Polish and Shine

Left: Collectors Inge Maier-Oswald and Peter Maier-Oswald with Piktogram/BLA's Michał Woliński. Right: Leto Gallery's Marta Kołakowska and artist Wojciech Puś. (Photos: Pola Tyszowiecka)

THE FOURTH WARSAW GALLERY WEEKEND saw organizers redoubling their efforts to encourage the Polish art world—and beyond—to join in the three-day-long celebrations. The event, featuring over twenty galleries, spotlights Poland’s developing private sector in the arts. Each year it proves to be a popular and much-needed exposition of the galleries’ commitment to self-organization and collaboration, a fairly recent quality of the local scene.

This edition kicked off, rather unexpectedly, at the Presidential Palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście in central Warsaw, with “Missing Link,” a talk on private collectors and public collections. Scores of smartly dressed dealers and critics turned up to hear about possible points of contact between the two, but unfortunately the discussion, moderated by Propaganda Gallery’s Paweł Sosnowski, steered clear of this potentially interesting subject and toward taxes on acquisitions and donations. Prosecco soothed our disappointment.

Galleries began their programs at teatime on Friday and kept their doors open late. I began my journey at SVIT, a Prague-based gallery run by Michal Mánek. In Warsaw, Mánek had installed a sensible pop-up exhibition by Erwin Kneihsl in a luminous apartment on Aleje Jerozolimskie, the city’s main artery. The artist was present and willing to share his love for the “alchemy of analogue photography,” as well as his fear that Foma, the last factory of photosensitive materials in the Czech Republic, will soon be gone. Charmed by the simple beauty of his black-and-white photographs, I headed toward the galleries Leto and Piktogram/BLA, which share the same building in the postindustrial Soho Factory complex.

Left: Opening party at Zachęta - National Gallery of Art. (Photo: Bartosz Górka) Right: Hanna Wróblewska, director of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. (Photo: Sylwia Serafinowicz)

Leto had an atmospheric exhibition, “Touched for the Very First Time,” curated by Wojciech Puś, an artist represented by the gallery and a lecturer at the Polish National Film School in Łódź. The one-room show features work by his students, a group of graduates and debutantes in the vulnerable stage of defining themselves as artists. Behind the wall, Piktogram/BLA presented another group show, “Zombie Formalism,” which was chosen by the local arts magazine SZUM as one out of nine most interesting venues of the gallery weekend—even before any information about it was available. The silence from Michał Wolinski, curator of the show and cofounder of the WGW, in the days preceding the opening was seen as calculated and “avant-garde.”

However, as a person much more interested in words expressed than those suppressed, I welcomed at last the introduction of a page-long text, written to accompany the show, with applause. There were even footnotes. “Zombie Formalism”—which takes its name from Walter Robinson’s term, popularized by Jerry Saltz, to describe a much-maligned style of vacuous, market-flattering painting—juxtaposes abstract works by several generations of artists. All share a fascination with chemical processes behind photography and experimental matter in painting. In contrast to the landscape drawn by Saltz, the selection includes artists who are not necessarily alumni of fine arts academies, including the young Szymon Małecki, more known in Warsaw for the unique tattoos he makes at Tusz za Rogiem, a tattoo parlor he co-owns. The conversation at the ensuing cocktail reception at the Neon Museum, also in the Soho complex, involved collective efforts to respond to such poignant questions as how snakes copulate and, subsequently, why “love juices” are so little appreciated.

The last stop of the night was a party at Zachęta National Gallery. At most parties the crowd ends up in the kitchen, but this time everybody gathered on the stairs outside, ready to embrace the chilly evening. Meanwhile, DJ Maciek Sienkiewicz got things warmed up indoors, and although his attempts were not appreciated by the majority of the attendees, there was one dancer who made up for the small crowd: Roman Dziadkiewicz, an artist invited for WGW by the gallery Monopol to work with the archives of artists Zbigniew Warpechowski and Andrzej Partum. His expressive moves were very much in line with his take on the fathers and mothers of the neo-avant-garde depicted in vintage photographs, prints of which he has been cutting into pieces. For the show at Monopol, Dziadkiewicz reworked the archival matter in a series of collages where the cutouts of hands, arms, and butts were joined in an orgiastic entity.

Left: Patrick Komorowski of Pola Magnetyczne gallery. Right: Artist Zbigniew Warpechowski performing at the Zacheta National Gallery of Art. (Photos: Sylwia Serafinowicz)

Indeed, everything this weekend in Warsaw was a collage of old and new, sexy and nostalgic, including Aneta Grzeszykowska’s photos at Raster gallery. The title of the series and the show, “Selfie,” of course refers to the Internet craze for self-documentation. But her works go deeper than the glib and too-cute appellation might at first suggest, into the history of autorepresentation of Polish female artists, most notably the sculptor Alina Szapocznikow, with Grzeszykowska depicting casts—covered in pigskin—of different parts of the artist’s body. The material’s uncanny resemblance to human dermis, and its embellishment with penetrating needles and black thread, gave me goose bumps.

Of course, Warsaw Gallery Weekend also had its share of failures, like the broken elevator that stood in my way to Zuzanna Janin’s exhibition at lokal_30. En route to the airport, I considered the five-floor walkup against the weight of my books and shoes and heavy suitcase—and here my sense of duty conceded to fatigue. (Sorry, Zuzanna!) But in the end, we do what we can, and the Warsaw art world keeps on turning. As collector Osman Djajadisastra succinctly put it at one of the weekend’s panels: “I love Polish art, and it’s good!”

Left: Artists Józef Robakowski and Kaja Dobrowolska. Right: Agnieszka Szewczyk of the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw. (Photos: Pola Tyszowiecka)

Left: Zuzanna Sokalska and Anna Ciabach of Monopol gallery. (Photo: Sylwia Serafinowicz) Right: Artist Erwin Kneihsl. (Photo: Pola Tyszowiecka)

Left: Ewa Borysiewicz of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. (Photo: Pola Tyszowiecka) Right: Gil Bronner, Sandra Hegedus Mulliez, Osman Djajadisastra, and Regina Wyrwoll at a discussion with art collectors organized by Adam Mickiewicz Institute. (Photo: Bartosz Górka)