Critics’ Picks

Marysia Lewandowska, Empty Chair, 1989, emulsion on photographic transparency, each sheet 24 x 40".

Marysia Lewandowska, Empty Chair, 1989, emulsion on photographic transparency, each sheet 24 x 40".



Gandy gallery
Sienkiewiczova 4
September 19–November 29, 2019

There is, thankfully, only one work featuring the Berlin Wall in “1989.” The four black-and-white photographs of someone climbing up and leaning over the monumental barrier are likewise not typical of their creator, Libuse Jarcovjáková—her photographic examinations of everyday life, also displayed in the exhibition, are more evocative than documentary, zooming in on uncanny details and amplifying contrast. The same could be said about the exhibition as a whole: Instead of providing yet another narrative about 1989, it juxtaposes works by eight women artists from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Romania made in 1989, thus approaching this mythologized moment from an oblique, decidedly un-documentary angle. And yet, the works ultimately bear the weight of historical document. Together, they testify to the strong voices of female artists from across the socialist East, whose unconventional creative visions provincialize the patriarchal myths of the Cold War.

Anna Daučíková’s unruly painterly explorations of the rule of numbers and classificatory systems find an ally in Orshi Drozdik’s embroidered “illustration” of Diderot’s Encyclopedia—both cast feminist doubt on systemic rationalization. Beyond-human, gender-ambivalent protagonists emerge from the hybrid, animalistic imaginaries of Jana Želibská’s elongated pastels as well as from Zorka Ságlová’s rabbit-patterned stamp drawings, while the blazing-red torsos of Ilona Nemeth’s series “Revolutionary and the Canary Bird,” 1989, insist on the place of the sensual and the sexual in the revolutionary process. These works are political without being overdetermined by their context; in this way, the only two pieces that directly address the year’s transition do so from a distance that equals the extent to which women remained behind the scenes. Lia Perjovschi’s photographic collage, in which biological reproduction forms an integral part of the history of Romania, and Marysia Lewandowska’s two empty chairs, which stand for the sole pair of women present at the Round Table Talks in Warsaw in 1989, signal that whatever (counter)revolution might have happened in 1989, it was not a feminist one.