Wroclaw

LUXUS No. 5, 1985, handmade one-page magazine, tempera and marker on newsprint, 20 7/8 x 14 1/2".

LUXUS No. 5, 1985, handmade one-page magazine, tempera and marker on newsprint, 20 7/8 x 14 1/2".

LUXUS

Wrocław Contemporary Museum (MWW)

LUXUS No. 5, 1985, handmade one-page magazine, tempera and marker on newsprint, 20 7/8 x 14 1/2".

“At the heart of the apocalypse, there’s no time for a striptease,” writes acclaimed Polish writer Jerzy Pilch in his most recent book, Wiele demonów (Many Demons), published in 2013. But the artist group LUXUS, established just before the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1980, had long since proved otherwise. Choosing a name that slyly evokes both Fluxus and luxury, the group based its practice on the combination of enthusiasm for life and art with a deeply ironic and critical attitude toward the iconosphere of the 1980s. As one of the territories taken from Germany and joined to Poland after 1945, Wrocław—formerly Breslau—was particularly exposed to the power plays enacted in the militarization and political rituals visible on the streets during the period of martial law, which in a symbolic way confirmed its place in the new socialist order. Surprisingly, however, even in the ’80s, some embers of Western consumerism still smoldered. It was from these fragments, sometimes literally from rubbish, that the members of LUXUS were constructing their world of trashy luxury, for instance in the sole installation that constituted the entire show, LUXUS group, LUXUS city, reconstructed installation based on original materials from 1987–1991. The city, representing Wrocław, contains a pizzeria, a disco club, a butcher, and cardboard walls covered in socially engaged slogans advising against drugs and alcohol. Above it hangs a painting by one of the group’s members, Bozena Grzyb-Jarodzka: Electric Kiss, 1988, depicts the familiar Hollywood motif of a glamorous kiss, yet in vivid, denaturalized colors—the woman is painted in pink and her partner in green.

LUXUS as a group was never homogeneous. It emerged from a vibrant social scene comprising painting students from the atelier of Konrad Jarodzki and Leszek Kaćma at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław, among them Paweł Jarodzki, Artur Gołacki, and Andrzej Jarodzki . Their first collective work was a handmade magazine titled LUXUS, containing an assemblage of images made from a template. The magazine quickly took on a more coherent form and started featuring one subject per issue, but kept its rough character and low-quality paper. Like the group’s paintings, the vintage issues from the years 1983 to 1986—there was a ninth issue in 1992 and a tenth one was prepared specifically for this show—juxtapose symbols evoking the political atmosphere of the time with pop-culture icons. A portrait of General Wojciech Jaruzelski stamped on toilet paper is just as likely to turn up as an image of Mickey Mouse in dreadlocks. As it evolved over the years, LUXUS incorporated individual artists’ practices into multielement installations created collectively. Although the group is no longer active as such, the artists remain close friends and still collaborate on occasion. This cooperative spirit was evidenced in the evolution of this exhibition, as well as in the mode of its display: The artists were very much involved in its organization, along with local curators Piotr Stasiowski and Anna Mituś, making use of multiple rooms across all six floors of the museum to arrange their works into sections showcasing not only their installations but also their templates, posters, magazines, and collaborations with the alternative reggae and rock scene in Wrocław. At the entrance to the show, the artists arranged an “iconostasis,” an accumulation of twenty-nine paintings made between 1984 and 2009 hung on a semicircular wall covered in gold foil. It shows in a nutshell the dynamic of the group’s collaboration, one based on individual works merged into installations. Among the most attention-grabbing works were those by Ewa Ciepielewska, with their psychedelic depiction of the use of physical force—for instance, a scene showing a naked man in handcuffs being led by two policemen, one carrying a nightstick. Merging Pop with politics, such works create a luxuriant synthesis full of guilty visual pleasures.

Sylwia Serafinowicz