Critics’ Picks

View of “Józef Robakowski,” 2011.

New York

Józef Robakowski

Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38
38 Ludlow Street
July 18–May 15

This thoughtful retrospective of nearly five decades of Józef Robakowski’s work is organized as a micro–study center of his work and its cultural context. The intimately scaled show explores a vital figure of experimental cinema from the 1970s and includes significant cinematic works, posters, and archival photographs and documents, as well as a DVD library with more than forty video pieces available for view. Particular emphasis is given to the Workshop of the Film Form and other instances of Robakowski’s collaborative engagements both in Poland and internationally. When interviewed in a 1987 documentary film, Robakowski stated that he had made a conscious decision to remain in Poland during the nation’s period of martial law in 1981–83, and well into its aftermath, and that he became “despite himself, a political artist by being an active citizen.” In the stark black-and-white film The Market (Rynek), 1970 (a collaboration with Ryszard Meissner and Tadeusz Junak), a sound track of mechanized ticking accompanies images of an outdoor market that is filled with thousands of people coming and going, but sped up, so that they appear to be one seething group, moving together as ants in a colony. The sea of soldiers filmed at Brezhnev’s state funeral is subject to similar high-speed absurdity in the music video Art Is Power, 1985, for the Slovenian band Leibach. Robakowski also incorporates accelerated footage from Sergey Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin in a 1985 music video, Moscow, made in cooperation with the eponymous punk rock band. Like the resonant Gustav Metzger show around the corner at e-flux, this exhibition is a portrait of an artist as a radical creator. It foregrounds Robakowski not only as a pioneer of avant-garde film and video art but also, in the context of his times, as a political activist, working outside the official museum and gallery system.