PRINT September 2007

International News

Edward Krasinski’s Studio

WHEN POLISH ARTIST Edward Krasinski died in 2004 at the age of seventy-nine, his practice was only beginning to receive the international acclaim it deserves within the canon of postwar Conceptual art. Next month this legacy receives further confirmation when his apartment and work-studio, now maintained by the Foksal Gallery Foundation, opens to the public. Located in a Communist-era apartment block at Aleja Solidarnozsci 64 (64 Solidarity Avenue) in downtown Warsaw, the radically reinvented space showcases Krasinski’s steady wit and wry subtlety, even as it is now suffused with a sense of absence and loss.

The artist moved here in 1970, sharing the space with Henryk Stazewski, the celebrated painter and writer who cofounded the Foksal Gallery. The apartment served as a salon for artists and intellectuals, a tradition the foundation hopes to continue with the construction of a new glass pavilion, designed by the Rotterdam architecture studio BAR in collaboration with Marcin Kwietowicz. Situated on the apartment’s large terrace, it will house exhibitions and workshops; in addition, a small space built within the existing apartment will serve as a visiting artist’s studio.

The rest has been kept exactly as the artist left it when he died. The main living and work spaces, with their white walls, large windows, parquet floors, and panoramic views of the Warsaw sky, are a testimony to the beauty and efficiency of Corbusier-style workers’ apartments—open, bright, and blank, practically begging for individuating modifications. And modify Krasinski did: His trademark blue line, made of electrical tape placed 130 centimeters above the ground, travels across windows, walls, curtains, private mementos, a publicity poster for one of his exhibitions, paintings hung or wrapped and leaning against walls, sinks surrounded by cleaning detergents. But as one follows the blue line, one discovers still lifes that point to a more personal kind of intervention: On top of a small wooden table lie an eggshell, a bowl, a ten-zloty note with a daub of red paint, a yellow cone, and a blue sculpture of a bird (an assemblage that could be an homage to Katarzyna Kobro); photographs of Krasinski and his friends, members of the Polish avant-garde such as Anka Ptaszkowska—a critic and collaborator (and his ex-wife)—are taped to the walls. The strong colors and formal concision of Kobro’s sculpture are remade using the intimate scale and nuance of George Brecht’s or Joseph Cornell’s boxes, then reshaped with the twist of postmodern self-consciousness.

There isn’t any doubt that the apartment is a stage. But to misread the now-public studio/living space as an exhibitionistic gesture is to occlude the ways in which the Polish neo-avant-garde challenged state regimentation of the divides between public and private. This strategy is seen, for example, in Krasinski’s 1989 installation at the Foksal Gallery. Dedicated to Stazewski, who had died the year before, the exhibition featured life-size black-and-white photographs of the interior of the apartment the two men had shared, alongside pieces of their furniture, which they had modified. Thus, the apartment—already a studio and a salon—became the basis of its own art-production system. After the exhibition closed, Krasinski placed several of the reduplicative photos and other works from “Hommage à Henryk Stazewski” in the apartment itself, where these objects reentered the space of private rhythms that had just been deserted by the artist’s closest friend and collaborator.

In this permanent exhibition of staggering depth and intensity, the worlds of the interior—psychic, architectural, and even national—combine against a backdrop of the histories of modernist utopias, rising and falling into the nostalgic past right in front of us. Today it is difficult for Western viewers to sift through not only the affect that saturates the space but the sedimented histories underneath. For fifteen years, Krasinski outlived not only Stazewski but Poland’s particular brand of socialism: He saw both the intensified state-sponsored repression that preceded 1989 and the delirious changes that succeeded it. Everyday life of the type that Krasinski’s mise-en-scènes remark upon and disrupt has been relentlessly fetishized and aestheticized in recent years—most obviously in two cinematic hits, Goodbye Lenin! (2003) and The Lives of Others (2006), which transform the complexities of existence in the GDR into remarkably familiar Hollywood melodrama. Although Poland was one of the most open regimes in the Eastern bloc, and Krasinski and his colleagues’ radical experiments received (minimal) state subventions, they still struggled within that system; their politics form a counterpoint to Marxist ideals that many Western viewers still cherish. The studio provides a rare opportunity for many of us to reexamine history—to review our own experience, and to discover another’s.

Rachel Haidu is an assistant professor at the University of Rochester, New York.