Jarosław Kozłowski

Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK)
ul. Lipowa 4
October 21, 2016–April 2, 2017

Jarosław Kozłowski, Present X, 1966–67, assemblage, 39 x 27 1/2".

Over the span of a mere fifteen years, Jarosław Kozłowski developed a vast body of work that stands as a testimony to the vitality of his artistic production under adverse social and political conditions. This survey exhibition, which contains more than sixty pieces, presents a compelling case for Conceptualism not only as a space of intellectual exploration but also as a bulwark against the repressions of the state.

Kozłowski isn’t well known outside of Poland, though he ought to be. The artist’s early works, such as the mixed-media assemblage Present X, 1966–67, incorporate motifs of eyes or partially obscured faces that stare at the viewer, suggesting a reckoning with the psychological ramifications of constant surveillance under Communism. It’s difficult not to feel the uncomfortable reverberations of this in our present moment, in which not only our physical movements but also our voices and even our keystrokes are under continual observation by a host of entities, both human and machine.

Much of the rest of the exhibition showcases the artist’s energetic experimentation, mordant humor, and fascination with the ways that language gives rise to the political. Many works incorporate text or rely on it entirely. Mimicking the format of a grammar-school primer, Lingual Exercises, 1972, presents simple words, such as “man,” “bag,” and “egg,” with their letters rearranged to form nonsensical combinations, as if presenting a methodology for un-learning. Twenty-one signs reading “STREFA WYOBRAŹNI” (Imagination Zone, 1970/2015), originally placed in public spaces in Osieki and Koszalin, make a playfully ironic claim for the imaginary as a space of political resistance. Though the works here are a half-century old, Kozłowski’s inventiveness and incisive wit still feel relevant today, asserting once again the radical potentials that lie in conceptual practice.

— Bean Gilsdorf