Critics’ Picks

Wojciech Gilewicz, Painter’s Painting, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 18 minutes.

Wojciech Gilewicz, Painter’s Painting, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 18 minutes.


“The Travellers”

Zachęta National Gallery of Art
Pl. Małachowskiego 3
May 14–August 21, 2016

With works by twenty-three artists from fifteen countries, “The Travellers” spans space, time, and media. Though its primary motifs may at first seem facile—postcards, trains, and islands all make repeated appearances—the subject matter is consequential. These works reckon with questions of mobility: How can an experience be captured? What constitutes authentic cultural representation? And who has the agency to wander?

Most works are overtly political, like Sislej Xhafa’s Barka (Boat), 2011/2016, a fifteen-foot boat made from shoes found on the beaches of Lampedusa, Italy. The diversity of the empty footwear underscores the heterogeneity of those who are desperate to secure a better life via emigration. Vesna Pavlović’s Fototeka (Photo Archive), 2013/2016, projects images of Josip Broz Tito’s international travels onto a gray synthetic curtain, evoking a contrast between the easy mobility of the Yugoslavian dictator and his captive citizenry. An Ecuadorian bus is festooned with symbols and abbreviations in Dushko Petrovich’s acrylic-on-paper El Oso Carnal (The Carnal Bear), 2013/2016, which presents a personal summary of migrations that define the artist’s life.

Despite the gravity of the topic, humor is still evident. Wojciech Gilewicz’s video Painter’s Painting, 2015, shows the artist working on plein-air paintings in unlikely locations: at a weight-lifting gym, proximate to a food stall, inside a phone booth. Viewers only see the canvas from the back, so there is no confirmation that the artist is actually re-creating these scenes, but no matter––what’s important is the sense of trying to capture a fleeting vista. It’s a gag, but at its core is the legitimate issue of how to see and record the world as we move through it, and as it moves through us.