Critics’ Picks

Piotr Szyhalski, “COVID-19: Labor Camp Report” (detail), 2020, digital offset prints, dimensions variable.

Piotr Szyhalski, “COVID-19: Labor Camp Report” (detail), 2020, digital offset prints, dimensions variable.


Piotr Szyhalski

Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 Third Avenue South
March 17–September 19, 2021

On March 23, 2020, then-President Trump proclaimed, “America will again and soon be open for business—very soon.” The following day, Minneapolis-based artist Piotr Szyhalski got to work. The result was “COVID-19: Labor Camp Report,” 2020, a series of 225 posterlike drawings done in black-and-white ink; a new one was made every day, all the way through Election Night. Created under the umbrella of Szyhalski’s ongoing Labor Camp, 1998–, a project that prioritizes the artistic process over any capital derived from it, each “report” funneled the day’s emotional maelstrom into a single combination of image and text.

Facsimiles of Szyhalski’s drawings, which harken back to the imagery of Otto Dix, Milton Glaser, and Soviet propaganda (with a dash of Charles Burns’s illustrative mastery), were wheat-pasted, floor to ceiling, onto the gallery walls. The result is a dizzying array of iconography—coffins, severed limbs, money, police, soaring birds—that embraces the nimble vernacular of political caricature to articulate eight months of pain and promise.

In an act of comradeship, the May 31 drawing presents fists rising out of the phrase “ESSENTIAL WORK,” which is adorned with flowers, while the July 23 one features several police officers beating up civilians next to the words “ACED IT. (Regime Is Always Right).” In the piece for August 10, we find a hopeful branch emerging from a dead stump underneath the word “RESIST.” Moving from image to image, the compositional delights flow into a single cathartically poignant timeline.

Taken together, the “COVID-19: Labor Camp Report” drawings produce an uncanny sense of the fleeting nature of shared experience. Perhaps this is not surprising for Szyhalski, who was born in Poland in 1967 and grew up amid general strikes, the country’s Solidarity movement, and the collapse of state Communism. Just as the sting of those upheavals has faded with time, so too can artworks fade: Posters can be ripped down, museums sacked, collections burned. But what endures in Szyhalski’s work is more powerful than any single object—art’s ability to connect, organize, and heal us in the here and now.