There were strategists sitting in the palaces of archbishops and

my failure, perhaps the biggest one in life. That is why I said to

already trying to figure out what to do with this whole situation.

Waldek on my way here that it was a period of the transformation

112

Discussion Attitudes


of Polish art. It was a melting pot, all of those things which were later termed critical art or what not were being baked at that time. Jan Michalski: Two words to Luiza’s intervention. It is very difficult to talk critically about a text which uses terms from the psychology of depth. I have nothing against such hermeneutics, namely against interpreting somebody else’s books. I was under the impression, however, that Luiza applied the contemporary categories of the politics of memory and of historical politics to Włodarczyk’s book which was written in the early 1980’s when the politics of memory was non-existent. Hence the misunderstanding. Włodarczyk formulates his judgments about socialist realism in a boring academic book, written in a heavy language. It does, however, have the asset of being very reasonable and containing descriptions of concrete works of art. On closer inspection, the book is the antipodes to those which put the blame on the participants of socialist realism. Take, for example, the book by Trznadel «The Civil Shame»[Hańba domowa], which is nothing but a huge investigation of who was responsible and how these people have to confess before society If memory serves me right, Włodarczyk does not do any such thing. He approaches the issue in a very autonomic way, and the ideological elements are very scarce in the book, if they’re there at all. That’s what I think. When we introduce contemporary categories to interpret old facts, the discussion becomes indeed

cool and lively, but there is one thing we need to keep in mind – at least in my opinion – namely that the politics of memory in the contemporary sense of the term was something completely absent at that time. Thus the great narrative of the Holocaust, a narrative which is contemporarily universal, did not appear then. Instead, there did appear works of art which dealt with the problem - in abundance, in many different aspects. But the very politics of memory was not really present then. Ewa Małgorzata Tatar: I would like to note that, first of all, the tools used by Luiza come from the domain of psychoanalysis. Secondly, I find Luiza’s paper very important as it is simply an analysis of a means of constructing a certain historical narrative, an analysis which is based on a very careful reading of certain voids and omissions in the vocabulary of Włodarczyk. I also believe that Jan Michalski’s commentary is an attempt to perhaps undermine the significance of this presentation. […] I believe that the allegation that a contemporary methodology was used to analyse a text from the 1980’s is completely groundless when we are trying to inquire about the means of the text’s narrative. True, Włodarczyk’s text is important from the point of view of iconographic analysis. But I don’t think this is what reading these historiographic projects from the 1980’s is about. Luiza Nader: It’s not that I impose contemporary categories on a text which was written in the 1980’s. My reading of it is very difDiscussion Attitudes

113


ferent from yours – to me it is not a boring academic text; it is a text which is thrilling in its persuasion, rhetoric. Truly thrilling. Our readings of the text simply differ. But it is not that we use tools of contemporary methodology, whichever it may be, to criticise. I am wondering what use we could make of the relations which we could dissect from the text. I may be wrong, I may be the only one with this problem; perhaps I should also analyse my displaced position vis-à-vis this text. What I found important in this text was what appears in its rhetorical moments. I wrote down these different moments as I had expected some of you would ask about them: tell us, where are those quotes, how is he transmitting the shame. But nobody’s asking. It was important to me that these affects are there. And that the question of the affects and the affective nature of the text is completely abandoned by the art history of the 1990’s. There is the trauma-based interpretation but not the question of affects which, to my mind, are very much alive in the text. Włodarczyk even uses some of them – like shame, for example. Guilt is not there, but shame and fear are.

a book about socialist realism, something to the tune of «Caviar and Ashes» by Marcie Shore. It would be absolutely fantastic, but I see no such book coming. Throughout art history we keep on repeating the judgments and this very evaluative language which is also present in this book. But it is no fault of Professor Włodarczyk. It is due to the lack of a deeper reflection on the subjects of our discipline. When reading the text and criticising the book by Włodarczyk I am, to an effect, criticising myself.

These categorises can be very useful for us now. I am not accusing the researchers of the 1980’s that they had not seen the Holocaust. I am just saying that they had already processed a certain problem. Thanks to them we can save a certain memory – the memory of socialist realism. And now we have other challenges before us. Not challenges of forgetting socialist realism but perhaps researching it in a different way now. I, for one, dream of

Luiza Nader, born in 1976, art. historian, lectures at the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw. In 2005 she received a Fulbright scholarship. Published book «The Conceptual Art in the Polish Peoples’ Republic» (2009). Her main focus is on avantgarde and neo-avant-garde art, particularly in Central Europe, as well as on relations of memory and archives, theories of trauma and affect.

114

Discussion Attitudes

Waldemar Baraniewski, an art historian, professor at the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw. Published, among others, «Kazimierz Skórewicz. An architect, conservator, architecture scholar» (2000). Co-curator of exhibitions at the National Museum and the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, including «Sorcerers and mystics» (1991). Deals in the art history of the 20th century, particular attention paying to spatial arts (architecture and sculpture), art in totalitarian systems, and art criticism.


Dorota Jarecka, an art historian and critic, writes reviews, longer texts and interviews for Gazeta Wyborcza. In 2011 she co-curated the exhibition Erna Rosenstein. I can repeat only unconsciously at the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw. A laureate of the Jerzy Stajuda Art Criticism Award (2012). Piotr Rypson, art and literature historian, curator, writer; 19901994 editor in chief of Obieg magazine, 1993-1996 chief curator at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. His publications include «Książki i Strony. Polska książka awangardowa i artystyczna w XX wieku» (2000), «Nie gęsi. Polskie projektowanie graficzne» (2011). Since 2011 deputy director of the National Museum in Warsaw. Piotr Bernatowicz, art historian and critic, assistant professor at the Institute of Art History, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, editor in chief of Arteon art magainze (2006-2012, again from 2012). Author of «Picasso za żelazną kurtyną. Recepcja artysty i jego sztuki w krajach Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej w latach 1945-1970» [Picasso Beyond the Iron Curtain. Reception of artists and their art in Eastern and Central Europe in1945-1970]. Karol Sienkiewicz, born in 1980, art historian and critic, editor of books, e.g. collection of texts on the art of the eighties, «Draft» by Anda Rottenberg (with Kasia Redzisz). As a critic he writes to

dwutygodnik.com. A laureate of the Jerzy Stajuda Art Criticism Award (2012). Łukasz Gorczyca, born in 1972, co-founder (with Michał Kaczyński) of the Raster art magazine (1995-2003), then the Raster Gallery (since 2001). Active as an art critic and curator (among others Relax at the Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok, 2001; De Ma Fenetre at Ecole Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts in Paris, 2004), worked for the cultural section of the Polish public television TVP (2000-2002). Published literary works «The Best Polish Short Stories» [Najlepsze polskie opowiadania] (1999) and «Half Empty» [W połowie puste] (2010, with Łukasz Ronduda). Ewa Małgorzata Tatar, born in 1981, an art historian and critic, editor, since 2003 working together with Dominik Kuryłek. Their co-operation resulted in a number of exhibitions and publications, such as the Guide Project (2005-2007) and Cafe bar by Paulina Ołowska (2011) at the National Museum in Krakow or On the Volcano. Krzysztof Niemczyk (2010) at the Lipowa 11 Gallery in Lublin, Now is Now (2012) at the Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdańsk. They published A Short History of Grupa Ladnie (2008, with Magdalena Drągowska). Aleksandra Ściegienna, graduate in art history from Warsaw University. Works at the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw.

Discussion Attitudes

115


Grzegorz Kowalski, artist and pedagogue, assistant of Oskar Hansen (1965-1968) and Januszkiewicz (1968-1980), lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In the 1970’s, co-founder of Warsaw’s Repassage gallery; developed individual forms of artistic expression based on including the expression of others into one’s own work (actions-questions, collections, tableaux). In the 1980’s creator of his own syllabus titled «Shared Space, Own Space». Artists including Paweł Althamer, Katarzyna Kozyra, Artur Żmijewski and others graduated from his studio, known as Kowalnia (smithy – from his surname, Kowalski, Polish equivalent of Smith – from the translator). Jan Michalski, art critic, together with Marta Tarabuła manager the Zderzak gallery in Krakow. Laureate of the Stajuda Award. His publications include «A Boy on a Yellow Background. On Andrzej Wróblewski» [Chłopiec na żółtym tle. Teksty o Andrzeju Wróblewskim] (2009), and recently «Four Essays on Wildness» [Cztery eseje o dzikości] (2011, together with Martą Tarabuła)

116

Discussion Attitudes


Discussion Attitudes

117


Wojciech Kozłowski

Zielona Góra 1979–1991 . The Unrecorded Myth


Zielona Góra entered the 1980’s as a city which was still working on building its cultural identity. It was a testing ground for the cultural strategy of the state which, as Andrzej Turowski writes: «from the mid 1950’s onward was based on limiting, stimulating or intercepting means of imaging into the orbit of its own ideology«[1]. The local melting pot of people who had come here after the war, streaming in from different parts of Poland, founded two colleges, opened a number of cultural institutions, and started a biweekly dedicated to arts and culture, hosting an array of writers, not necessarily from Zielona Góra. It would be stretching it to say that there was a bubbling cultural life in the town, however there were people who were able to carry out their plans regardless of the limitations imposed by the omnipotent state. Every two years, beginning in 1963, the city played host to a national event - The Exhibition and Symposium of the «Golden Bunch« [Wystawa i sympozjum «Złotego Grona«]. Marian Szpakowski, the author of the idea and its organizer, was extremely skilled in taking advantage of the authorities’ weakness to seek self-legitimacy via culture. Obviously, such realization of one’s plans was conditioned by the extent to which these plans were in line with the objectives of those in power. As Konrad Schiller writes in an unpublished master’s thesis on the «Golden Bunch«: «[…] it was the artists who were responsible for the form of the

event, though the objectives were determined by the local authorities«[2]. Schiller quotes Jan Koleńczuk, deputy head of the Presidium of the Voivodship National Council, who said: «the event provides us with a multitude of possibilities to get acquainted with the achievements of the most important artistic milieus in the country. […] The fact that this significant cultural occasion is taking place in the Western Territories of Poland proves that they have been entirely integrated with the rest of the country, both in economic as well as cultural terms«[3]. The date I have chosen as the symbolic beginning of the 1980’s is the year 1979, when the «Golden Bunch» devoted their entire symposium discussions to issues of shaping urban space, with a specific reference to Zielona Góra. The idea was to introduce and carry out the rules of the «Łagów Charter« [Karta Łagowska], a document which preceded the current discussion on city space by decades. The postulates made there were not feasible in the so called real socialism, as they assumed a specific impact of residents and artists on urban space, with much consideration for ecology. The above was one of the reasons the so called Zielona Góra Program [Program Zielonogórski], which was to be introduced in a complex manner during the process of construction and reconstruction of the city, was never carried out. Its freedom-aimed

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

119


aspirations, however, were blazing the trail for the events to come in August of 1980 – the actual beginning of the 1980’s.

and not the people who created it, that were subject to more stringent restrictions.

The last «Golden Bunch« meeting took place the year martial law was imposed – the same year that BWA in Zielona Góra was closed.

The decision to close the gallery was unprecedented in Poland, at least in the case of city-run institutions. It seems now that the entire situation was created to intimidate the artistic community, a way to show who was in charge. Only that the whole exercise was performed on the weakest player, as other institutions of culture were simply too big. As it turned out a year ago, the decision had been a mistake even in the eyes of the hardliners. The gallery was reactivated at the beginning of 1983.

In hindsight, the latter event seems significant now, to the effect that the authorities had completely forgotten to watch their image. At the time, however, it was already all about staying in power at any cost. This is, by the way, an example proving that sometimes it does not make sense to think in today’s categories, particularly those from the fields of marketing and public relations. Based on the oral accounts, including one provided by Jan Muszyński, the director of the museum and the chronicler of the times, it seems that the closing of BWA was a consequence of the institution’s director, Wiesław Myszkiewicz, deciding to resign from membership in the Polish United Workers’ Party. He had returned his party membership card in protest against the imposition of martial law. Given the context, the end of the gallery seemed like revenge by the authorities. The army-imposed commissar issued a decree about the liquidation of the gallery, and all the employees, including the director, were transferred to work at the Museum. It could be said that it was the institution,

120

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

The new chapter of its activities was to begin under the management of Marian Szpakowski. A resident of Zielona Góra for almost thirty years and one of the best known public figures in town. The artist decided to take the risk of entering into yet another relationship with the state authority. Basing my knowledge on oral accounts again, he was indifferent to any public criticism and accusations of being a collaborator. His priority was to build the institution a new, which would finally be independent of the Association of Polish Artists, and to save the «Golden Bunch«. This was the main reason he decided to accept the position. Judging by the list of exhibitions which were presented at the gallery when Szpakowski was in charge, the offer was rather local and without any more significant presentations. It seems that he did not have time to begin his own program – he died barely nine


months after taking over the position of the gallery’s manager, unable to reach even the initial stage of reactivating the «Golden Bunch«. He failed due to the disintegration of the community, exhaustion of the subject, or absence of intellectual partners, among other things. The problem, however, remained. After all, the «Golden Bunch» had for almost 20 years been a flagship cultural event in the city, though perhaps not as popular as the Soviet Song Contest. The latter was organized without any problems in 1982, and then continued to be successfully organized annually until the end of the decade. The contest, as it turned out, was easier to organize. A spectacular exhibition, on the other hand, was impossible without the involvement of specialists who, in the great majority, chose the strategy of «internal emigration« and refused any collaboration, or at least limited their activities to cooperating with the Catholic Church. There was also the question of the Association of Polish Artists, which was suspended during martial law (and finally dissolved in 1983), its property handed over to PP Sztuka Polska, or new associations which were to take over those artists for whom membership in such organizations meant a secure basis for their material being. And so, 1982 marked the beginning of the disappearance of the institutional elements constituting the program

and the basis for the «Golden Bunch«. The death of Szpakowski sealed the death of the project. In 1983, two graduates of the art school in Poznań came to Zielona Góra, Zenon Polus and Zbigniew Szymaniak. Ambitious and knowledgeable about the art of their generation, they soon noticed that in the endeavor of trying to save the town from becoming the artistic boonies they were left to their own devices. The local artists at the time had either already gone beyond the period of exploring and participating in the avant garde of Polish art, had died (Szpakowski, Felchnerowski) or left the city (Kazimierz Rojowski, Ryszard Kiełb). Other young graduates of the academy who had begun to settle down in Zielona Góra in the 1970’s and 1980’s were not exactly inclined toward exploration, but wanted a peaceful place where they could do their own thing. In the 1980’s, Zenon Polus created objects and installations, or used ready-mades. In his work, he analyzed the relations between nature and its cultural transformations. Zbigniew Szymaniak, on the other hand, was a painter first and foremost. As a result of his fascination with conceptualism, he had abandoned abstract art for hyper-realistic paintings inspired by semiotics. The first event the two artists organized was an exhibition titled Laboratories of the Young[Laboratoria Młodych], in the gallery of the School of Education [Wyższa Szkoła Pedagogiczna], to which they had invited members of Łódź Kaliska and Jerzy Truszkowski, among Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

121


others. The whole event only lasted as long as the opening night, with no documentation left behind. To Polus and Szymaniak the project was a test of their possible joint endeavors. The test was passed with the effect that the two artists decided not so much to reactivate the «Golden Bunch» but to organize a new project. But the idea of continuation still had its supporters. In 1984, the new director of BWA, Bogumiła Chłodnicka, and artist Jolanta Zdrzalik paid a visit to professor Aleksander Wojciechowski, trying to persuade him to help them in their new undertaking. As it has been reported, he suggested that the event should be put on by young artists for young viewers. And so, those in favor of continuing the tradition and representing the old co-organisers of the «Golden Bunch« met Polus and Szymaniak in the office of the Party Secretary for Ideological Issues of the Voivodship Committee of the Polish United Workers’s Party, where the secretary, Zygmunt Stabrowski, unable to settle the dispute said: «The party can afford anything. Go ahead, create two events« (as reported by Zenon Polus). This anecdote, even if not particularly funny, is well reflective of the degree to which one had to interact and negotiate with the authorities to push one’s plans through. If it was not for the acceptance of their very existence (as it was not the program subject to approval, not directly at least), the event could not have been organized. In the provincial though aspiring town of Zielona Góra, there was 122

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

nobody to help the artists in their attempt at an independent organization of the event. Neither the colleges nor the church were able to support such an initiative. In case of the artists advocating the option of continuing the «Golden Bunch» tradition, there was nobody with charisma equal to that of the late Marian Szpakowski. And so, it was the enthusiasm, youth, and a good understanding of the art of the time that finally got the upper hand. The «First Biennial of New Art« [I Biennale Sztuki Nowej (BSN)] was a project built on the idea that art should be more an area of agreement than division. The program was built with the help of respected authorities: Jan Berdyszak, Witosław Czerwonka, Jerzy Ludwiński, Andrzej Mroczek and Jerzy Treliński, whose task was to invite participating artists according to their own concepts. There were also young artists from the local milieu, invited directly by the organizers. The final result was an eclectic presentation which, for obvious reasons, did not encompass all the interesting artistic approaches of the mid 1980’s, but which still showed Polish art as a field which was very much alive and filled with an important reflection on art and the world. The stances there presented were of a whole variety – from post-conceptual proposals to painting and new expression sculpture. There were no artists from Wrocław at the exhibition, which was definitely a mistake, considering the event was to offer a holistic presentation. This was partly due to the fact that among the invi-


ted authorities was Zbigniew Makarewicz, who had been expected to invite the Wrocław-based artists. In the spring of 1985, Brygida Grzybowicz and I went to see him. The reception was rather cold, our conversation looked more like an interrogation and pretty much led to nothing. In hindsight, I think I understand the reason for the reluctance and the fact that we were treated like security agents – after all, the meeting took place a year after the amnesty, as a result of which Makarewicz had been released from prison. In any case, the fact remains that there was nobody from Wrocław at the First BSN. The final effect was, to my mind, quite spectacular. Over 70 artists presented their works at the BWA gallery, the Museum, Wenus cinema, the voivodship library, shop windows of the main department store, at the railway station, and in city space. There were also several performances, a theoretical symposium, all recapped in a catalogue, and abundant photographic documentation. The whole project was also an important social event, which served as a meeting opportunity for artists who had not really known each other’s work, since information did not run as quickly and efficiently in those times. The older and more acclaimed authors met those who had just had their debuts. Art dominated the city for three consecutive November days. The idea of a big event which activated a small community once again proved successful. Neither I nor my colleagues recall any pressure exerted by the local authorities, though there was some censorship – in the

case of the exposition of Łódź Kaliska, the artists were ordered to remove the Mother of Jesus with a Mustache [Matka Boska z wąsami] by Adam Rzepecki, and a painting by Włodzimierz Pawlak, and A Stream of Russian Cologne [Strumień wody kolońskiej rosyjskiej] exhibited at the railway station (the artist refused to have only the caption removed as had been suggested by the censor). The year of the Biennale was also when the gallery «po« was founded. Being an employee of BWA, I was responsible for the administrative organization of BSN, though I quickly began to interact with artists at the professional level as well. In the summer of 1984, I met a number of interesting people at the Plain-air Meeting of the Young in Łagów, including Fred Ojda, the manager of Galeria Działań from Ursynów [a district in Warsaw – from translator], Janusz Ducki and Zenon Polus. They persuaded me to consider creating a gallery in the rarely used small hall of BWA. After some months of hesitation and uncertainty, I was finally faced with the perspective of having to invite somebody to a partnership. The partner to be would have to be systematic, take responsibility for the documentation, and be cooperative and open to the dynamic course of events. That person was Leszek Krutulski-Krechowicz. The name of the gallery was borrowed from a text by Jerzy Ludwiński, who fully accepted our choice, though he didn’t really know us but still decided to trust us.

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

123


To start off, we would invite young artists from Zielona Góra, providing them with an opportunity to present themselves, but, on the other hand, testing our own organizational abilities. In the years 1985 – 1990, we organized approximately 70 exhibitions, performances, film screenings, and actions. We hosted such artists as: Mirosław Bałka, Edward Dwurnik, Jarosław Fliciński, Grzegorz Klaman, Zbigniew Libera, Antoni Mikołajczyk, Robert Rumas, Jerzy Treliński, Jerzy Truszkowski, Wojciech Zamiara, Witosław Czerwonka and many others who were just as important. According to its informal program, namely the text by Ludwiński, the gallery presented current phenomena which were sometimes difficult to classify, but which we accepted as their authors’ presented attitudes to life and art with which we could identify. In other words, we showed what we liked. Such criterion is perhaps not entirely professional, but it does give much satisfaction – it is more egoistic and social rather than artistic, but the final effect is pretty much the same. The gallery was also a place which would attract those who wanted to meet the artists informally. There was no tension typical of opening nights, we tried to make the place friendly and unrestricted. In terms of the program, the gallery was complementary to what was on offer at BWA, presenting the really important phenomena in Polish art at the time. If not for the tolerance of the BWA’s director, Bogumiła Chłodnicka, the gallery would not have been able to function. Chłodnicka managed BWA in the years 124

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

1984 – 1989 and effectively carried out the ideas of Marian Szpakowski, though she was not part of the milieu herself. Apart from being the organizer of BSN, our gallery was also involved in presenting the most interesting Polish studios in the different academies of fine art. This idea, first coined by Szpakowski, was born as a result of his discussions with Ryszard Winiarski and proposal to move part of the didactic process to a professional gallery. And so, the 1980’s saw presentations of the studios by, consecutively, Ryszard Winiarski, Jan Berdyszak, Wanda Gołkowska, Andrzej Dłużniewski, Jarosław Kozłowski and Witosław Czerwonka. The series was curated by Maria Jastrzębska-Szpakowska, a BWA employee since 1984 and the widow of Marian Szpakowski. The studio presentations was an excellent but also pragmatic idea. Good exhibitions would be organized by the way (either in a plain-air meeting mode, or sometimes by means of ready presentations imported to the gallery), also showcasing the methods and ways of teaching art in the different schools. It was as part of this project that Zielona Góra first saw the new expression painting, presented in 1984 by Wojciech Dowgiałło and Wojciech Tracewski. It was also here that Robert Rumas carried out his first artistic concepts. As the city did not have an art school, the project also had added value in the sense that it showed the local residents the value such institutions could actually offer.


The Second Biennial of New Art [II Biennale Sztuki Nowej] was based on the well established fame of the first edition of the event, which was integrating and anticipating the role of new expression that had been so spectacularly presented at a much famed exhibition Expression of the 1980’s [Ekspresja lat 80-tych]. While the presentation by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz soon became a legend, the First Biennial is still awaiting a good description and an attractive recapitulation. The second edition had a more determined profile than the first. The organizers invited non-official galleries, which Grzegorz Dziamski termed «alternative« in his introduction to the event’s catalogue. It was an attempt to define the notion of a non-institutional gallery in the understanding of the institutions of those times. The big no-show at the Second Biennial was Galeria Foksal, which simply turned out to be unattainable despite the numerous invitations. All other galleries decided to come to the event – it is perhaps worth mentioning them all, if only to show the geography of Polish art in the latter half of the 1980’s: Warsaw - RR, Galeria Działań and Pracownia Dziekanka, Lublin – BWA, Poznań – Akumulatory 2, AT and Wielka 19, Wrocław – Foto – Medium – Art, Zakład nad Fosą, Ośrodek Działań Plastycznych, Łódź – Wschodnia, Chełm – 72 and Zielona Góra – «po«. The galleries invited were ones which had independent programs that also included some

municipal institutions, as was the case of the BWA from Lublin. Managed by Andrzej Mroczek, it had become one of the most important galleries in the country, hosting conceptual projects and offering space for Polish performance art. Similar was the case of Galeria 72, which was part of the District Museum in Chełm and, under the eye of Bożena Kowalska, began to specialize in post-constructivist art. As in the case of the First Biennale, the exhibition again happened in different places in town, each gallery having its own separate opening. Some of the openings were accompanied by performance actions. Again, the aspect of social interaction was very important during the whole meeting. Most of the presentations were related to New Expression which, at the time, was at the peak of popularity, both as a mode of illustration and a life attitude. Pracownia Dziekanka included presentations of the members of Gruppa and Neue Bieriemiennost collectives, Galeria Działań showed parts of the latter collective and works by the unassociated «New Savages«, and Wielka 19 exhibited «Grupa Koło Klipsa«. The galleries from Wrocław, on the other hand, were more focused on action-based and conceptual-related projects, which was also the case of BWA Lublin. Galeria Wschodnia concentrated mainly on the artists from Kultura Zrzuty. There is no place here to include a whole description of the exhibition – as I have already mentioned, we are still awaiting a monograph of BSN. In any case, when looking at the event from today’s perWojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

125


spective, it was an objective and extraordinarily broad presentation of the Polish art of the time. The Third Biennial [III BSN] took place in November 1989, already after the first democratic parliamentary elections. The organizational committee changed, the exhibition’s commissioners were now Zenon Polus and Krzysztof Stanisławski who, apart from organizing their own exhibition, asked the following set of people to assemble the presentation: Witosław Czerwonka and Wojciech Zamiar, who invited young artists from the Tri-city area [Gdańsk, Sopot, Gdynia – from the transl.], Izabela Gustowska, who chose female artists only, Jarosław Świerszcz, who invited artists from Silesia, Andrzej Bonarski and Grzegorz Chełmecki, who decided on Tomasz Psuja, and Zbigiew Warpechowski, who went for artists from his home region. In the introduction to the catalogue, Zenon Polus writes about: «a specific phenomenon, which emerged in the second half of the 1980’s, of the emergence of independent presenters, animators and authorities. The more or less expansive and thus anonymous

The 1980’s was actually the beginning of a rising wave of curators in the world of art. It is worth noting that the actual term used then was «exhibition commissioner« – the word «curator« did not appear until the following decade. The exhibition was supplemented with presentations of documentation portfolios of large exhibitions which were quite numerous in the second part of the 1980’s. The catalogue, which was never distributed due to the many mistakes and poor quality, contained summary texts by Grzegorz Dziamski, Krzysztof Jurecki, Krzysztof Stanisławski and Jarosław Świerszcz. I find these contributions extremely interesting: on the one hand they provided a very good insight to the approach towards the then new prospects appearing before Polish artists and, on the other, aimed at describing the current developments of the decade. The Third Biennial was an exhibition of the time of the breakthrough. It tried to keep up, if somewhat nervously and without much success, with the accelerating reality. I remember it as a constant fight against the resisting matter and a continuous feeling of deficiency and inadequacy. The memory, however, is purely my own and quite unimportant.

organizations and programming committees are now being gradually replaced by concrete people who individually and openly embrace the risk of creating their own tastes and opinions about art« [4].

126

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

The symbolic closure of the 1980’s for the art in Zielona Góra was marked by the opening of the art department at the local college (WSP, today Uniwersytet Zielonogórski). New and interesting artists began to flow into town, and the school started


producing graduates. A drastic generational shift took place. The chief advocate and co-author of the new department was Zenon Polus – the school, therefore, was to a great extent the consequence of his curatorial and organizational activity of the 1980’s. In the world of Polish art, Zielona Góra was both a model and an exceptional town. It was a model city for the medium size towns which did not have their own art schools and, therefore, no artistic communities which could afford any creative explorations. Such places were limited to events organized by local activists. The exceptional character of Zielona Góra, on the other hand, was related to its function of carrying on the legacy from times gone by, complicated relations with the authorities, the need to support the authorities in their efforts to sustain the myths about a cultural miracle and finally, of establishing an educational center which would be an important creative place, even if not up to the standards of an art academy. In Puławy, Koszalin, Elbląg – places of big cultural events of the 1960’s and 1970’s – such schools were never created. From the present perspective we could say that the only platforms for building a sound artistic milieu in medium size towns are art schools, though the new department in Zielona Góra was not very helpful in provoking a new reflection on the 1980’s – no important research of the events of the decade was ever carried out. The whole ten years is left without a descriptive, not to men-

tion a critical, analysis, which reveals the weakness of the local abilities on the one hand and, on the other, their being suspended in a social vacuum. All the events which are significant in the eyes of art history are pretty much non-existent in the collective memory of even such a relatively small city. They have been abandoned on the margins of the course of things. The situation provokes questions about the general functioning of myths, but also leads to bitter reflections on how to keep a memory alive. We have failed to keep that memory alive in Zielona Góra. Perhaps the art departments at the local university are a non-verbal way for the myth about the forgotten events of the past to continue. The myth remains unrecorded, still awaiting its demystifier. It is yet another poorly known episode in our history. Wojciech Kozłowski, a critic and curator, director of the BWA Gallery in Zielona Góra, in the eighties - together with Leszek Krutulski-Krechowicz – he ran the «po« Gallery at the BWA in Zielona Góra. Notes 1. Quote after: Luiza Nader, «Konceptualizm w PRL«, Warsaw 2009. 2. Konrad Schiller, «Struktura sympozjalna ‘Złotego Grona’ w Zielonej Górze w latach 1963-1981«, MA dissertation thesis written and the Art Institute Department of the Warsaw University under the supervision of Prof Waldemar

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

127


Baraniewski. 3. Ibidem. 4. «II Biennale Sztuki Nowej«, exhibition catalogue, ed. Zenon Polus, BWA (Zielona Górze 1989), catalogue undistributed.

128

Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991


Wojciech Kozłowski Zielona Góra 1979–1991

129


Alexandra Alisauskas

Communists like them . Polish Artist Groups at «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke»


Organized by the project group Stoffwechsel, led by professor Hamdi el Attar, the international exhibition Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke [Artist-groups present Group-art-works] took place in Kassel, Germany from June to September of 1987. Set to coincide with that year’s Documenta 8, the show was held in and around the K18 Hall, a former industrial building in Kassel. The exhibition included contributions from 38 artist groups from 14 countries, each representing a very specific model of collective identity and mode of production. Two of these groups were from Poland: Koło Klipsa (from Poznań) and Gruppa (from Warsaw) (other notable participants included Irwin from Slovenia, and Art Attack from the United States). This paper will examine Stoffwechsel’s presentation of these two Polish artist groups, taking it as a case study of the Western European interpretation of «communism» in the 1980s. For Stoffwechsel, this took the form of representing artistic communism through the artist group format, while at the same time eliding the conditions of actually-existing, totalitarian communism (or more precisely Soviet socialism) in Eastern European countries by focusing on so called unofficial, anti-socialist art. However, theories that proposed communism to be an emancipatory political project were also being developed at this time by thinkers such as Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy and Félix Guattari and Antonio Negri.

I would like to engage this theoretical trend with both contemporaneous Western European exhibition strategies, as represented by the Kassel exhibition, as well as the practices of the Polish groups presented there. Through this examination, I am not trying to determine the political motivations of Koło Klipsa and Gruppa, nor to evaluate the merits of their work on the basis of their contribution to the political changes occurring in Poland in the mid-to-late 1980s. Instead, I would like to consider what value models of artistic collectivity in Poland in the 1980s, in the last moments of Soviet socialist influence, might have presented to a Western European development of a new conception of communism at that time, and also how they might undo this. Furthermore, I want to think about how we might apply this model to current interpretations of the rise of artist groups in Poland in the 1980s, particularly as it relates to a potentially new definition of the collective subject. In the period of normalization following the imposition and lifting of martial law in Poland, questions of both an artistic and ethical nature were raised for practicing artists, and this led to the division of artistic exhibition and affiliation into a tripartite system: official, church, and, finally, underground exhibitions in apartments, private galleries, and other types of non-official spaces[1]. As a result, those artists who chose not to work with the bureaucratic state system of political and social control, or with the system of the church and its itinerant ideas about the development of a Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

131


stable Polish national identity, had to develop a system of their own, leading to, as Maria Morzuch claims: «a need for identity and strength through alliance with one’s own generation»[2]. This need allowed for the rise of artist groups in this country, such as Luxus in Wroclaw, Łódź Kaliska in Łodz, Gruppa and Neue Bieriemiennost in Warsaw, Koło Klipsa and O’pa in Poznan, and the artists associated with Wyspa in Gdansk[3]. As Morzuch describes it, and as recent exhibitions about Polish art of the 1980s such as I Could Live in Africa [Mógłbym żyć w Afryce] at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and Generation ‚80 [Pokolenie ‘80] at the National Gallery of Art in Krakow, as well as books like «Generation» [Generacja][4] have suggested, group affiliation between artists in Poland very much had to do with a type of subcultural and generational activity that was the result of social bonds and similarity in outlook during this time period. I Could Live in Africa for instance, unveiled and depicted the everyday life of that movement through the display of their various cultural productions as well as the suggestion that lifestyle itself was a type of cultural production. While these types of projects are important for the elaboration of a history of the 1980s in Poland, and reveal a key impetus behind the formation of artist groups, I would like to look at the formal composition of grouphood itself as a possible aesthetic form, a definition set I Could Live in Africa,out quite clearly by the project of Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke. 132

Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

For «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke», Koło Klipsa members Mariusz Kruk, Leszek Knaflewski, and Krzysztof Markowski contributed Wystawa 5, an assemblage of previously constructed objects, most of which were from their fifth exhibition. These works were also later included in Figury i Przedmioty, an exhibition which traveled to a number of cities in Poland in 1986 and 1987[6]: II Biennale Sztuki Nowej in Zielona Góra in 1986[7] and in an installation at the Galeria Desa in Poznań in that same year[8]. Like Koło Klipsa’s previous exhibitions, which involved the display of art works created by individual members that followed a particular theme as an artistic and sensory environment, Wystawa 5 took as its keyword «fairytale». The installation was constructed out of fantastical elements including a hanging chair, a gnome made out of dirt, a slithering snake-like house object, an oversized grinning moon and stuffed flower, and animal figures made out of mesh. The show was also accompanied by Mariusz Kruk’s «Fairy tale about the exhibition» [Bajka o wystawie], a playful rhyming narration of the elements of the exhibition whose main point was that «in the world of fairy tale - everyone gets what one wants»[9]. While some elements of Wystawa 5 were not included in Kassel, and others were added either from previous Koło Klipsa shows or from newly produced works, the installation at Künstlergruppen


zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke was given another overarching narrativization through Leszek Knaflewski’s drawings which served to create a succinct image of the assorted works (a practice which accompanied all Koło Klipsa installations.

alized individually. […] We treat the exposition with the creations of the individual members as a single work. […] the results of the previous work set three concepts. […] 1. Nature - understood as a broad environment,

For head curator Hamdi el Attar, it was through this creation of a totalistic fantasy world through the fusion of sculptural elements, and different media, that it would be possible to attribute an emancipatory meaning to the works of Koło Klipsa. El Attar states: «They try to give the viewer help in this helpless situation, an image of hope. They try in their fantasy world to blur the line between fantasy and reality to emphasize the connection between reality and fantasy in the real reality» [10]. This is not only achieved through the installation and sensory elements of the works and their narration through imaginative texts and drawings, but also through the group’s working method. Founded in Poznań in 1983, the artists began to author their installation works under the collective name Koło Klipsa after the group’s third exhibition in 1984. In their collaboratively authored text from 1984, Koło Klipsa describes its working method: «Our works are the result of research between different forms of being, the transformation and search for unity of these forms. […] The problems and issues that move us and the resulting conclusions are contained in collaboratively discussed sketches of individual works and collective sketches of future exhibitions, and then re-

2. Coexistence - understood as the inlaying of our relationship into other forms of existence, 3. Synthesis - understood as a method of work»[11]. In his catalogue essay, el Attar quotes a version of this text that was modified for the Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke catalogue, focusing particularly on the section that states: «We help each other in all possible ways, where everyone everywhere can help the other. This includes the financial aspect»[12]. El Attar thus conceives of the illusory but wholly formed and harmoniously themed world of the group’s installations as intimately connected with the harmonious operation of the group in collaborative practice. In stark opposition to the spatial form of Koło Klipsa’s inclusion, as well as the mediums of installation and sculptural objects favored by most participants in Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke, Gruppa created a large «site-specific» and «event-specific» painting Kuda Gierman’s?» [Where to, German?]. Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

133


Measuring six meters by six meters, a grid comprised of four canvases was divided into a series of sections in which each member of Gruppa (Ryszard Grzyb, Ryszard Woźniak, Paweł Kowalewski, Jarosław Modzelewski, Marek Sobczyk and Włodzimierz Pawlak) would paint a component, contributing to an eventual whole. While some of the artists had previously worked together on group drawings on paper, or collaboratively in the medium of performance (represented by a work like Recital), this was the first time that Gruppa would create, as a group, a single painted object[13]. Kuda Gierman’s main theme was determined by Ryszard Grzyb, and the painting’s layout was initially quite predetermined - the center was to pull the whole together with an emanating vagina of light, each of the corners was conceived as a separate natural element (earth, fire, air, and water), with human figures, demons, and Gods wandering throughout the painting in an effort to expose and demonstrate the mythical vicious cycle of human spiritual existence. These themes had been explored previously in many of the individual paintings of Gruppa’s members. However, after six days and six nights of work, the canvas - which took up a prominent location in the main space of the K18 Hall - would eventually exist in a more abstract version. The sketches and elements envisioned for the work had been painted over in red paint, as the artists all felt their individual elements were en134

Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

croaching on the others. This painted-over version was on display when the exhibition opened[14]. Hamdi el Attar was much more critical of Gruppa and its artistic practices in his catalogue essay than he was of Koło Klipsa, hinting that, in producing a painting, Gruppa operated in relation to the art market as it had developed in the West, that is, to a model of capitalist exchange. Taking issue first with their chosen medium of painting, el Attar claims that the group: «copies today from the West European and American art scene and helps themselves. […] [and] is influenced by many Western European paintings which are on the art market. With their art they hit the public taste. Art here is used as a means to an end, because it can be used in the present situation, perhaps it is socially useful?»[15]. Beyond the chosen format and artistic medium that Gruppa utilized with its perceived interest in individual expression, and the work’s associations with neo-expressionism, which was then popular in the Western European art market, el Attar also takes issue with the social status of the artists, listing various luxuries the group had access to: teaching positions, cars, a large common studio in the forest outside of Warsaw, some had their own houses, as well as access to any desired information from the West. Most importantly, el Attar finds it necessary to point out in his catalogue essay that, while the group claims no ideological


leader, in the conception of the work, two members drove its ideas and goals, claiming that the others «can almost be described as running along». instead of espousing an egalitarian sharing of ideas and tasks[16]. By simply comparing the two social and artistic modes of collective artistic production represented by the two Polish groups, it becomes clear that a specific model of collectivity was asked of the groups at the Kassel exhibition. Although an exhibition of contemporary art, Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke, attempted to establish a new historical, artistic genre to be defined as «group art work». In particular, the project sought to answer: «how artist groups work, what are the particularities, but also the problems, that arise from group work, whether and how they sell and whether groups, at the present time, reach a dimension in their artistic work which shows, in comparison to the historical dimension of artist groups, new possibilities?»[17]. The curatorial team emphasized the experimental nature of the exhibition, and its stated mission was to present (rather than prescribe) various modes of collaborative production. While various modes were included, not all were treated as potentially useful contributions to the group art project. The organization of the exhibition was itself conducted with collaboration in mind. In 1982, Professor Hamdi el Attar organized the project group Stoffwechsel - a collective of rotating students

and curators from the Gesamthochschule Kassel. ‚Koło Klipsa’ (Leszek Knaflewski, Mariusz Kruk, Krzysztof Markowski), «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke», Kassel, 1987, Leszek Knaflewski’s archive While the group would eventually change its name to Metacultures in an effort to match the growing cultural and post-colonial concerns of their projects later in the 1990s, the name used during the 1980s, Stoffwechsel, suggests a very specific approach to group organization[18]. This word can be translated into English as metabolism (metabolizm in Polish), the chemical processes that occur within a human body in order to maintain life. The working method represented by this physiological association implies an organic relation between individuals in order to produce and maintain the collective good and operation of the group, and in order to synthesize a new working of the group as a single, whole body. This approach was extended to ideas about what type of art object should be considered legitimately «group art work». At Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke, the medium of «group art work» consisted of literally objectivized production. Most artistic groups contributed installations. Though these might have included some type of performance in their creation and mounting, they still focused mainly on the art object as the bearer of formal, symbolic, and social meaning. The German title, composed of compound nouns: Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke — or Artist Groups show Group Art Works, repreAlexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

135


sents not only the process and performance of collaboration, but also the production of collaborative art objects. In describing the selection process, el Attar lists a set of criteria that each of the selected participants was to demonstrate and address:

must wholly embody the process of collective labour. Therefore, the object comes to stand for the process of the artistic group itself-the object or installation as a unique and unified hypostatization of collaborative work, a group-art-work.

«- What is the difference between a work of art that has been created by an individual and the present group-art-work?

- The examination of the project group [Stoffwechsel] includes the question: what is the material and medium of the object, what is the effect and significance?»[19].

At this point, it is necessary to think through the historical moment of Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke in the late 1980s in Western Europe, and the theoretical atmosphere from which it sprung. An interest in the contours of the communal forms in society in this period was being engaged in writings that sought to rethink the communist political project. Alain Badiou, writing on this topic from the 70s to the present and Jean-Luc Nancy’s «La communauté desoeuvrée», first published in French in 1986, were key figures in this debate[21]. However, it is Félix Guattari and Antonio Negri’s «Communists Like Us» from 1985 which examines the humanization of labor under communism through a reconfiguration of work that coincides with the Kassel show’s own project[22].

A number of key terms arise out of this description; however, the most important for the purposes of this essay involves the type of art object created and the source of its creation. The nature of the art work must not only arise from collaborative production but must show in its very form or display that it is a unique product of collaborative effort, and as el Attar writes: «the fusion of many different forms and techniques»[20]. In other words, the form

The work’s broad goal, «to rescue ‘communism‘’ from its own disrepute», attempts to reconceptualize the term, and the aims of a communist project, in order to reattribute its definition to a new organization of society[23]. This begins at the level of the organization of work and labour, not only in regards to the status of the proletariat, but at the cultural level as well. Arguing that actually-existing Socialism in Eastern European countries was a

- The object must show that it is a group effort! - A group-art-work can be a single object or exist or arise as multiple objects. It has arisen from one or more media. - What kind of information does the group-art-work bear?

136

Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them


social-economic alternative to capitalism (not a crisis of communism), Guattari and Negri chart the manner in which ideological systems organize work through a regimentation of thought that serves to rid the individual of his or her «desires and hopes for the future [, which] have been simply prohibited, but under a metaphysical rather than a political guise»[24]. Nuancing the communist project not merely as a sharing of wealth, the authors claim that the individual is not opposed to the collective in this model but, rather that modes of work must be reconceived in order to create «conditions for human renewal: activities in which people can develop themselves as they produce, organizations in which the individual is valuable rather than functional»[25]. This involves redefining «the purpose of work as well as the modalities of social life» which will create more generally «an alliance - between the liberation of work and the liberation of subjectivity[26]. This type of reorganization of social life through the reorganization of the mode of collective labour would lead to a general collective aesthetic transformation of both the social form and of the senses, similar to Marx’s early writings. Intense subjectivity is not eliminated in this version of the communist project, but elevated through the prioritization of the relationship between the singular and the group, particularly through changing the organization of labour.

It is clear that «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke» shares a faith in the restructuring of labour into new collective forms, and for curator el Attar, who devotes an entire section to the concept of East Art in his catalogue essay, it is artists from communist countries who can best «contribute as a subsidiary body to the humanization of life» by virtue of their need to imagine new forms of artistic and social circulation»[27]. However, the type of collectivity the show imagines seems to follow crude utopian notions of collective harmony, and furthermore, a literal objectivization of this in the resulting art object. Artistic communism, as envisioned by the exhibition, involves the coming together of individuals into an overarching group in order to create an objectified vision of this collectivity. I would like to consider that perhaps it was the Polish artists who both conform to, and undo the reification of the group format in «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke», in a manner that further embodies a type of extra artistic meaning to their group art works and their group formations. In his text entitled «Kuda Gierman or the whim of a genius standing on a crowded street at rush hour» [Kuda Gierman czyli wybryk geniusza na zatłoczonej ulicy w godzinie szczytu] from the seventh issue of Oj Dobrze Już from 1988, Ryszard Woźniak analyzes Gruppa’s participation in Kassel from the third person. The painted object was not the key element of the work, but the discussions and social situations that arose in the K18 Hall around Gruppa’s canvas. Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

137


On the first day, the artists had set up a large table in front of their canvas and as Woźniak claims: «The table at which the painters worked, rested, ate and where they hosted German, Dutch, and Jewish groups became an important element, an inalienable part of their work, the basis for existence, a spiritual and physical possibility. At this table, the atmosphere of distrust and stuffiness which had existed in the K18 Hall broke. This table fostered discussion on European artistic traditions of the position of artists, and not blind followers of the Idol»[28]. Gruppa had wished to include the table covered with the remnants of these discussions and celebrations throughout the length of the exhibition; however, «the organizer, for [whom] the conversation of reaching principles was not convenient, refused». Woźniak ends his text on the event by finding value: «by asking ‘Kuda Gierman?’, they also asked themselves about the direction for [the role of] the artist, about the possibility and the need to determine it, a sense of freedom and autonomy in terms of self and society»[29]. The end product of Gruppa’s collaboration, although dismissed as unsuccessful by the artists and critics[30], may in fact serve to tell us something about the nature and potentialities of communist artistic production, in opposition to Western capitalism as well as Soviet socialism. Instead of a capitulation, I wonder if we could think of the red painting-over of their work as an act of 138

Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

refusal, a sacrificing of the collectively-produced object in opposition to the fetishization of the harmonious collectivity demanded by the exhibition in Kassel (we might also think here about the colour red and its symbolic resonances, as well as allusions to the covering over in censorship). Similarly, in Koło Klipsa’s works, the individual is never actually subsumed into the whole of the group (as Knaflewski has said, in spite of the «group» nomenclature, the individual styles of the artists made identifying their particular objects quite easy[31]), and although Knaflewski and Markowski continued to work together under the same name, it was around the time of the exhibition in Kassel that one of the founding members, Kruk, would cease participating. It is perhaps not useful to posit artist groups arising in the 1980s in Poland as diametrically opposed to the interpreted hermetic individualism of the previous generation’s conceptualist artistic tendencies, as it has been historicized. However, in asking them to represent a utopian erasure of the individual in favour of the objectivization of the group, as staged by the rhetorical strategies of the Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke exhibition, one risks repeating the objectification of the group as embodied by totalitarian communism, and thus its collapse. Perhaps the form, and the effect, of these groups might best be served through an analysis of a potential third term that they begin to


reveal and inaugurate – the individual’s working through of the collective form. Alexandra Alisauskas, a Ph.D. student in the Program in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester, researching into the Polish and Lithuanian art groups of the eighties and nineties as well as the issue of art collectives. Notes 1.Anda Rottenberg, «Sztuka W Polsce 1945-2005» [Art in Poland, 19452005]. (Warsaw, Poland: Wydawn. Piotra Marciszuka «Stentor», 2005), p. 294. See also the works of Piotr Piotrowski. 2. Maria Morzuch, «Polish art in the 1980s» in «Polish Realities : New Art from Poland», ed., Christopher Carrell, et al.(Glasgow, Scotland: Third Eye Centre, 1988), p. 22. 3. Anda Rottenberg, «Sztuka W Polsce 1945-2005» [Art in Poland, 19452005], p. 94. 4. Robert Jarosz and Michał Wasążnik, «Generacja», (Kraków, Poland: Korporacja Ha!Art). This book is an album of photographic documentation that charts a type of punk movement in culture in Poland. 5. See the catalogue/brochure «Koło Klipsa», (Poznań, Poland: Galeria Wielka 19, 1985). 6. «Figury i przedmioty», (Orońsko, Poland: Centrum Rzeźby Polskiej, 1986). 7. «II Biennale Sztuk Nowej. Malarstwo, grafika, performance, prezentacje autorskie, filmy, video, odczyty, etc», [II Biennial of New Art: Painting, Drawing,

Performance, Author Presentations, Film, Video, Lectures, etc]. (Zielona Góra, Poland: Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych, 1987), pp. 83-84. 8. For a description/review of this exhibition see Iwona Rajewska, «Koło Klipsa», Sztuka, no1, 1988, pp. 32-33. «Wystawa 5» was also exhibited as a whole at the Galeria Krzysztofory, Kraków, Poland in March 1985, and at the Galeria BWA in Lublin, in April 1987 (see catalogue «Koło Klipsa», Lublin, Poland: Galeria BWA, 1987). 9. Reprinted in Maryla Sitkowska, ed., «Co Słychac?» [What’s Up?]. (Warsaw, Poland: Warsaw Publishing House, 1989), pp. 112-13. My translation. 10. Hamdi el Attar, «Künstlergruppen und die Ausstellung in K18», in «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke», ed., Hamdi el Attar. (Kassel, Germany: Gh Kassel, 1987), section 5, 17. My translation. 11. «Koło Klipsa», untitled, unpublished text. Poznań, Poland, 1984. My translation. 12.Hamdi el Attar, «Künstlergruppen und die Ausstellung in K18», section 5, 18. My translation. 13. Maryla Sitkowska, «The Group Gruppa» in «Gruppa: 1982-1992» ed., Maryla Sitkowska. (Warsaw, Poland: Galeria Zachęta, 1992), p. 14. 14. Maryla Sitkowska, 14. See also Kasia Redzisz and Karol Sienkiewicz, «Pisanie Równoległe: Z Andą Rottenberg rozmawiają Kasia Redzisz i Sienkiewicz» in Anda Rottenberg, «Przeciąg: Teksty o sztuce polskiej lat 80», (Warsaw, Poland: Fundacja Open Art Projects, 2009), p. 371. 15. Hamdi el Attar, «Künstlergruppen und die Ausstellung in K18», section 5, 18. My translation.

Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

139


16. Hamdi el Attar, «Künstlergruppen und die Ausstellung in K18», section 5, 18. My translation.

25. Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri, «New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty», p. 29.

17. Hamdi el Attar, «Vorbemerkungen» in «Künstlergruppen zeigen Gruppenkunstwerke», ed., Hamdi el Attar. (Kassel, Germany: Gh Kassel, 1987), preface, 1. My translation.

26. Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri, «New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty», p. 32.

18. For a history of the Stoffwechsel/Metacultures group see their website: http://www.metacultures.org. 19. Hamdi el Attar, «Künstlergruppen und die Ausstellung in K18», section 5, 3. My translation. 20. Hamdi el Attar, «Künstlergruppen und die Ausstellung in K18», section 5, 3. My translation. 21. See, for instance, Alain Badiou’s most recent work on communism, «The Communist Hypothesis», trans. David Macey and Steve Corcoran, (New York, NY: Verso, 2010) and Jean-Luc Nancy «La communauté désoeuvrée». (Paris, France: Christian Bourgois, 1983). 22. Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri, «Communists Like Us: New Spaces of Liberty, New Lines of Alliance», trans. Michael Ryan. (New York, NY: Semiotext(e), 1990). Also published under the title «New Lines of Alliance», New Spaces of Liberty, trans. Michael Ryan, Jared Becker, Arianna Bove, and Noe Le Blanc. (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2010). 23. Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri, «New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty», p. 26. 24. Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri, «New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty», pp. 26, 29.

140

Alexandra Alisauskas Communists like them

27. Hamdi el Attar, «Künstlergruppen und die Ausstellung in K18», section 5, 10. My translation. 28. Ryszard Woźniak, «Kuda Gierman czyli wybryk geniusza na zatłoczonej ulicy w godzinie szczytu» [Kuda Gierman or the whim of a genius standing on a crowded street at rush hour] in Oj Dobrze Już, no 7, 1988. My translation. 29. Ryszard Woźniak, «Kuda Gierman czyli wybryk geniusza na zatłoczonej ulicy w godzinie szczytu» [Kuda Gierman or the whim of a genius standing on a crowded street at rush hour] in Oj Dobrze Już, no 7, 1988. My translation. 30. See for instance Sitkowska, 14; Woźniak; or Kasia Redzisz and Karol Sienkiewicz, «Pisanie Równoległe: Z Andą Rottenberg rozmawiają Kasia Redzisz i Sienkiewicz», p. 371. 31. Justyna Kowalska and Alexandra Alisauskas, «Wywiad z Leszekiem Knaflewskiem», (Poznań, Poland, April 20th, 2011) (unpublished). My translation.


Aleksandra Jach

«Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?


A white cube with the inscription «Construction in Process»is moving down the street pushed by a group of people. Banners hanging between buildings read: «Nausea of Sense»and «Artificial discovery of art is the ultimate value for the audience». is the geometric figure being revered so much? It attracts a crowd of people who carry the cube with the power of their bodies. The unusual parade was recorded on film by Jerzy Robakowski. The film was shot at Piotrkowska Street in Łodz in 1981. The banners were made by Andrzej Partum. Thirty years have passed since the event, and the phenomenon of Construction in Process is no less astonishing today. The exhibition and event was one of the major achievements of the non-institutional art community. The community which was then created relied on heterogeneous powers which cannot be reduced to the slogan of an «international exhibition of minimalist and postconstructivist art». Alliances which were built during the work on Construction in Process between organisers, artists, city authorities, Solidarity, workers and strangers, gave shape to an organism which foretold change of relations in cultural production. The aura around the event derived from the method of work on the exhibition, which exposed the process of production and highlighted possible worker-artist utopias, and from the spectacular closing of the factory building which housed works of art when martial law was introduced.

To better understand the legacy of Construction in Process, community has become a central notion, especially its vision as offered by Giorgio Agamben. A collective was not supposed to be based on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, religion or race; it should not deprive individuals of their separate identity, but rather join their forces for a time necessary to achieve a goal. So understood, community has become a starting point for revisiting the 1981 event, not only in artistic but also in social terms. The exhibition at the Museum of Art in April 2011 and the accompanying seminar treated Construction in Process as a case study in writing the history of exhibitions/events which are strongly rooted in «spontaneity and improvisation»[1]. The Łodz exhibition combined the tradition of the historical avant garde with minimalism and postconstructivism, industrial production with unplanned action, collaboration with Solidary and collaboration with city authorities. Construction in Process shifted the focus from works of art to the process of art production and the conditions of work of every individual involved in the event. When Ryszard Waśko began to plan an international conference similar to Pier+Ocean (Hayward Gallery, 1980)[2], he did not expect the initiative to take this specific form. First of all, drawing on the experience of the London exhibition, he wanted to highlight process more than object. In Archives of Contemporary Thought Waśko writes: «Construction in Process does not cover the issue of «construction»as such but focuses on actions and Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

143


materials which, first, reveal the very moment of structuring, creating a construction and, second, reveal the relations which exist outside the structure of the construction»[3]. The analysis of the process was to be reinforced by the structure of the exhibition, planned to take place in several cities at the same time. Ryszard Waśko sent out invitations to independent galleries: Foto-Medium-Art, Gallery L in Lublin, Remont in Warsaw. As there was no answer, Waśko had to rethink the format[4]. The situation was complicated by the fact that artists were not only offering to send their works but decided to arrive in person[5]. The format had to change as artists were to produce works on the spot, using available materials. However, the substantive core of Construction in Process remained unchanged. The starting points included the tradition of constructivism and the independent movement in Polish art of the 1970s. The motto of the exhibition was a statement by Mieczysław Szczuka, a co-founder of the Blok collective and the co-author of the manifesto «What Is Constructivism?»[Co to jest konstruktywizm?, 1924], that «art cannot be a void ornament for society»while the artist must participate in organising life. Reference was also made to the «a.r.»collective, and thus the international avant-garde community, and the «a.r.»collection with its educational and social dimension. The folder accompanying the exhibition featured portraits of Strzemiński and Kobro. Continu144

Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

ation of the legacy of the avant garde was established by the figures of artists themselves and not only by reflection on «construction.»In a similar gesture, Henryk Stażewski, a member of the «a.r.»collective, was invited to join the Honorary Committee of the exhibition. By connecting Mieczysław Szczuka with Strzemiński and Kobro, Ryszard Waśko showed two sides of social engagement through art, which use different languages, and thus define effectiveness differently. For the organisers, the space of experimentation was the domain of art. They did not intend to effect direct social change and clearly did not want to use instruments other than art. They did not employ the notion of «community»but were aware that work on the exhibition, conditions which required flexibility, and the political situation created a network of emotional relations which took that very form. At the same time, Ryszard Waśko invited renowned Western artists[6] to take part in the exhibition, and thus put Polish art in an international context, which was connected also with the desire to educate the Polish public. The transborder community was a manifesto against limitations imposed by the current geopolitical situation. In addition, artists invited to participate in Construction in Process were involved in political movements (Rune Mields, Les Levine). They claimed to be looking for the roots of their art in European constructivism; they associated the very act of con-


struction with social engagement of constructivism, which at the basic level involved a description of the formal rules shaping the environment surrounding people. It was the post-war reality of Poland that shaped the neo-avantgarde struggle for the autonomy of art. This was particularly important when independence of art enabled a kind of independence of institutionalised politics. This created an alternative politics as places of art practice were organised. This concerned both Poland and a large part of Eastern European neo-avantgarde, which mythologised private spaces, combined them into an international network, and made its dreams of communication come true. Miško Šuvaković pointed it out in reference to intense mail art and the will to manage the system of art[7]. Artists did not limit themselves to creating works; they also became organisers, curators, activists, producers. According to Miško Šuvaković, neo-avant-garde activity was a reaction against social realism and an attempt at exchanging ideas between the East and the West at a level of reflection involving not only linguistic analysis but also the conceptualisation of new means of presentation and intervention. So understood, conceptualism played an important role in the development of later strategies based on new media, performance, collaboration, activism.

Ryszard Waśko, who organised the exhibition, realised that as a private individual he could not invite prominent artists. Thus, he made up a fictitious institution as a tool of mediation between himself and more prominent artists. The Archives of Contemporary Thought were born. «I realised that it was unrealistic to get permission to establish an international private institution, so I decided to create it ‘illegally’»[8] - wrote Waśko. The linguistic intervention of Mariella Nitosławska, who translated exhibition documents, transformed «archive»into «archives», evoking associations with things «enormous, extensive, important»[9]. In fact, however, the archives had no legal identity and were housed in Ryszard Waśko’s private apartment. The work on Construction in Process engaged many individuals, including people who had already worked together in the art and film community. There were members of Warsztat Formy Fimowej: Lechosław Czołnowski, Ryszard Waśko, and Józef Robakowski. Active contributors of the organising committee of Construction in Process included Łodz Film School (PWSFTViT) students and graduates: Jacek Jóźwiak, Andrzej Kamrowski, Violetta Krajewska, Mariella Nitosławska, Tomasz Snopkiewicz, Maria Waśko, and Piotr Zarębski[10]. Interviewed in 2011, they said that the event was «a manifestation of sovereignty of each of us, film artists»(Czołnowski)[11], «living and experiencing freedom in different dimensions»(Jóźwiak)[12].

Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

145


They stressed that «Construction in Process» spurred real change: «Artists who had been clients of the authorities, sponsors, cardinals took their life for a moment in their hands and were able to offer something, make a direct impact on the world»(Snopkiewicz)[13].

ko, that which brought people together was based on emotions, experience and engagement. There was no mention of the political aspect of the event, which seems obvious in hindsight. At that time, the term «politics»and its derivatives were reserved for institutional powers.

Joint work over nearly six months required sacrifices which were not financially rewarded as the exhibition had no budget. «I was in the centre of all this turmoil. Six months away from ordinary life, from working as a cameraman, doing my own thing: it was a sacrifice for the cause. This personal truth is so intense that it’s difficult to translate it into an objective truth, which may not even exist. We saw top-shelf artists, lived with them. We had only known their work from catalogues and stories. They brought with them ideas which we laboriously helped to materialise in that reality»(Snopkiewicz)[14].

The organisers were looking for other things that could unite the community of artists, organisers, workers and the public. It turned out that the common denominator was art understood as a space of opportunity. Agamben’s vision of community was considered in the exhibition and the symposium to be a metaphor describing an unachievable potential; faith that making art can cause real change. The community emerged from a coincidence resulting from the actions of event participants. Collaboration with Western artists, who arrived in Poland without knowing what to expect, actualised the potential present in social networks. The lack of funding for materials and basic logistics like accommodation prompted negotiations with city authorities and Solidarity. These new connections inspired by the organisers of Construction in Process certified the possibility of interinstitutional co-operation.

Ryszard Waśko began to send invitations to artists around six months before the planned opening. He said: «The time for preparation and organisation was very short, only a few months, and we had no money and no venue for the exhibition. But we had something else, something important: the enthusiasm and faith of a small group of people gathered around an idea»[15]. As I have already said, the notion of community does not appear in texts accompanying Construction... According to Ryszard Waś146

Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

What sets Construction in Process apart from other exhibitions is the very process of implementing an exhibition, exposing the mechanisms of production. At present, the economics of art is one of the most debated themes, which by itself does not imply


more transparency of cultural institutions. In case of Construction in Process, it is impossible to circumvent a description of the mechanisms which make art projects possible. Ryszard Waśko approached Solidarity when he found out that some artists wanted to come to Łodz, but he was unable to take care of logistics and funding himself. At a meeting with the board and the workers, he explained the goals of the exhibition, but the initial reaction to his presentation was negative. It was only after other interventions, among others by Jerzy Kropiwnicki, who said that Solidarity should support foreign artists in exchange for their support, that Solidarity’s partnership was unanimously decided. Ryszard Waśko later remembered how he entered the meeting room and saw workers cutting cigarettes and soap to distribute them among all enterprises. He then realised that it would be difficult to convince Solidarity to support Construction in Process: how to explain the value of symbolic support? Eventually, Waśko received a document confirming Solidarity’s support, which enabled him to approach enterprises in Łodz. Under these extraordinary circumstances, the art to be exhibited was not even discussed. What was important was the symbolic support of prominent international artists for Solidarity. The exhibition which presented postconstructivism and minimalism benefited from the visual identity of the biggest post-war social movement.

The city authorities were also co-operative and allowed the organisers to use hotel accommodations for guests of the exhibition. When Piotr Zarębski told Waśko about the empty facilities at PKWiN, the management of the city transport enterprise (MPK), which administered the property, did not object to housing the exhibition. Construction in Process took place in a factory building previously used to repair tramway infrastructure. Apart from comments concerning the aesthetics of industrial space, the context did not impact the reception of the exhibition. The space where workers used to work was turned into a space for making art. The relationship between artists and contractors was aimed to implement the concepts of the artists. David Rabinowitch designed a work to be made from a sewage pipe with holes drilled in it[16]. Several holes were drilled by workers who only had manual drills. Among recollections of the artists who took part in the exhibition, the story which Richard Nonas told The New York Times seems particularly interesting. He needed a long steel bar, which was found in a textile plant. As Nonas recalls, it weighed several tonnes and the artist wanted it to be welded according to his design. Nonas remembers that the supervisor asked workers whether they could stay overtime to do it. The workers agreed and brought the welded pipe one and a half days later. Nonas says that Solidarity paid for the material, but the cutting, welding and transport Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

147


were offered for free[17]. These two situations suggest the huge impact of Solidarity’s support on the success of Construction in Process and indicate the engagement of the workers, who stayed overtime to make works of art. The question is, why? Tomasz Konart argues that the workers who were helping the artists found some value in it, derived from the workers’ ethos and engagement in social affairs, of which Construction in Process was a part. Another artist, Hartmut Boehm, commented: «It was an experiment which cannot be repeated; it happened in a specific historical situation». He also expressed some doubts: «I don’t know whether workers, who were then busy pursuing much more important social goals, should have produced works of art for artists on the side. I think to repeat it would be impossible, pointless and inappropriate. It happened only once. Besides, I don’t know of any significant cases where workers became the executive arm of artists». «I’m ashamed»- said Rune Mields, an artist representing the Women’s Liberation Movement of Cologne, after meeting women workers of the Juliusz Marchlewski Plant. The artists took part in a general strike on 28 October 1981, having realised the scale of poverty in Poland and the lack of political self-determination of the working class». I wanted to talk to them about feminism, encourage their self-realisation […] What did I know about their life?»- wrote Rune Mields.

The plan was to keep most works in Poland after the exhibition closed. «The artists donated them to the revolution»- said Anda Rottenberg[18]. Ryszard Waśko deposited them with Solidarity. As the trade union had no place to store them, it was decided to create a space for contemporary art in the plant, accompanied by a permanent collection of Construction in Process. Agreements with city authorities and Solidarity were to be signed on 14 December, but it never happened. The hall was closed down on 13 December 1981.The works of art were secretly moved from the hall at PKWiN to the Museum of Art at Więckowskiego Street. Museum Director Ryszard Stanisławski agreed to keep them in store. This was illegal because the donor, Solidarity, had been banned in 1981. The agreement between the Museum of Art and the trade union was signed in 2006. When British media reported on martial law, Peter Lowe was certain that he would never see Ryszard Waśko again. Most artists who had taken part in Construction in Process were shocked by what happened shortly after their departure. Some of them decided to engage in work which would tell the story of the community created in Łodz in 1981. Fred Sandback, Peter Downsbrough, Richard Nonas, with the financial support of Sol LeWitt, published a catalogue of Construction in Process, which

148

Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?


contained accounts of participants talking about joint work and support for Solidarity.

combined with ethics and the social, which is possible in the space of criticism, where all interactions of the above can be analysed.

In discussions held during the symposium accompanying the exhibition at the Museum of Art, the effectiveness of making art became an important point of reference[19]. Participants talked about their own practice and theory, but the starting point was the use of making art during Construction in Process as an important social tool. The artists did not give up their autonomy in terms of formal language and content, but the context of the presentation of works and their method of production were attributed a social function. The panel revealed some doubts about whether it is possible to really evaluate the effectiveness of art if it is expected to make a specific impact before action takes place. Questions were raised about ways of differentiating between the effectiveness of art and other powers operating in a project. Paweł Mościcki referred to the ideal of the artist who does not

Jan Sowa warned against uncritical faith in the effectiveness of art practices and attributing the effect of different social mechanisms to making art. He raised the important problem of the language of art which produces mimicry. So understood, the practice of art may cause mutual passivity and demobilisation when one has understood that the topic has already been worked through. Sowa sees a way out in actions focused on structural solutions and actions which uncover the cycle of production. To summarise, as a result of a series of coincidences, Construction in Process became a social event which allowed negotiation between the individual and the collective. The meanings of the exhibition were produced in the course of the installation as artists and organisers came up with proposals, and they derived from participation in non-artistic events. As a result of such action, the phenomenon of the exhibition could be considered both in terms of aesthetics and ethics, subversion and potentiality.

differentiate between reflection and action and incorporates the former into the latter. In addition, the artist should work on the

The white cube found its believers - not only among artists.

community of reception, which could be different from that predominant in social interaction. As a result, aesthetics could be

Aleksandra Jach, born in 1983, art. historian, critic and curator, e.g. Controlled Image, RCA London, 2009, Mamuta, Jerusalem, Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

149


2010; Carpet Cleaning, Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, 2011; Construction in Process 1981 – the community that came?, Museum of Art in Lodz, 2011. Works at Museum of Art in Lodz. Notes 1. «Construction in Process – A Community That Came?»[Konstrukcja w Procesie 1981 – wspólnota, która nadeszła?], exhibition folder, A. Saciuk-Gąsowska, A. Jach, eds., 15 April – 29 May 2011, Museum of Art in Łodz, 2011, p. 23. 2. «The exhibition naturally made me think that it was a pity such presentations were unknown in Poland. I thought it was a shame. On the other hand, I thought that the London exhibition was dead: it was a dry, museum presentation of objects which were lifeless, removed from the context in which they had been made. In other words, the London exhibition skipped the process of making an object […] In my opinion, the absence of the «process»was a weakness. Hence, I made sure that the title of the Łodz exhibition, Construction in Process, highlighted the importance of both these relevant aspects of art of the 1970s, where the word ‘process’ should be understood in a very broad meaning and context», after: «Muzeum Artystów. Międzynarodowa Prowizoryczna Wspólnota Artystyczna Łodz», Komitet Wykonawczy Muzeum Artystów, Muzeum Artystów, (Łodz 1996), p. 6. 3. Ibidem. 4. Ibidem. 5. The text is based on unpublished interviews with Ryszard Waśko, Peter Lowe, Tomasz Konart and Hartmut Boehm. Most of the interviews were made for a film accompanying the exhibition Construction in Process – A Communi-

150

Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

ty That Came? scheduled to premiere in 2012. 6. The exhibition featured 15 artists from the USA, 7 artists from Poland, 6 artists from the UK, 6 artists from Germany, 5 artists from Denmark, 4 artists from Japan, 2 artists from France, 2 artists from Hungary, 1 artist from Australia, 1 artist from Canada, 1 artist from Czechoslovakia, 1 artist from Italy, 1 artist from Yugoslavia. 7. Presentation of Miško Šuvaković at the symposium accompanying the exhibition Construction in Process – A Community That Came?, 28 May 2011, Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, unpublished. 8. «Muzeum Artystów […]», op. cit., p. 15. 9. Ibidem. 10. Three years after Warsztat Formy Filmowej was closed in 1977, its members founded Ruch Odnowy Uczelni, which again focused on the reform of PWSFTViT. Their demands included removing the party secretary from meetings of the School’s Senate and his influence over decisions about the School’s curriculum. 11. «Konstrukcja w Procesie 1981 – wspólnota, która nadeszła?», op. cit., p. 14. 12. Ibidem. 13. Ibidem, p. 15. 14. Ibidem, p. 23. 15. «Muzeum Artystów […]», op. cit., p. 19.


16. David Rabinowitch’s Holed Pipe IV (1967) looks like it is moving closer and farther away from the viewer thanks to the holes drilled in the pipe. It was important for the artist to physically recognise the movement back and forth and to later realise that fact. 17. Grace Glueck, «An Art Blackout in Poland», The New York Times, 24 January 1982, after: Muzeum Artystów […], op. cit., p. 77. 18. A. Rottenberg, «Łódzkie rondo artystyczne», Kultura, 13 December 1981, reprinted in: A. Rottenberg, Przeciąg. Teksty o sztuce lat 80., (Warsaw 2009). 19. This concerns in particular a panel discussion moderated by Tomasz Załuski with the participation of Paweł Kowzan, Paweł Mościcki, Marcin Polak and Jan Sowa.

Aleksandra Jach «Construction in Process»– A Community That Came?

151


Piotr Stasiowski

Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s


When researching the independence-related experience of artists with connections to the Wrocław community of the 1980s, we encounter a methodological impasse disallowing us to outline a single formula for discourse on the art of the time. The eighties of the previous century were actually a blend of post-avant-garde attitudes originating in the 1970s (including the ever-alive legend of Jerzy Ludwiński’s activity), performance work of the anarchy -leaning Orange Alternative [Pomarańczowa Alternatywa], Luxus Group’s appeals for new quality in culture, and the Catholic ideals -determined Ostrów Gallery [Galeria na Ostrowie], through to the series of proclamations and manifestations of individual artists as well as the more or less ephemeral galleries and communities. Despite the artists’ withdrawal from the official world of art, so frequently emphasised by critics of the time, the Wrocław art community proved lively and committed to a variety of forms of activity during the decade. Assorted artistic attitudes were bonded by the conviction of the necessity to retain independence. It was precisely that independence, defined and manifested in a variety of ways and forms and seeking different adversaries, which remained at the foundation of most cultural action, contributing to a long term tradition of perceiving art in this very context. Referring to a variety of artistic events of the eighties in Wrocław, I shall attempt to outline the main trends and attitudes represented by the creative community of the city at the time.

Art Activity Centre and the Facility on the Moat In 1980, Michał Bieganowski, then manager of the Facility on the Moat [Zakład nad Fosą] students’ club, invited Wojciech Stefanik to join the programme team for the place. Albeit Stefanik had managed student galleries (Simlex and the Catacombs [Katakumby]) before, he was eager to pick up on the theme of organising a new space in 1980. He designed his own programme, calling it Art Activity Centre [Ośrodek Działań Plastycznych or ODP], and bringing it to life in 1981 at the Facility on the Moat location in co-operation with its artists. Facility on the Moat was another student club with premises in the basement of the Assistants Dorm of the Wrocław University of Technology, charged with the mission of breathing humanist values into a technology-centred academic community. ODP had a small pool of funds provided by the Wrocław University of Technology for programme and operational purposes. The following artists, among others, showed their work at Art Activity Centre: Alojzy Gryt, Ewa Zarzycka, Jarosław Kozłowski, Hanna Łuczak, Andrzej Dudek-Dürer, and Zbigniew Makarewicz. Wojciech Stefanik also organised numerous performance art and show events there. The gallery’s programme focused on the performance and conceptual activity of artists debuting in the 1960s and 1970s.

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s

153


The Facility on the Moat Week, involving a number of speeches, performances, and documentary shows, was possibly the single most important event co-organised by the Facility and ODP. The festival, organised on April 26 through 29 1984, was a review of neo-avant-garde trends of the mid-eighties, and was one of the last joint performances by the two communities. It was attended by Stanisław Dróżdż, Jerzy Ludwiński, with his «Atypical Deer» [Nietypowe jelenie] lecture, Zbigniew Makarewicz speaking on the «Topography of Art» [Topografia sztuki], and by the performers: Piotr Grzybowski, Władysław Kaźmierczak, Wojciech Stefanik, Andrzej Dudek-Dürer, Artur Tajber, and Barbara Kozłowska et. al.. Film documentaries by the Emotional Compositions Studio [Studio Kompozycji Emocjonalnej (Zbigniew Jeż, Grzegorz Kolasiński, Jerzy Ryba, Wojciech Sztukowski)] were screened alongside works from Waldemar Pertyka’s Warsaw-based gallery Kalypso, and documentaries showing achievements of Facility on the Moat and ODP. The Konger group gave a performance art show on the last day of the festival. The importance of the show and the festival itself is rather complex. A student gallery, ODP enjoyed considerable independence and creative freedom. Concurrently, they did not have to give much thought to the funding of their activities. Notably, performance art disappeared from all state institutions in the 1980s, possibly for reasons of its subversive and unpredictable nature, rather difficult to rein in with censorship. Nonetheless, as dec154

lared by Piotr Grzybowski, the driving force behind Konger, the purpose of performance art was not to contest the system in as much as to absorb its realities and transform them internally. This would be yet another form of the so-called «third path», paved prior to the new expression experience of the 1980s. In 1990, ODP transferred their location to the Impart Art Centre [Centrum Sztuki Impart] to continue their operations until 1999. The Galeria na Ostrowie The Galeria na Ostrowie operated in the basement of St. Martin’s church in the years 1984–1989. It was a structure formally reporting to the Metropolitan Curia as a chapter of the Archdiocese Museum in Wrocław. Jerzy Ryba – critic, animator, and artist – was the Gallery’s programme director. Exhibition activities apart, he focused on documenting events in Wrocław. The Gallery hosted fifty exhibitions and many meetings at the intersection of literature, theatre, and science[1]. The programme included socalled «Theatre Mondays» moderated by Justyna Hoffman nearly every week, «Science Wednesdays» with Adolf Juzwenko as their anchorman, and «Literature Thursdays» co-ordinated by Lothar Herbst. In his «Supplement to the Gallery’s Operations» [Suplement do działalności galerii] mimeographed in 99 copies, Jerzy Ryba li-

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s


sted the following as chief assumptions of the Gallery’s activity: «[…] extreme eclecticism, and continuation of the worst traditions of the Polish Association of Artists and Designers’ exhibitions and galleries, excepting some good work and the Mona Lisa traditions’ continuation». Concurrently, Ryba declared: «Culture is created by the nation rather than by the state». The supplement itself was published as a response to the silence of corrupted critics, and contained i.a. Zbigniew Makarewicz’s essay about Leon Podsiadły. The Gallery’s presentations conformed to these postulates, after a fashion. Shows by artists forming part of the Wrocław community and debuting over the previous two decades apart, assorted exhibitions were organised, such as that displaying Father Jerzy Popiełuszko’s funeral (For Father Jerzy [Księdzu Jerzemu] – January 1985), November Uprising-related documents, and Stanisław Gębczak’s photographic documentary showing the papal pilgrimage to Poland in late May and early June 1986. Every exhibition was followed up with a mimeographed catalogue containing 8 to 16 A5 pages featuring black-and-white reproductions, critical essays, and quotes from artists. Furthermore, Galeria na Ostrowie organised two major collective Way and Truth [Droga i Prawda] reviews, and co-organised two Local Art Exhibitions. The Way and Truth, a National Biennale of

Young Artists, originally planned as a series, was a competition -based event. It took place twice only, in 1985 and 1987, at the Holy Cross church on Ostrów Tumski Island. Artists were preselected, with prizes consisting in an opportunity to organise a laureate exhibition at the Gallery. Symposiums to debate the role of art in society were organised as part of the Gallery’s agenda as well. All these exhibitions contributed to the Ostrów Tumski Island’s new name – the Independent Republic of Art. Moreover, Local Art Exhibitions: Wrocław ’85 and Wrocław ’87 were co-organised by Galeria na Ostrowie, although the actual art was shown at St. Martin’s, as well as throughout the Island’s neighbourhood. These exhibitions involved a mass mobilisation of the art community: every artist made an independent decision with regard to works to be shown, and then helped install them in exhibition space. The first edition comprised approximately 500 works by nearly 200 artists. The second was attended by 150 artists[2], with the exhibition itself transferred the following month to the Divine Mercy church on Żytnia Street in Warsaw. A catalogue was published with comments by a number of artists to commemorate the occasion. To quote Jerzy Ryba: «The time of enthusiasm and easy hope is slowly drawing to a close. The compromise of an average gray day makes the hierarchy of matters and values less distinct. Collective declarations have to be replaced with conscious individual

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s

155


choice. With all its consequences»[3]. These words seem to be apt in reflecting the spirit of the opposition connected, with the Catholic Church in the second half of the 1980s. Luxus From a time perspective, the Wrocław-based activities of Luxus became the stuff of legends, making the group possibly the most important Wrocław phenomenon, its origins rooted in the social and political turbulence of the 1980s. Its activities, representative of the search for the «third path» and a response to other Polish phenomena tying in with new expression, have until this day not been fully described. Piotr Rypson, Anna Mituś and I are currently working on a publication to document its work. Luxus’ artistic accomplishments chiefly involved the creation of so-called «Luxus shows»: fun-inspired meetings of artists and groupies, giving rise to the creation of artzines, drawings, ad hoc installations and decorations, and stencils on assorted materials. Concerts by befriended music groups, such as Mousoleum or Klaus Mitffoch, were a crucial component of «Luxus shows». Another meaningful aspect differentiating Luxus from among other similar groups was that of the position of female artists, immensely democratic and crucial to the formation. Their work and activity was no mere backdrop or inspiration for others (as 156

in the case of Łódź Kaliska, for example), but rather an equally consequential proposition, formerly non-debated in the context of women’s art or of feminism as such. Bożena Grzyb, Ewa Ciepielewska, and (later) Małgorzata Plata truly impacted the nature and activity of the group as its irreplaceable members. Luxus and the Orange Alternative alike originated in the 1981 social and political ferment within the academic and university structures. The suspension of curriculum-based classes at the State University of Art Luxus Group, Right Left Dialogue [Prawica lewica dialog], 1991, courtesy Stanisław Sielicki in Wrocław from December 1981 until February 1982, as part of the so-called Radom Strike, wrought havoc within its structure. High on freedom, on the lack of a schedule of formal classes, and on the absence of any leadership from teaching staff, students took the initiative in various forms of creativity at their alma mater. University corridors were filling up with stencilled prints and installations blending in a variety of media. Musical ensembles, the Miki Mousoleum among others, experimented in the school’s assembly hall. Propaganda leaflets and manifestos were mimeographed by the dozen. This was when a group of friends assembled in Konrad Jarodzki’s painting studio 314, independently producing the first issue of the Luxus artzine. This first issue of Luxus, the founding charter for the group, which was yet to be officially formed, was produced in three copies only;

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s


notably, time-wise it preceded Gruppa’s Oh Alright [Oj dobrze już] and Łódź Kaliska’s Tango. The circulation of subsequent issues never exceeded several to a dozen or so copies. Published on whatever material was available at the time (brown parcel paper and Elzab printer paper included), they included handmade drawings, collages, stencilled prints, brief articles, and assorted forms of art manifestos. Eight issues of the magazine were published by the year 1986 (the ninth and final produced in 1992). The editing team of co -authors changed over time, with core editors including Bożena Grzyb, Ewa Ciepielewska, Jerzy and Andrzej Głuszek, Luxus Group, ‚The City of Luxus [Miasto Luxusu], 1990, «Young Wrocław» [Młody Wrocław], BWA Katowice, Luxus Group’s Archive Piotr Gusta, Paweł Jarodzki, and Jerzy Kosałka. Luxus, the title, reminiscent of Fluxus on the one hand, and to inscriptions on German advertising folders on the other, defined the artzine’s theme to a certain extent. In their iconography, artzine creators referenced motifs typical of western popular culture, such as Mickey Mouse, cinema and music celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, Frank Zappa), and Rastafarian motifs. These were grafted onto local soil, expanded to include soldier, politician, or tank characters, and emphasised absurdities of the Polish People’s Republic socialist realities in parodist couplings. The magazine’s content varied from manifestos and quotations to

song lyrics (such as «The Mechanised Militia on Legnicka Street», «ZOMO na Legnickiej» by Krzysztof «Kaman» Kłosowicz). As of 1984, Luxus made it to galleries and exhibitions. Apart from the trademark aspect of music and intoxicating substance-boosted fun with spectators, the group’s manifestations were unique Luxus Group, ‚The City of Luxus’ [Miasto Luxusu], 1990, «Młody Wrocław» [«Young Wrocław»], BWA Katowice, Luxus Group’s Archive in the design of their exhibitions, specifically produced to match the show. Suffice to mention the 1986 «Luxus Paints the World Panorama» [Luxus maluje panoramę świata] performance at the Leśnica Castle gallery, which involved group members simultaneously painting on panels mounted on the walls of the cellared gallery rooms. Iconography-wise, the evolution served to develop the style declared by artists on the pages of their artzine. One year later, a major installation You Can Be King-Kong Too [I ty możesz zostać King Kongiem] was organised at the Local Centre of Culture of the Cosmonauts housing estate in Wrocław. Luxus Group, ‚The City of Luxus’ [Miasto Luxusu], 1990, «Młody Wrocław [Young Wrocław]», BWA Katowice, Luxus Group’s Archive A scale model of the city was constructed of a variety of available objects[4]. Installations designed with such methods inspired numerous other Luxus shows and exhibitions. A stage I would be inclined to refer to as «heroic» in Luxus’ activity closes with an exhibition held in Wrocław’s then newly opened

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s

157


Municipal Gallery [Galeria Miejska]. Teresa Kukuła, manager of the Gallery until this day, inaugurated its operations in 1991 with an event entitled «Exhibition of Long Shelf Life Confectionery» [Pokaz wyrobów cukierniczych o przedłużonym okresie trwałości]. Subsequent «Luxus shows» lost something of their «guerrilla» nature, albeit the spirit of freedom and contestation became part and parcel of the group’s image. Notably, the group’s activity continued well beyond the 1980s, as Luxus was also vivid in reaction to the transformation of the 1990s. Probably the last non-retrospect Luxus event continuing the «Luxus show» format was organised in Bielsko-Biała in 1997. For purposes of the event the group referenced the tradition and climate of Warhol’s Factory. Orange Alternative The Orange Alternative movement is probably the single most recognisable phenomenon tying in with the social and artistic ferment of the 1980s. Waldemar «Major» Fydrych, the formation’s chief apologist and lead activist, documented events related with the Alternative’s operations in a series of publications in considerable detail[5]. Many photographs and street campaign materials have been preserved as well (e.g. in the Community Life section of the Ossolineum and Regional Library). The seven issues of the Pomarańczowa Alternatywa magazine published by the New 158

Culture Movement [Ruch Nowej Kultury or RNK] are a separate source of movement-related knowledge. The matter of defining the Orange Alternative’s activities in artistic manifestation terms has remained unresolved. The issue was analysed by Agnieszka Szewczyk in her Master of Arts thesis on the Alternative. She writes of the common use of the term «happening» (with no reference to its historical context) to describe the semi-theatrical activities of the Wrocław formation, which at the time was decidedly journalistic and political in nature. Szewczyk points to the hugely fragmented descriptions of the perception of how the Orange Alternative should have been categorised, said descriptions offered by historians, art historians, journalists, artists with theatre connections, and by «Major» himself. Such diversity in references to the movement’s operations has resulted in ambiguous assessment, and in the lack of any clear classification of the formation itself. The origins of the Orange Alternative should be sought as early as in 1980, when «Major» and Andrzej Dziewit joined forces to create New Culture Movement as an alternative to the Independent Students’ Association [Niezależne Zrzeszenie Studentów]. The New Culture Movement focused on pacifist and propaganda activities involving leaflet distribution and organising lectures. In the framework of the student strike in 1981, during the student occupation of the Department of Philosophy, seven issues

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s


of the two-page Pomarańczowa Alternatywa magazine were published, with the editing team comprising «Major», Dziewit, Wiesław Cupała, Zenon Zegarski, and Piotr Adamcio. The table of contents included manifestos, satirical comments and drawings, short stories, and poems[6]. In the aftermath of martial law, the New Culture Movement was delegalised, along with other associations. Under martial law, «Major», Dziewit, Jacek Tarnowski, and Andrzej Kopczyński painted dwarfs on walls which formerly featured obliterated freedom slogans. This was a form of the «art of spots» Fydrych invented and postulated at the Tactical Art Faculty [Katedra Malarstwa Taktycznego] that he set up as part of the artistic Ultra-Academy [Ultraakademia]. In a reference to dialectics, he described the process of painting dwarfs as synthesis preceded with a thesis (the writing on the wall) and antithesis (the white spot remaining after the writing had been painted over). Soon, dwarfs began appearing on walls in other cities: Warsaw, Łodz, Cracow, Katowice, and Świnoujście. 1986 marks the beginning of Orange Alternative’s first street campaigns in Wrocław, involving residents gathering to attend pre-arranged meetings. The immediate neighbourhood of the Market Square and of Świdnicka and Szewska Streets was the location of most events organised by the movement. Several days

before the planned date of an event, information leaflets were distributed and placed at a variety of locations, specifying the date and venue of the event, and containing flowery baroque -style speeches and satirical descriptions justifying the gathering. Campaigns were designed to involve accidental passers-by, although many people arrived at the venue purposely, in hope of manifesting their opinion of the situation in the country. Most were pacified by the militia, who carded participants in the course of events, with movement leaders taken for lengthy questioning sessions to the station at Łąkowa Street. Individual campaigns were organised in the semblance of national celebrations or traditional holidays, such as the Revolution of the Dwarfs [Rewolucja Krasnoludków], Day of the Militia [Dzień Milicjanta], Santa Claus, Children’s Day, Women’s Day, Secret Service Guys’ Day [Dzień Tajniaka], New Year’s Eve, etc. All events involved the use of props with symbolical meaning: participants were given orange caps or hats, special costumes, and banners with satirical slogans. Despite the frequent historical references, such as the October Revolution, event initiators rarely referred to current political developments, preferring social commentary over direct association. A 1989 manifestation entitled «Jaruzelski Has Nowhere to Go» [Jaruzelski nie ma gdzie odejść] in the aftermath of General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s removal from power, was an exception to the rule.

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s

159


The value of major social reaction to Orange Alternative’s activities in Wrocław and other Polish cities from 1989 on is a factor worth emphasising in commenting on the movement’s history. References to current events and the publicist approach to the Alternative’s manifestations, courageous and humorous, markedly different from the lustreless reality of everyday life, attracted everyone and anyone seeking an alternative to those officially in government, and to the opposition, the latter ever more deeply immersed in internal disputes. While not strictly political in manifestation, Orange Alternative’s activities carried the potential of a social and political commentary, ridiculing the many paradoxes of the period. In essence, the Alternative had a political dimension to it in light of Chantal Mouffe’s theory of politics, as it questioned positions of the contemporary government and opposition alike. This is how the historical value of the formation ought to be perceived. Gallery-Not-Gallery, the «Term Gallery is Inappropriate», the Xuxem Magazine

wiednie], its fans began referring to it as Gallery-Not-Gallery [Galeria nie Galeria] or GnG for short. Jacek Alexander Sikora and Elżbieta Dyda were its leaders. Other GnG co-operating artists included Jacek Czapczyński and the loosely affiliated Krzysztof Skarbek. Moreover, GnG kept in touch with Totart. Apart from a number of manifestations and stencils regularly placed at a variety of venues in town, GnG’s activity was based on numerous manifestos and theories on culture and art. According to a fundamental GnG assumption, art involved «stratification of the concept of reality, its generalisation towards multiplication rather than towards the specific»[7]. GnG introduced the term «supra-art» as an alternative to regular perception of art. Supra-art is art tied in with life and identifiable with it, while comprehended individually, becoming a manifestation of the ego[8]. There are three types of activities generated or moderated by GnG: of sight, of touch, and of sound, with specific actions cate-

This is possibly the single least-known artistic movement associated with the contestational nature of the Wrocław art of the 1980s, while also the most well-advanced in terms of proliferating post-conceptual, post-artistic, and basically post-modernistic artistic concepts. Albeit the movement’s official name was the «Term Gallery is Inappropriate» [Pojęcie Galeria jest nieodpo160

gorised as appropriate. Activities of sight, the so-called «warons», were defined for purposes of the «Meta-Painting» [Metamalarstwo] exhibition organised in 1987 at an abandoned post-industrial site at 24, Kiełbaśnicza Street. The exhibition chiefly involved manifestos describing authors and the condition of pa-

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s


inting as a form of art placed on large panels covered with handwritten inscriptions.

hung with drapes which rubbed against the participants’ bodies. Dyda touched them in the dark, and they were given massages with electric devices.

The following declaration was one such manifesto: «Let us finally begin creating life – all its components. Let us reject the fictitious objectives of classical painting; they are fictitious in that they divert attention from the real task co-existing in an objective-focused dimension: the ORGANISATION OF VISUALITY in all its manifestations. We admit that until today, the visuality of certain life-originating content has been organised to some extent; yet the depth of visuality of all other dimensions lies within. Thus, acting in reality itself – xuxalising the world as a correlate of one’s own nature – such is art’s fundamentally important contemporary objective»[9]. This was possibly when the term «xuxalisation» was used for the first time in association with the term «xuxem», which later became the name of the GnG-published magazine[10]. The purpose of «Darons», a 1987 haptic event organised at the Indeks university students club at Szewska Street, was to influence participants with a variety of touch-related sensations. Spectators were requested to remove their footwear, and listened to

The 1989 «Letter-A-Ctions» [Liter-a-kcje] was another GnG event. Invited artists showed their combined image-and-literature works at a number of venues: ACK Pałacyk, Entropia, Indeks, and the EMPiK Club. Three issues of the Xuxem magazine were published. The first (1989) was printed in one thousand copies at the Solidarity trade union’s printing house. The second was published in 1992; the third and last in 1994. The two latter issues were offset printed in large format, on glossy paper. The second issue contained i.a. an interview with Jean Baudrillard, and Georges Bataille’s «The Sorcerer’s Apprentice». The third issue, published in the aftermath of the close of GnG activities (GnG’s final event involved an exhibition at St. Vincent’s church at Nankiera Square in Wrocław in 1992), was decidedly decadent in style, and focused on the proliferation of Sikora’s theory of hybridism. This was the fullest post-modernistic manifestation of the formation’s trends. Hybridism was to be a subsequent stage in the group’s work, but the formation terminated its joint activities upon producing the third issue of «Xuxem».

an explanation of the event’s concept. Then they were taken one by one to the club’s darkened cellar rooms. Floors were lined with jelly-and-mud-covered plastic sheets. The entire space was

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s

161


And Others... As mentioned in my introduction to the paper, such attempt at overall description goes beyond the ability to recognise all the interesting phenomena in the scope of Wrocław’s visual culture of the 1980s, even were we to decide to focus on gestures which are accesses to differently perceived independence or subversion. Artists who debuted in the latter half of the decade and joined events of the period with liveliness and enormous gusto would definitely deserve a separate description, suffice to mention Krzysztof Skarbek, Zdzisław Nitka, Lech Twardowski, or Eugeniusz Minciel. Their expressive creativity in painting is of tremendous importance to the context of specifying the spirit of that brief yet intense era. All have elaborated a hugely individual form of artistic expression, thus becoming participants of their contemporary artistic life while remaining to some extent outsiders to the circumstances encountered. Within the configuration I attempted to briefly outline, Wrocław’s situation seems immensely complex. A single decade witnessed at least two generations of artists distinctly differing in their perception of the role and importance of art. Given the overall circumstances, the fact that they had been able to co-operate, or at least were willing to work towards a consensus, should be perceived as a nationally unique phenomenon. A closer glance at individual manifestations, groups, and activities reveals a con162

siderable exchange and fluctuation of ideas, all of which carry independence as their fundamental assumption. Piotr Stasiowski, born in 1980, critic and curator, a graduate in art history from Wrocław University (2005) and the Postgraduate Curator Studies at the Jagiellonian University (2006). In the years 2006-2012 works at BWA Wrocław as head of the BWA Studio. Since 2012 - Wrocław Contemporary Museum. Notes 1. Information quoted from: R. Łubowicz, «Ostrów Tumski – wyspa ‘Niezależnej Republiki Plastycznej’» in: «Niepokora. Artyści i naukowcy dla Solidarności 1980–1990», ed. S. Figlarowicz, K. Goc, G. Goszczyńska, A. Makowska, A. Szynwelska, słowo/obraz terytoria, (Gdańsk 2006) 2.Of the many participants of these exhibitions, the following are particularly noteworthy: Maciej Albrzykowski, Jan Jaromir Aleksiun and Mira Żelechower -Aleksiun, Piotr Błażejewski, Krystyna Cybińska, Paweł Dryl, Eugeniusz Get -Stankiewicz, Zofia Godlewska, Alojzy Gryt, Józef Hałas, Marcin Harlander, Bogdan and Jadwiga Hofman, Andrzej Jarodzki, Krystyna and Stanisław Kortyka, Barbara Kozłowska, Andrzej Lachowicz and Natalia LL, Zbigniew Makarewicz, Eugeniusz Minciel, Anna Szpakowska-Kujawska, Urszula Wilk, and Mieczysław Zdanowicz. 3. «Okręgowa Wystawa Plastyki ‘Wrocław’«, 1988, exhibition category. 4. This installation by Paweł Jarodzki was described by Wojciech Bockenheim: «The exhibition took on the form of a city considerably large in size, knee-high, made of cardboard and assorted garbage. It resembled a contemporary

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s


Polish city – a pile of junk and dirt, all its peculiarity preserved. We collected many absurd objects to use in this. For example, I spent five hundred zlotys on two toy cars that fit the hand perfectly, ‘Militia’ and ‘Ambulance’ vehicles made of thick steel sheets. If a child got hold of one, it could have killed a buddy without major effort […] And Marek [Marek Czechowski – comment by P.S.] bought a bottle shaped like the Virgin Mary, capped with Mary’s crown. The bottle was originally intended to hold holy water, but you could easily fill it with something else, such as tea... and we put the bottle in a church made of cardboard boxes».

to whatever we choose to assign to it in a free act of creation. […] XUXEM derives from XUXALISATON; XUXALISATON is the creative process we discovered, consisting in the conscious and voluntary creation/ within oneself and the structures of one’s personality/ of a non-concretist image of the world, non-concretist, that is offering numerous mutually supplementary and complementary possibilities (truth = whole). XUXALISATION is a way to absorb the non-absorbent, to become indescribable. […] THE XUXEM IS AN EXPERIMENTAL FIELD FOR TESTING COMMUNICATION AND OMNIPOTENCE METHODS». Xuxem No. 1/1989.

5. M.in. «Hokus Pokus czyli Pomarańczowa Alternatywa» (first edition: 1989), «Żywoty Mężów Pomarańczowych» (2001) and the extensively photograph-illustrated album entitled «Pomarańczowa Alternatywa. Rewolucja krasnoludków» (2008). 6. One issue contained the following memo: «On the afternoon of November 25th 1981, in a session attended by a single student of the State University of Arts in Wrocław, the first Alternative Committee (AC) was formed. At the same session, the Federation of Alternative Committees (FAC) was formed, with Marek Puchała unanimously elected chairman by himself. Thus, he became Officer of the Federation of Alternative Committees (FAC OF)«. Puchała tags appeared on University walls and at other locations. 7. From a conversation with J.A. Sikora, February 23rd 2010. 8. «Supra-art (cult-art) as a syndrome of numerous and entirely individualised ‘techniques’/activity systems/ defining one’s own cultural niches/ systems of values and opinions, etc./ based on the fabric of reality interpreted/ as an area of action characteristic to supra-art». «Xuxem» No. 1/1989, p. 17. 9. From the photographic archives owned by J.A. Sikora. 10. «XUXEM is a word/ free of association/ a word limited in content/ sense/

Piotr Stasiowski Independence Experience of the Wrocław Community in the 1980s

163


Dominik Kuryłek

«Tumult» in the 1980s


The independent social and cultural magazine Tumult was founded in Kraków in 1988. The founders and editors of the magazine were Bogdan Klich, Bogdan Wojnar, and Cezary Michalski, who were referred to as «Tumult representatives» in the first issues of the magazine. In its original form, Tumult was published until the end of 1989, i.e., until the sixth issue. The next issue was published in early 1990 under an abridged title. In this text I am mainly interested in the Tumult published in the 1980s as an «independent social and cultural magazine» (issu-

Moreover, Bogdan Klich, a founder and editor of Tumult, was an active member of the movement Freedom and Peace [Wolność i Pokój, WiP]. WiP was founded in 1985. It brought together young people, hippies, anarchists, pacifists as well as conservatives, who were critical of the government. Like other opposition activists, WiP members published magazines and stood up for persecuted individuals. They differed, however, from the Solidarity opposition in that they were sceptical about the idea of compromise with the government of the People’s Republic of Poland, which paved the way to the Round Table talks.

es no. 1 to 6) as part of the underground independent press in Poland. The history of Tumult is intertwined with the student opposition movement, which grew very dynamically in Kraków after the killing of Stanisław Pyjas by SB (Security Service) on 7 May 1977. This is when the Solidarity Student Committee «Tumult», nr 1, 1988 okładka [Studencki Komitet Solidarność, SKS] was founded; three years later, it became part of the Independent Students’ Union [Niezależne Zrzeszenie Studentów, NZS, founded on 18-19 October 1980]. In 1988, when Tumult was launched, NZS was already in operation. After the experience of martial law, the Union became one of the most active underground organisations[1].

WiP members disagreed with the opposition movement’s strategy of waiting. Frustrated with waiting, they wanted new, overt, and determined methods of opposing the state run by the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR). They created their own opposition organisation and invented uncompromising and original methods of opposing the government, such as conscientious objection, environmental protests[2], opposing discrimination against national minorities, and litigation against officials. The main WiP activists in Kraków were Jan Maria Rokita, Radosław Huget, and Bogdan Klich. Compared to other movements in Poland, WiP in Kraków was rather conservative, as demonstrated by the reference to John Paul II in the founding declaration penned by Rokita[3]. Anna Smółka notes that «Kraków was ideologically strictly right-wing» but «divided into two groups[:] Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

165


‘pragmatists’ grouped around Rokita and ‘protesters’ affiliated with Huget»[4]. The two fractions initially worked together. They eventually split up in 1988, mainly due to different views on the work of the opposition which was aiming to initiate the Round Table talks. As with other opposition groups, publication of underground magazines was an important part of the activity of WiP. Initially, WiP was Poland’s first distributor of the Amnesty International Newsletter. Its own publications soon followed. In 1987 – 1988, WiP published WiP. Pismo Ruchu Wolność i Pokój in Wrocław, Serwis Informacyjny Ruchu WiP in Warsaw, and A Capella in Gdańsk. In Kraków, Bogdan Klich edited two issues of the magazine Wolność i Pokój (May and June 1987), dedicated in full to international politics and disarmament. Once WiP’s momentum slowed down, and the strategy of the Solidarity opposition produced tangible results, Bogdan Klich left WiP and started publishing the magazine Tumult. The social and cultural magazine Tumult was published alongside other independent cultural magazines, such as Arka in Kraków and Kultura Niezależna, which had national coverage. It was launched soon after the legendary magazine bruLion, published in Kraków.

166

Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

«Arka» was the leading underground cultural magazine in Kraków. The magazine was published irregularly from June 1983 with the subtitle: Free magazine. Essays, criticism, literature, other forms. It survived as an unofficial publication until 1989, with over 2 thousand copies printed. Mainly distributed in Kraków, its regular contributors included Tadeusz Nyczek, Jan Polkowski (Editor in Chief), Maria de Hernandez-Paluch, Lesław Maleszka, Bronisław Maj, Bogusław Sonik, Ryszard Terlecki, Ryszard Legutko, Łukasz Plesnar, Piotr Pieńkowski, and Andrzej Nowak[5]. Arka focused on the recent history of Poland, as well as on emigration. The magazine was edited by conservatives, which left its mark, though a declaration in the first issue promised a plurality of views[6]. Arka published similar content to other underground magazines: reports of persecutions, illegal activities of the government and initiatives of the opposition, essays on recent history and analyses of the social and economic situation in Poland, discussions on the agenda of the opposition, literary works banned by censorship, including poems, short stories, criticism, and translations. Underground cultural magazines included Kultura Niezależna, founded on the initiative of the Solidarity Independent Culture Committee [Komitet Kultury Niezależnej]. The magazine had national coverage, with a circulation of around 3 thousand copies, as a regular monthly from March 1983 to May 1991. Kultura Niezależna was one of the leading underground cultural magazines. The board of editors included writers, critics and essayists: Marta


Fik, Andrzej Osęka, Jan Walc, Janusz Sławiński, Zyta Oryszyn, and Andrzej Kaczyński. Kultura Niezależna contributors included Tomasz Łubieński, Jacek Trznadel, Michał Głowiński, Roman Zimand, Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz, Andrzej Kijowski, Barbara Skarga, Jacek Bocheński, Janusz Jankowiak, and Andrzej Jarecki. Kultura Niezależna published poems, fiction, reviews, literary and historical essays, interviews, as well as communiqués of the Independent Culture Committee and reports on annual Solidarity Cultural Awards[7]. When Tumult was launched in Kraków, the magazine bruLion, edited by Robert Tekieli, had been in circulation for over a year. bruLion was in underground distribution in 1987-1990. Its editors included Jarosław Baran, Wojciech Bockenheim, Krzysztof Koehler, and Adam Michajłów. Its regular contributors included Manuela Gretkowska, Katarzyna Krakowiak, Monika Krutel, Cezary Michalski, Olga Okoniewska, Mirosław Spychalski, and Krzysztof Winnicki.bruLion published poems, fiction, plays, reviews and interviews, and news about arts and publications. Awards were given to the best magazine and the best graffiti[8]. In the 1980s, bruLion was rather similar to other underground magazines. It reported on issues, problems, and names common to all of the independent press. The first issues published texts on authors discussed by the opposition. There were publications on Jan Polkowski, an interview with Wiktor Woroszylski, and

translations of foreign writers such as Milan Kundera, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Reiner Kunze. From the very beginning, bruLion took a critical stance on official and opposition culture and showed interest in phenomena marginal to both of these «mainstream» cultures. bruLion turned to alternative culture, broke social, political and cultural taboos, and showed interest in new literature. These trends specific to the Kraków magazine became even more prominent with time. The first issue of bruLion published among others a critical review of poems by Ernest Bryll, who was accused of consolidating the «altar boy ethos of anniversaries»[9]. The second issue contained an article by Mirosław Spychalski entitled «The Pope, Smektała and the Just» [Papież, Smektała i sprawiedliwi], which exposed the irritating propensity of opposition intellectuals to take the moral high ground[10]. A discussion of the Holocaust between Marek Tabor (Cezary Michalski) and Professor Jan Błoński in the fourth issue of bruLion had a similar tenor [11]. bruLion published texts of young authors, many of them debuts, which was unique among independent magazines of the time. These contributors included Marcin Baran, Krzysztof Koehler, Marcin Sendecki, as well as Marcin Świetlicki, who published in bruLion in 1990[12]. bruLion introduced alternative culture to underground magaziDominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

167


nes. The first issue presented «The Graffiti of the Year: Shoot Or Emigrate» [Napis roku: Strzelaj albo emigruj] [13]. Subsequent issues carried a special column devoted to alternative culture entitled «Garage» [Garaż]. The fourth issue of bruLion published the lyrics of the T.Love Alternative song «Nasza tradycja» (Our Tradition)[14] and the seventh/eight issue featured Paweł Kasprzak’s article about the Orange Alternative entitled «Wszyscy jesteśmy pomarańczowi [We’re All Orange][15]. Similar to bruLion, Tumult was critical of so-called independent culture, but took a more conservative stance. Clearly, a magazine edited together by Bogdan Klich and Cezary Michalski could not fail to become interesting. «Tumult», nr 2, 1988 okładka The content published by Tumult was initially no different from other underground magazines. However, similar to Robert Tekieli’s bruLion, the early issues ofTumult already revealed its specific slant. Perhaps most striking was the critical reflection on the apathy of the Polish independent press offered by the Editor in Chief in an article entitled «Essays Ill At Ease» [Publicystyka na cenzurowanym]. Bogdan Klich wrote that the independent press is «immutable» as it tends to repeat the same topics and draw the same conclusions, and its authors are guilty of incompetence, sentimentality or futurology. According to Klich, reading the independent press, «[it] would seem that nothing important is going on except for the mandatory topics. And yet that’s not the case, it’s 168

Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

just that the editors fail to note the diversity of social and artistic events, as if they left them to the official press». Klich pointed out the burn-out effect of the independent press, which «has stopped at a certain stage and is unable to address the expectations which today are greater than in years before»[16]. Such an image of the press became a negative point of reference for the authors. The editors of the magazine wanted not only to react to current political and cultural events, but also to actively participate in them and to create them. «Tumult», nr 5, 1989 okładka Klich’s article, published in the column «Clashes» [Spięcia], demonstrates the will to open a constructive dialogue on the state of the art of cultural institutions in Poland, including magazines. It suggests a need for effective tools for creating culture and a need for independent cultural institutions, described by Klich in the fifth issue of Tumult in the article entitled «Whatever Happened to Independent Culture» [Co się stało z kulturą niezależną] [17]. Klich outlined the problems of independent culture which result from its relations with «independent – opposition politics». It was probably thanks to an understanding of this close relation that the «social and cultural» magazine Tumult published articles describing and analysing current political events in Poland and around the world (the column «Events» [Wydarzenia], which was


renamed «From the Local and International perspective» [W perspektywie kraju i świata] from the third issue on) alongside texts about literature (column «Literary Review» [Przegląd literacki]) and – which was unique to Tumult – publications on visual arts (column «In the World of Arts» [W kręgu sztuki]). The column «Events» featured essays by Bogdan Klich, Maciej Szumowski and Dawid Warszawski about negotiations between the Solidarity opposition and the government of the People’s Republic of Poland, the Round Table talks, and the elections in June 1989. It presented historical essays about the recent history of Poland and other socialist countries, articles about Polish xenophobia, the situation of the Ukrainian minority in Poland, and the attitudes of the Polish minority in Lithuania to the local national revival. It also included reports on Gorbachev’s perestroika in the USSR, interviews with editors of foreign independent magazines, articles about the current problems of the democratic opposition in other socialist countries, and the activity of unionists in the West. The column «Events» suggested that the crucial time of systemic transition requires not only debates on politics, but also critical reflection on the opinions and mind-set of Poles. This perspective was present in essays published in several issues of the magazine.

The column «Literary Review» featured fiction by Leo Lipski, Jan Józef Szczepański, Czesław Miłosz, and Milan Kundera, as well as – similar to bruLion – poems of authors of the young generation, including Lech Sadowski, Wojciech Wilczyk, and Marcin Świetlicki, and foreign poets who inspired both the older and the younger generation of Polish authors, including Saint-John Perse and John Robinson Jeffers. The literary preferences of the editors of Tumult were close to the canon of the underground press, but the editors strived to make the canon more inclusive. Classics were presented from a more critical angle. Texts of younger authors differed from the genre of «veteran verse» published in other independent journals. Similar to bruLion, though less directly and less radically, Tumult was critical of the prevailing model of independent culture. However, Tumult did not lean towards alternative culture, made no reference to the young music scene, and organised no competition for the best graffiti. The quarterly magazine from Kraków was attractive in a rather different way. What set Tumult apart was the column «In the World of Arts» [W kręgu sztuki], which featured theatre and film reviews, as well as texts on visual arts. The third issue included probably the only colour insert ever published in an underground magazine entitled Tumult Gallery [Galeria Tumultu], in which Bogdan Klich introduDominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

169


ced a series of paintings by Jarosław Kawiorski Balkony [Balconies] [18]. The column «In the World of Arts» also featured texts about current art events written by Łukasz Guzek, Krzysztof Klimek, Dorota Jarecka, Maryla Sitkowska, Maria Anna Potocka, and Anda Rottenberg. There were interesting texts by Piotr Krakowski and interviews with Professor Mieczysław Porębski. The column critically analysed the specificity of Polish culture and presented potential further directions of artistic work in the context of the new political and social situation. For example, Andrzej Sawicki in the article «New Criticism?» [Krytyka nowa?] presented a critical analysis of exhibitions related to the independent circuit of culture[19]. In Sawicki’s opinion, by approaching politics, art criticism destabilised the existing institutionalised public circulation of art, but the trend could not last much longer. According to Sawicki, the change was evident in exhibitions created by critics (who now would probably be called «curators») including Jerzy Bogucki’s Sign of the Cross [Znak Krzyża] and Apocalypse: A Light in the Dark [Apokalipsa – światło w ciemności], and Marek Rostworowski’s Romanticism and Being Romantic [Romantyzm i romantyczność] and Self-portrait of Poles [Polaków portret własny], as well as the Biennale of the Young in Wrocław. For Sawicki, art presented in those exhibitions, mainly nationalist art detached from the individual existence of 170

Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

the artist, was a temporary phenomenon. The text encouraged reflection on the profile of future exhibitions to be prepared by critics and artists, and the expected turn in criticism and art once the nationalist aesthetic of liberation and martyrdom was no longer in demand. In the third issue of Tumult, Łukasz Guzek published an article entitled «How to Look at Contemporary Art» [Jak oglądać sztukę współczesną], opening a debate on the situation and profile of art in the time of transition[20]. Guzek seemed to agree with those who said that art was in crisis, and wrote that crisis was a sign of the times, reflected in contemporary art. Guzek referred to the systemic meaning of reality and argued that «Art is a specific pluralist system without dominance or subordination, whose individual parts concern different partial aspects which are interconnected within an organic whole without precedence of any single part. They all exist within an overall system, hence each part comprises all other parts». According to Guzek, «[c]ontemporary art should not be considered to be subordinated to any single concept; rather, it is an organism, a system, in which even contradictory opinions co-exist». Guzek’s conclusion is that a systemic perspective on reality creates freedom, as it is a condition of the materialisation of human potential and enables self-fulfilment. Guzek referred to the contemporary political situation in Poland and its clear tendency to


develop a system which would allow the existence of different positions, ideas, opinions, expressions of different problems and aspirations. Guzek’s stance was very open-minded. For him, art was a space of free thinking without any influence from the outside and beyond reductive orders of thinking. His article can be read as a manifesto of open art. Guzek identified the potential of art and introduced it as a space which cannot be clearly defined but which can accommodate all positions, where the imagination of the artist is the only limit. Bogdan Klich was definitely most critical of the relationship between art and politics. In his text «What Happened to Independent Culture» [Co się stało z kulturą niezależną], he attributed the shortcomings of Polish culture of the past 50 years to the «subordination of culture to politics», which he saw as a patron of the2 artsv. In his article, Klich understands politics to mean both the official politics of the Polish government and the activity of the democratic opposition. Klich pointed to the danger resulting from relations between culture and both the official government and the civic movement, with which the culture was in symbiosis, even in the 1970s. Klich wrote that at that time, culture and politics «[m]ingled so much that any cultural event was also a political gesture, for instance the underground publication of Andrzejewski’s ‘Miazga’, and any political move expanded the space of culture». For Klich, the best example of fruitful combination of culture and

politics were the writings and the activity of Adam Michnik, who Klich says tried to prove that «literature is not a dead letter, remote, accessible only to the elect». According to Klich: «There was an awakening in culture and politics in the 1970s». Klich believes that «anything could have happened back then» because «everything was still open and undefined». It was possible to «[e]xpand the space of culture and politics for their own sake rather than for the sake of any ideology». Klich also argues that before August 1980, «independent culture had no patron on either side of the barricade. Without a ‘supreme doctrine’, culture was good; good means fresh, rich, diverse and expansive, raising relevant issues of its times». Klich went as far as to claim that it may have been the only time when culture was genuinely independent. For Klich, culture became impotent at the time of martial law. Initially, culture decided to wait and not interfere with politics, which eventually could speak in a strong voice. Culture voluntarily yielded to the political game and made up for its own passivity by distributing the legacy of cultural production from before August 1980. Klich argued that independent culture was wrong not to establish sufficient strongholds, probably understood as strong institutions. After 13 December 1981, culture gave shelter to politics, and consequently «[i]t was obliged to advocate the truth and defend civilisation and its values against the barbarians, even against its Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

171


own interests. With its own specific means, it was supposed to take part in the struggle, naturally taking the side of the endangered values». According to Klich, it was the «agenda of a beleaguered culture […] serious and stern […] there was no room for lightness, wit, charm, the provocations which transport the viewer into a different reality». For Klich, it was like a corset «which many artists and writers have put on voluntarily. It’s oppressive, it restricts every move, but it gives a sense of belonging to a community. […] The simpler and more stereotypical was their language, the more likely were the protected values to really survive […] the years of martial law made the arts virtuous […] Suddenly, there was a need for semantic art with an extensive literary or philosophical agenda. This need was addressed both by Catholic painting and by the ‘savages’, despite all their resistance to the patriotic and religious pathos and their love for sarcasm, provocation, and pastiche. Even the conceptualist and minimalist avant garde accepted that need in its purely formal experiments. The artefact now referred to a non-artistic reality and started to talk […] in this sense, art became righteous, visual arts were permeated by ethics, quite often leading to unbearable moralising. [The Church as a patron] [g]ave to culture the same kind of shelter that culture had given to politics. […] The formation affiliated with the Church missed its cue to say no to the protection of the cassock and restore its independence according to the model which had existed a decade earlier».

172

Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

In conclusion, Klich asked whether things could have been any different during martial law. His answer: «Certainly not, certainly it had to happen that way because only this model of one-dimensional, concentrated culture had a chance to survive. The real problem began when the threat diminished but culture remained dormant. This situation has continued for around three years, ever since Minister Krawczuk’s symbolic declaration promising to end the persecution of independent publishers and since the publication of Gombrowicz’s works by Wydawnictwo Literackie. Culture has missed this chance, the drawers in which earlier writing was supposed to be locked up turned out to be empty, and culture has since been lethargic and, what’s even worse, self-complacent». Klich’s text can be read as the peak of a critical perspective on Polish culture in the late 1980s. Together with other articles published in Tumult, it is both a despondent diagnosis of the status quo and an inspiration for active, creative and organisational efforts in the arts. Klich and other contributors of Tumult understood the need to change the status quo. However, their solution was not to separate art from social life but to make it an active participant. The idea was to strengthen the impact of art by means of the institutionalisation of artistic activities and by possibly the biggest expansion of artistic freedom, which could also expand the space of freedom outside of the arts.


The criticism of Tumult was addressed to a broad range of independent culture. However, instead of blanket criticism, it was an invitation to dialogue. Dialogue was one of the most popular notions in public discourse at that time, but it was not always applied in practice. The criticism represented by Tumult pointed to solutions, such as creating artistically valuable forms of influencing reality in parallel to politics. It is, therefore, not surprising that the next issue of Tumult featured Maria Anna Potocka’s article «Muzeum artystów (Museum of Artists)»[22]. It was the first public declaration of the artist, who at that time managed an art gallery at the Desa pavilion in Kraków, announcing the creation of a Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków. The impact of this perspective, which focused on the institutionalisation of cultural activities, is exemplified by the history of Tumult itself. After 1989, it was transformed into an art magazine. The organisation developed by the first board of editors was taken over by editors interested exclusively in art. From its eighth issue on, the magazine was edited by Maria Anna Potocka, Stanisław Cichowicz, Łukasz Guzek, and Marcin Krzyżanowski. The columns were eliminated. The consolidated publication was dominated by texts about contemporary art. The new magazine offered no political essays or interdisciplinary perspective. Tumult focused on the production of visual arts. There is nothing wrong

with that, especially considering that there were few art magazines in the early 1990s, and that there was a great need for an art journal. And yet, with its new profile, Tumult only reached a small audience. Tumult illustrates the period of systemic transition in Poland, which climaxed with the election of June 1989. The very title of the magazine, as well as the history of contributors and featured texts, bear witness to the systemic, axiological, and social turmoil of the period: the «tumult» in which different political, social, and artistic perspectives collided, producing a huge potential, of which the editors were probably well aware. Dominik Kuryłek, born in 1979, an art historian and critic, editor, since 2003 has been collaborating with Ewa Małgorzata Tatar. They curated a number of exhibitions, among others Guide Project (2005-2007) and Cafe Bar by Paulina Ołowska (2011) at the National Museum in Krakow, On the Volcano. Krzysztof Niemczyk (2010) at the Lipowa 11 Gallery in Lublin, Now is Now (2012) at the Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdańsk. They published «A Short History of Grupa Ladnie» (2008, with Magdalena Drągowska). Notes 1. For instance, NZS supported workers’ protests at the Lenin Steelworks in Kraków on 26 April 1988.

Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

173


2. Mainly protests against the nuclear power plant project at Żarnowiec initiated in 1986, the time of the Chernobyl disaster. 3. «We, the undersigned, inspired in particular by the peace addresses of Pope John Paul II, resolve to found the ‘Freedom and Peace’ Movement in Kraków today.» Cf. «Founding Declaration of the ‘Freedom and Peace’ Movement» [Deklaracja Założycielska Ruchu «Wolność i Pokój»], Kraków, 15 April1985, http://www.ruchwip.org/index.pl?pid=64.

13. «Nagrody», bruLion No. 1/1987, p. 127. 14.T. Love Alternative, «Nasza tradycja», bruLion No. 4/1987, p. 90. 15. P. Kasprzak, «Wszyscy jesteśmy pomarańczowi», bruLion No. 7/1988, pp. 75-79. 16. B. Klich, «Publicystyka na cenzurowanym», Tumult No. 2/1988, pp. 17-20.

4. A. Smółka, «Między wolnością a pokojem», http://www.ruchwip.org/index. pl?pid=75. 5. Cf. E. Zając, Arka, http://www.encyklopedia-solidarnosci.pl/wiki/index.php?title=R00207_ Arka_Krak%C3%B3w.

17. B. Klich, «Co się stało z kulturą niezależną», Tumult No. 5/1989, p. 20-24. 18. B. Klich, «Galeria Tumultu. Balkony Jarka» (dodatek ulotny) Tumult No. 3/1989. 19. A. Sawicki, «Krytyka nowa?», Tumult No. 4/1989, pp. 49-51.

6. Arka No. 1/1983, p. 2. 7. K. Boruń-Jagodzińska, Kultura Niezależna, http://www.encyklopedia-solidarnosci.pl/wiki/index.php?title=R00147_Kultura_Niezale%C5%BCna_Warszawa. 8. Cf. P. Goleń, bruLion, http://www.encyklopedia-solidarnosci.pl/wiki/index.php?title=R00661_ Brulion_Krak%C3%B3w. 9. era, «Mały ześlizg», bruLion No. 1/1987, p. 117. 10. M. Spychalski, «Papież, Smektała i sprawiedliwi», ibidem, pp. 140-142. 11. M. Tabor, «Strzelaj albo emigruj», bruLion No. 4/1987, pp. 98-100. 12. M. Świetlicki, «Wiersze», bruLion No 14?15/1990, pp. 6-8.

174

Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

20. Ł. Guzek, «Jak oglądać sztukę współczesną»,Tumult No. 3/1989, pp. 2223 (following quotes from the same article). 21.B. Klich, «Co się stało z kulturą niezależną», Tumult No. 5/1989, pp. 20-24 (following quotes from the same article). 22. M.A. Potocka, «Muzeum artystów», Tumult No. 6/1989, pp. 61-63.


Dominik Kuryłek «Tumult» in the 1980s

175


Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar

«Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk


Granary Island [Wyspa Spichrzów], a space in the centre of Gdansk where there is nothing but ruins of granaries and shrubbery, was unofficially opened as exhibition space in May 1987. The downtown area on the Motława river attracted artists who had for several years been looking for a space in which to create art. Before that happened, Grzegorz Klaman and Kazimierz Kowalczyk, still students, performed art actions in Gdansk as part of Rotating Gallery [Galeria Rotacyjna]. This place without a fixed location, which was always on the move and attached only to the personalities of artists, hosted ephemeral land art actions at the Gdansk Fort (Kowalczyk’s 1986 monumental drawings made from planks placed on the snow and the ground) [1], Kazimierz Kowalczyk, drawing on the snow, on the frozen Motława River (Klaman’s Linia ognia composed of wooden pellets set on fire on the frozen river, March 1986)[2], and the Pińczów quarry where student sculpture workshops were held by the Gdansk Academy of Art (G. Klaman, Necropolis [Nekropolis] and Sunk Shelter [Zatopiony schron], 1985; K. Kowalczyk, Drawings on the Ground [Rysunki na ziemi], 1985)[3]. Rotating Gallery organised an exhibition in the underground spaces of Kazimierz Kowalczyk, drawing on the ground, the student dormitory at Chlebnicka St. In 1986, Grzegorz Klaman organised a one-time exposition of his sculptures and drawings (Underground, 1986). Rotating Gallery patronised an exhibition of works by

Grzegorz Klaman, Ryszard Ziarkiewicz and Jacek Staszewski in Granary Island barracks[4], as well as Grzegorz Klaman and Kazimierz Kowalczyk’s exposition Drawing and Sculpture [Rysunek i rzeźba] in the underground space of Państwowa Galeria Sztuki in Sopot at the «d» gallery run by Ryszard Ziarkiewicz[5]. Rotating Gallery also included exhibitions and actions in the corridors of the Academy of Art, where Grzegorz Klaman and Kazimierz Kowalczyk organised exhibitions of their sculptures and drawings in 1985-1986 (K. Kowalczyk, Stairs [Schody], 1985; K. Kowalczyk, G. Klaman, Human [Człowiek], 1986; K. Kowalczyk, «Circle» [Krąg], 1986; G. Klaman, K. Kowalczyk, Irradiated [Napromieniowany], 1986) [6]. There were few opportunities at the time for determined young artists to present their art, although in the 1980s the Coast seemed to foster grassroots initiatives. This opinion of Gdansk was shared in particular by young people arriving as students from other cities in Poland, such as Klaman who came from Nowy Targ, Kazimierz Kowalczyk from Raba Wyżna or, later, Robert Rumas from Kielce. Unfortunately, reality turned out to be very different from their expectations. In the early 1980s, Gdansk found its place on the art map of Poland mainly owing to several people and the events they organised. The city boasted a long tradition of art, mainly colourist painting and monumental sculpture: there was an art school in

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

177


Gdansk in 1956, established in Sopot in 1945 under the name State Visual Arts Institute and soon renamed State Higher School of Visual Arts, which was moved to Gdansk and renamed the Academy of Fine Arts in 1996. The first professors of the Academy included artists such as Artur Nacht-Samborski and Marian Wnuk. In the social realist era the painting ethos was maintained , hence the variously assessed phenomenon called the «Sopot School» in the history of art. The tradition of colourist painting at the Gdansk Academy after 1953 led to artistic lethargy. The tradition persevered in the Academy until the 1980s[7]. Much more was going on outside of its walls. The key art developments in the Tri-City (i.e., Gdansk and the neighbouring towns Sopot and Gdynia) included the explosion of jazz, which happened at the First National Jazz Festival in Sopot (1956), where Krzysztof Komeda Trzciński made his debut, and the Bim-Bom Theatre (1954-1960), featuring Zbigniew Cybulski, Jacek Fedorowicz, and Bogumił Kobiela. However, the music and theatre community was not directly involved in the development of visual arts. It was only in the 1970s and 1980s that several people initiated the Gdansk art scene, which crystallised in the late 1980s. The beginnings included the work of Witosław Czerwonka, who had 178

been working at the Academy of Art since 1976. Czerwonka, together with Adam Haras and Jerzy Ostrogórski, ran Galeria Aut in Gdansk in 1978-1980 and later Galeria Out at the Sopot BWA. Czerwonka’s later students, including Robert Rumas and Marek «Rogulus» Rogulski, remembered him as very inspiring. The professor introduced them to the Polish neo-avant-garde. His knowledge and extensive contacts enabled Czerwonka to organise the exhibition entitled New Developments in Polish Art of the 1970s [Nowe zjawiska w sztuce polskiej lat 70] curated by Józef Robakowski and Jan Świdziński at the Sopot BWA (JulyAugust 1981). The exhibition presented the work of leading artists of the Polish neo-avant-garde[8] accompanied by an extensive catalogue with their texts [9]. In addition, Czerwonka was the supervisor of a student club at the Academy, which created the gallery in the lobby of the Baltic Opera and Philharmonic, and where works by Grzegorz Klaman, Wojciech Zamiara and Bernard Ossowski were exhibited. Ryszard Ziarkiewicz was another founder of the Gdansk art community. He taught art history at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1982-1984. His lectures were as important to students as his 1986 exhibition entitled Expression of the 1980s [Ekspresja lat 80-tych], which presented recent works of young artists from all over Poland, including Gdansk [10]. Ziarkiewicz co-operated with Tri-City artists in organising exhibitions and exhibited his own

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk


works, including his paintings at the exhibition in the barracks together with Grzegorz Klaman and Jacek Staniszewski, and at the exhibition Expression of the 1980s[11]. Ziarkiewicz allowed artists to use the space of Gallery «d» in the underground space of BWA[12] and promoted their work during such exhibitions as «What’s Up [Co słychać]»[13] and in Art Magazine [Magazyn Sztuki] which he edited in the 1990s[14]. However, all this would not have given rise to an art scene in Gdansk in the 1980 had it not been for the determination of young artists looking for a space for their own art. They found it on Granary Island. It is no exaggeration to say that the experience of the place, its genius loci, and the collective activity gave direction to the work of participating artists for many years to come and impacted their practice much more than their studies at the Academy. The place, used as an open-air workshop of the Sculpture Department, mainly seduced Grzegorz Klaman, who came there first together with Kazimierz Kowalczyk [15]. Perhaps the specific sensitivity of the young sculptors to the material they were to shape prevented them from being arrogant in their relationship with Granary Island and released their empathy. The material which inspired their work mainly included directly accessible layers of soil as well as ruins of buildings.

This partly metaphysical contact with the material of the Island significantly influenced the artists’ thinking. It released their energy. By shaping the appropriated space, they shaped themselves and their original approach to reality. This is demonstrated by Grzegorz Klaman’s manifesto entitled Reverse Archaeology [Archeologia odwrotna], which was part of his MA thesis at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk (1985) [16]. Klaman wrote: «Granary Island is an (exterritorial) place [emphasis DK/ET] which releases a specific sense of the space of history, of that which has moved into the past, and also a participatory space, the present, because it is a cultural fertiliser, made up of fermenting deposits. Working on the ‚Island’, I drew upon the awareness of many layers under my feet, rubble, soil, burnt corn, burnt floors, etc. […] I kept on finding lost fragments, restored layers, which impact the present-time installations at this location. Creating media at this place, conjuring them up, is a kind of reading. A retrospective of the negative into the positive, the development of what has degraded but never lost its inspiring content. Traces of fundamental laws of culture subjectivised at the interface of existence and artefact, in a double perspective: from the micro-space of the body reduced to flesh, to the macro-scale of constructing the ‚shadows’ of monumental buildings. Interpersonal contacts and artist-to artist relationships, a kind of communal activity, transformed into autonomous nests which put us at the level of individual white noise (individual essence). There is a silencing, a whitening in purified space (white as a kind of emptiness) […] which takes

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

179


place, happens, is now. The space, the place – Granary Island – is only a model, a short-cut for a broader, more general quest for a different space, a different land, the mythical land of artistic fulfilment, the land which is so perversely close because it lies under your feet as the only one that can be realised here and now»[17]. Created as the result of a very emotional contact of the artist with the space of Granary Island, the text is a testimony to the strong awareness of the way that the experience of materiality, place, time (past and present), and the presence of other participants of an event conditions the shaping of an object (not just an art object). From the perspective of the subject understood as corporeal in the way proposed by Elizabeth Grosz, the body of the subject is understood and produced as liquid permeation of the inner and the outer. It is what is continually being produced by the experience of reality here and now, at a specific place and time, and which also shapes that reality by its very presence[18]. Klaman’s text is also an expression of the ecological attitude of

In this climate, Granary Island hosted exhibitions organised in 1987-1992. The presentation of works was as important as the experience of space, participation in the event, and establishing relationships with other participants. Eight major presentations organised at that time were usually actions lasting several days. They included presentations of works combined with projections, performances and concerts: Sculpture, Installation, Painting [Rzeźba, instalacja, obraz], (1987) [20], Moby Dick, (1987) [21], Now Is Now [Teraz jest teraz], (1988)[22], Gnosis (1989) [23]. The Ziemia Mindel Würm collective (Marek Rogulski and Piotr Wyrzykowski) performed on the Island as part of the international performance festival Real Time – Story Telling organised in co-operation with BWA Sopot in 1990. It was accompanied by the presentation and destruction of Grzegorz Klaman’s work The Tower of Gnosis [Wieża gnozy], (1991). The Swiss artist Kees Mol also participated in the event. The exhibition Gdansk – Warsaw took place in 1990 [24]; the exhibition «Places [Miejsca]», in 1991[25]; and the exhibition «Project Island [Projekt Wyspa]», accompanying the International Seminar «Project Island», in 1992[26]. These events were very specific and created a new quality, especially in the context of preceding art activity in Gdansk.

the young artists to «environment», which was not predefined by those who came to Granary Island[19].

180

The exhibitions involved a close interaction with the materiality and the past of the place. They were monumental installations, in

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk


which the audience could use all their senses to perceive art and experience the exhibition space. This was evident already in the first presentation of Kazimierz Kowalczyk’s graduation work: he placed his sculptures, which looked like torsos, along the brick wall of the granary. It was also evident in the exhibitions Moby Dick and Now is Now, in which objects were integrated with the space of the Island, such as Robert Rumas’s Hand [Ręka] and Grzegorz Klaman’s Big Black Head [Wielka czarna głowa] presented at the Now is Now exhibition (both works were built upon, or supported, ruins of buildings), as well as the action Zakopywanie [Burying] performed by Grzegorz Klaman during the Moby Dick exhibition. It must be noted that at that time in Gdansk, exhibitions were organised by schools of art or galleries run by the government. As an exception to this rule, one-day presentations were allowed in places appropriated by artists, or made available to them for a short time, especially in Gdansk soon after martial law. The status of Granary Island was different. The space was the property of the Academy. However, it gave young artists a lot of creative freedom. It had the status of a workshop. It was also important that the Island was not delimited by the walls of any building, other than the granaries. It was an open though separate space in the city. It was located at a place which had not chan-

ged since the war, which created a strong relationship between this space and its past and artists sensitive to materiality. It also created meaningful relations between the artists working there. It seems that the Island allowed artists to avoid the convention offered by the official system of exhibitions. The space of Granary Island, its layers and its past, which could be explored through materiality (by means of presentations of works, digging, interventions in historical material), became a starting point for an «attempt to apply what was gone, found, uncovered to the situation of contemporary man, entangled in culture, which he only partly understands, and in civilisation, which is both subservient and destructive»[27], in order to create, on this basis, a new form of art’s functionality. This archaeological element in the actions of artists such as Grzegorz Klaman, Kazimierz Kowalczyk, and later, Marek «Rogulus» Rogulski and Andrzej Awsiej, was more than a search for alternative actions under inspiration of the past. The exploration of Granary Island took place directly by digging and documenting it, and also indirectly by actions on the Island. Being at that place had a universal meaning for the artists. As Klaman emphasised, the Island was only a «model, a short-cut for a broader, more general quest for […] artistic fulfilment»[28], which the artists affiliated with the Island tried to attain through their special take on metaphysics.

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

181


Looking for an experience of the world in a form other than that already given is a characteristic of works by Grzegorz Klaman, who single-handedly buried meat and books on Granary Island [29]. In a way, the artist reactivated old layers of reality while annihilating the contemporary matter of the body and culture. By burying it, Klaman evoked a specific kind of nostalgia about what disappeared in the ground. However, it was no ordinary sentimentality. By inducing a sense of lack, the artist knowingly referred to the present time. He transformed the perspective on the world around, created a distance to reality, escaped mandatory temporality. The metaphysics of the Gdansk community – their quest for the key to an experience of a different, archaeological reality – had a critical quality. The criticism related to a shift from progression to regression. However, it was no ordinary fascination with the past. In their search, the artists were looking not so much for historical facts as an archetype. This was evident mainly in their activity relating to soil, a specific variety of land art, or rather: in their art of the soil, which, according to Klaman, was best fit for experiencing reality. «Re-entering the world is not being ‚next to’ or ‚in front of’ but ‚in the surroundings’» - he wrote, pointing out that «[a]rticulation of actions like this is sometimes so strongly immersed in what exists or in actions beyond the area of traditional art that at this point we touch very palpably the identity of art and 182

of reality». This movement could be described as movement from transcendence to immanence[30]. It is interesting at this juncture to mention Jarosław Fliciński’s work entitled The State of the Present, October 1987 [Stan teraz – październik 1987], a large installation which introduced the audience symbolically to the Moby Dick exhibition on Granary Island[31]. It consisted of a corridor 40 m long and 2 m high made from zinc sheet, cardboard, paper, and an 18 m long wall of soil upon which the artist placed a line of granite stones and mirrors which optically extended the wall of soil beyond the brick wall to which it extended. The installation also included a Mill game board and quotations from Umberto Eco’s «The Name of the Rose»[32]. The monumental sculpture was site-specific with regard to the historical context and material, and can be read as space which provoked participation in a ritual. Entering it with one’s own body and seeing its extension beyond the wall (mirrors) produced the experience of a different reality. Fliciński’s work reflected the reality of Granary Island here and now while also inspiring the viewers to reflect on their powers of perception. In this context, the quote from Umberto Eco: «They were all right in their way, and all were mistaken», stimulated the viewer to open up to the possibility of another space. Such attempts to leave the world perceived by the senses can be associated with a «new Romanticism», as some of the 1980s Po-

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk


lish art is occasionally described[33]. This took on a very specific form in Gdansk. It is no exaggeration to say that this position was more evident than what the history of art calls «new expression». The position characterised those actions on the Island which Klaman referred to as symbolic «reappropriation of the soil[34].» The actions connected their participants to the place. They treated soil as soil and gave it back to «nature»[35], endowed it with subjectivity. The actions of the artists made the space of the Island a symbol. Thus, the artists took responsibility for it and created a community on this «soil». This was present in the action of the Ziemia Mindel Würm collective at the performance festival Real Time – Story Telling. During this very emotional «ritual», Marek «Rogulus» Rogulski and Piotr Wyrzykowski burnt Grzegorz Klaman’s sculpture Wieża gnozy, with the artist’s consent, of course. The resulting monumental bonfire integrated the gathered witnesses of the event, who became equal participants in the event along with the performers. The «new Romantic» nature of actions on the Island was also evident in the artists’ turn to metaphysics by attempting to depart from the obligatory linear temporality and reach the «no time» that Klaman mentioned. As a result, «through insertion into the environment or a situation created and understood ages ago, and through the experience of time and space or no time, (the artists uncovered) meanings relevant to present time» [36].

The artists did not isolate themselves from the world around, but they took a critical stance on reality. Their specific metaphysical turn was paradoxically oriented toward reality. The critical edge was in the proposition of an alternative perspective on participation in the world by its transcendence. An uncovering of the past: an archaeology which discovered materiality and the historically undocumented, forgotten ideas hidden in it was intended as a means of verifying the present from an alternative perspective. The exhibition Moby Dick on Granary Island is a good example. Works presented at the exhibition had a strong relation to the place and its past and were meant to create a mystical atmosphere for the audience. Fliciński’s installation described above introduced the audience to the exhibition. The viewers then saw Grzegorz Klaman’s monumental sculpture Figure Holding Fate [Postać trzymającą los] placed on top of a pile of rubble and a log pyramid with a wooden mastaba in the background. Other works included Kazimierz Kowalczyk’s painting Cannibals [Ludożercy] together with an earth drawing beneath it, Man with a rifle [Człowiek z karabinem]. Those works referred to the past of the materiality of Granary Island: the walls of the granaries, which were destroyed during WWII, may have seemed particular points in the ritual of experience and transcendence of the place. This is demonstrated in the aesthetics of the film and photographic documentation of the

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

183


exhibition [37], created at night with the use of lights projected at the works. In the exhibition catalogue, Ryszard Ziarkiewicz said that the art presented at the exhibition induced in the viewer a state of «medieval confusion of perspective», aiming to «make the world legible» by means of «destroying the colloquial perfection, the colloquial appearance of things»[38]. Thus, the exhibition contained a ritual of destruction taking place in mythical time. It was meant to enable a transcendence of reality[39]. The experience of Granary Island, the creation of a different kind of participation, a different way of experiencing the world, also resulted in a different perception of the works of art. Their meaning was unrelated to the visual form. Artefacts presented at Granary Island became centres of energy which connected people like burning bonfires. It seems that the works of art presented on Granary Island expressed not so much the creative personality of individuals as the potential of establishing a relationship with the witnesses of the events, which works of art are. Art on Granary Island initiated a common experience of a «parallel reality», not created by the artist as demiurge, but constructed jointly with others under the impact of the artefact and its surroundings. In Klaman’s words: «It seems that ‘participation’ is somehow opposed to «expression»: where the artist participates in a work of art, where it’s all about action, activity, performance, there is no room for traditional expression radiated by the work of art as 184

an artefact. Expression persists to the extent that it is present in every human activity geared towards contact, understanding, and discovery of a parallel reality. In actions of the relationship between humans and nature, nature is attributed an existence on a par with human existence. Actions in nature are actions for nature: towards it, within it, with it and through it, so long as they are oriented at transcendence into a superhuman and supernatural reality. It seems that the orientation toward touch and understanding (cognitive action) ‘separates’ expression as a property which is present but not necessary; it can exist but not as a goal»[40]. Environmental «participation» appears to be a category useful for interpreting the works of the Gdansk artists. It seems to contribute more to the reading of their work than the anthropocentric notion of expression, which has been applied to them thus far [41]. Participation would thus involve coming into contact with the place and the audience, who are no longer onlookers standing by and waiting for a message to be delivered, but become co-creators as they respond to creative action. An example of this is the exhibition «Now is Now», a celebration of now, aiming to initiate a relationship with visitors to Granary Island. Jarosław Fliciński’s painting installation Plum [Śliwkowy] is a pars pro toto of the exhibition. By means of a painting and a wooden table, the artist introduced the audience to a space of apparently two-dimensional art. His work encompassed a frugal

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk


meal, a ritual which integrated the audience with art and with each other through the sense of taste. It becomes apparent in this context that relationships were of key importance on the Island while art was meant to intensify the sensation of being together, even if art was to be destroyed. The activity of artists was oriented toward initiating actions. Klaman described such an understanding of creation with pairs of antinomies: «Packing – uncovering, dividing – combining, building – so it can break up, assembling – disassembling, so it can exist again in an awareness of loss»[42]. All that was expected of witnesses of events on the Island was an «openness» which people had for each other then and there. Energy shared by the artists was directed towards reception and reflection. This is how a community was founded in the «model» and «exterritorial» space. The activity of the artists affiliated with Granary Island culminated in the Otwarte Atelier Foundation, which later founded Poland’s second contemporary art centre (after Ujazdowski Castle) in former city baths of Gdansk - LAZNIA Centre for Contemporary Art [Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej ŁAŹNIA, CSW Łaźnia][43]. The move from open space into an institution, away from the soil, from exploration of the past, and from penetration of mythical

time, led inevitably to confrontation with the authorities who controlled institutions. The conflict was unavoidable. However, it failed to produce constructive solutions. Further activities of the artists affiliated with the Island, especially Grzegorz Klaman, could be compared to the activity of Rotating Gallery, in which artists were looking for free spaces in oppressive reality. Naturally, as of the early 1990s, the Gdansk artists continued that search within a range of existing institutions, from the Island [Wyspa] gallery at Chlebnicka Street through the Otwarte Atelier Foundation and the Wyspa Progress Foundation to LAZNIA Centre for Contemporary Art. History has in a way repeated itself, – now making a stop at the Wyspa Institute of Art situated in the former Gdansk Lenin Shipyard. Dominik Kuryłek, born in 1979, an art historian and critic, editor, since 2003 has been collaborating with Ewa Małgorzata Tatar. They curated a number of exhibitions, among others Guide Project (2005-2007) and Cafe Bar by Paulina Ołowska (2011) at the National Museum in Krakow, On the Volcano. Krzysztof Niemczyk (2010) at the Lipowa 11 Gallery in Lublin, Now is Now (2012) at the Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk. They published «A Short History of Grupa Ladnie» (2008, with Magdalena Drągowska). Ewa Małgorzata Tatar, born in 1981, an art historian and critic, editor, since 2003 working together with Dominik Kuryłek. Their co-operation resulted in a number of exhibitions and publications,

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

185


such as the Guide Project (2005-2007) and Cafe Bar by Paulina Ołowska (2011) at the National Museum in Krakow, On the Volcano. Krzysztof Niemczyk (2010) at the Lipowa 11 Gallery in Lublin, Now is Now (2012) at the Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk. They published «A Short History of Grupa Ladnie» (2008, with Magdalena Drągowska). Notes 1. Cf. «Klaman, Kowalczyk», catalogue available in the archives of Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk. 2. Cf. «Most», catalogue available in the archives of Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk. 3. Cf. «Klaman Kowalczyk», op. cit. 4. Cf. «Baraki. Chmielna - Jaglana 09.01.1987», exhibition catalogue available in the archives of Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk. 5. Cf. «Klaman Kowalczyk», op. cit. 6. Cf. ibidem. 7. Cf Z. Tomczyk-Watrak, «Wybory i przemilczenia. Od szkoły sopockiej do nowej szkoły gdańskiej», Gdansk 2007. 8. It should be noted that Galeria GN, which was owned by ZPAF and run by Leszek Brogowski in 1977-1982, and which presented neo-avant-garde and post-conceptual art, may also have played this role.

186

9. «Nowe zjawiska w sztuce polskiej lat 70.», red. J. Robakowski, W. Czerwonka (eds.), exhibition catalogue, Sopot 1981. 10. The following artists took part in the exhibition: Grzegorz Klaman, Kazimierz Kowalczyk, Andrzej Kuich, Ligia Mikler, Sławomir Witkowski, Krzysztof Wróblewski, Wojciech Zamiara. Cf. «Ekspresja lat 80-tych», R. Ziarkiewicz (ed.), exhibition catalogue, Warsaw 1990. 11. Cf. «Baraki. Chmielna – Jaglana 09.01.1987», op. cit.; «Ekspresja lat 80tych», op. cit. 12. Cf. «Baraki. Chmielna – Jaglana 09.01.1987», op. cit. 13. R. Ziarkiewicz, «Gdansk – poza «ekspresją’», in: «Co słychać? Sztuka najnowsza», M. Sitkowska (ed.), Warszawa 1989, pp. 209–217. 14. G. Klaman, A. Wołodźko, «Projekt ‘Wyspa’», Magazyn Sztuki No 1/1993, p. 68; A. Awsiej, «Projekt ‘Otwarte Atelier’», Magazyn Sztuki No 1/1993, p. 69. 15. The first exhibition organised on Granary Island was a presentation of Kazimierz Kowalczyk’s Dyplom in October 1986. 16. «Archeologia odwrotna» was a supplement to Grzegorz Klaman’s land art graduation work submitted in 1985. The text «Archeologia odwrotna» was first published in Grzegorz Klaman’s solo catalogue in 1992. Cf. G. Klaman, «Archeologia odwrotna», in: «Klaman. Akcje, figury, obiekty», J. Górski, G. Klaman (eds.), Gdansk 1992. More recently, the text has been published as an insert in a monograph of Grzegorz Klaman’s work. Cf. «Archeologia odwrotna», in: «Klaman», K. Gutfrański (ed.), Gdansk 2010. 17. G. Klaman, «Archeologia odwrotna», op. cit.

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk


18. Corporeal philosophy of the subject in feminist thought, including Elizabeth Grosz’s writing, was discussed by Ewa Hyży. Cf. E. Hyży, «Kobieta, ciało, tożsamość. Teorie podmiotu w filozofii feministycznej końca XX wieku», Krakow 2003. 19. The activity of artists at that time coincided with the activity of environmental groups in Gdansk, including the movement Wolność i Pokój (Freedom and Peace) and Ruch Społeczeństwa Alternatywnego (Alternative Society Movement). There were many demonstrations against the planned construction of a nuclear power plant in Żarnowiec in Poland, including demonstrations in Gdansk, which took place in 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster. From the contemporary perspective, the activity of artists on the Island can be discussed in terms of «political ecology» offered by Latour, which seems to describe their nature in contemporary terms. Cf. B. Latour, «Ekologia polityczna przeciw naturze», «Krytyka Polityczna», No. 15/2008, pp. 170–180. 20. The exhibition Sculpture, Installation, Painting featured: Grzegorz Klaman, Jarosław Fliciński, Zbigniew Kossowski, Kazimierz Kowalczyk, Eugeniusz Szczudło and Dariusz Bujak. 21. The exhibition Moby Dick presented works by Kazimierz Kowalczyk, Grzegorz Klaman, and Jarosław Fliciński; the Gdynia City Museum presented works by Krzysztof M. Bednarski, Jacek Staniszewski, Dariusz Lipski, and Grzegorz Klaman. 22. Artists invited to take part in the exhibition «Now is Now», included Yacha Paszkiewicz, the collective Miłość, Totart, Marek Sobczyk and Włodzimierz Pawlak of the Warsaw-based collective Gruppa, and Zbigniew Libera. Other featured artists included: Dariusz Bujak, Jarosław Fliciński, Grzegorz Klaman, Eugeniusz Szczudło, Robert Rumas, and Mirosław Popławski. 23. The exhibition Gnosis featured: Grzegorz Klaman, Marek Rogulski, Jarosław Fliciński, and Eugeniusz Szczudło.

24. The exhibition Gdansk – Warsaw presented works by Marek Sobczyk, Ryszard Woźniak, Grzegorz Klaman, Kazimierz Kowalczyk, Robert Rumas, and an action of the collective Ziemia Mindel Würm. 25. The exhibition Places featured: Robert Kaja, Robert Rumas, Grzegorz Klaman, Marek Rogulski, and Piotr Wyrzykowski. 26. The exhibition Island Project presented works by Andrzej Awsiej, Marek Rogulski, Robert Kaja, and Grzegorz Klaman. 27. G. Klaman, «Archeologia odwrotna», op. cit. 28. Ibidem. 29. Grzegorz Klaman’s action Zakopywanie was performed on Granary Island on the occasion of the exhibition Moby Dick in November 1987. 30. The argument here is associated with transcendence understood by Heidegger as «being there.» For details of this approach cf. B. Baran, «Heidegger i powszechna demobilizacja», (Kraków 2004), pp. 70–76. Transcendence reduced to immanence was discussed by Łukasz Ronduda with reference to the work of Zbigniew Libera. Cf. Ł. Ronduda, Tożsamość tranzytowa – życie i twórczość Zbigniewa Libery w latach 1981–2006, in: «Libera», D. Monkiewicz (ed.), exhibition catalogue, (Warsaw, 2009), p. 26. 31. The exhibition Moby Dick was organised at two locations in parallel: Granary Island in Gdansk, and the Gdynia City Museum. Cf. «Moby Dick», exhibition catalogue available in the archives of Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk. 32. «They were all right in their way, and all were mistaken […] And they become all the more evil, the more you cast them out; and the more you depict them as a court of lemurs who want your ruin, the more they will be outcast».

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

187


33. In the catalogue of the exhibition What is Up?, Maryla Sitkowska writes that the term «neo-Romanticism» summarises the opinions of the presentation’s author Andrzej Bonarski on the works of young artists. According to Sitkowska, Bonarski believed that their art, like art in the time of historical Romanticism, broke the prevailing (avant-garde) canon in the Romantic spirit, «spontaneously and intuitively turning to the sphere of meanings and their personal expression». Sitkowska agrees that the position of young artists can be compared to Romanticism, yet in the later part of her text, she identifies their art with expression and does not embark on any further analysis of the Romanticism of the 1980s. Cf. M. Sitkowska, «Wstęp», in: «Co słychać?», op. cit., pp. 11–13; A. Bonarski, Wstęp, in: ibidem, pp. 14–16.

42. G. Klaman, «Archeologia odwrotna», op. cit. 43. Aneta Szyłak was the first director of CSW Łaźnia.

34. G. Klaman, «Archeologia odwrotna», op. cit. 35. Ibidem. 36. Ibidem. 37. Available in the archives of Instytut Sztuki in Gdansk 38. R. Ziarkiewicz, «Moby Dick. Rzeźba 1987», exhibition catalogue available in Wyspa Institute of Art in Gdansk. 39. One can employ the term «critical metaphysics» or the notion of «social metaphysics» which refers to a magazine published in Gdansk by the collective Totart. Cf. «Metafizyka społeczna. Esencjalny kwartalnik na rzecz zbliżenia estetyki z egzystencją», No. 1/1992. 40. G. Klaman, «Archeologia odwrotna», op. cit. 41. Cf.: «Ekspresja lat 80.-tych», op. cit.; «Co słychać?», op. cit.; «Republika bananowa», J. Ciesielska (ed.), exhibition catalogue, Wrocław 2008.

188

Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk


Dominik Kuryłek, Ewa Małgorzata Tatar «Now is now». Artists and Granary Island in Gdansk

189


Colophone «Rejected Heritage» is the first e-publication featuring a collection of conference materials and interviews conducted with the actors from the 1980s’ Polish art scene. Edited by: Karol Sienkiewicz Scientific cooperation: Waldemar Baraniewski Translations: Ewa Kanigowska-Giedroyc, Aleksandra Sobczak, Max Łakomski Proof-reading: Joanna Mueller-Liczner, Wendell Speer We would like to thank the following people and institutions for making their photographs available: Leszek Fidusiewicz, Leszek Knaflewski, Aleksander Sikora, Stanisław Sielicki, Luxus, Fundacja Wyspa Progress (Gdańsk), Muzeum Sztuki (Łódź), Centre for Contemporary Arts Ujazdowski Castle (Warsaw). We would like to express special thanks to: Weronika Pruchnik and Agnieszka Palińska. All texts © Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and Authors, Warsaw 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, and information storage or retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.

The conference and the e-publication have been generously supported by ERSTE Foundation.

Rejected Heritage  

Polish art of the 1980s

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you