Mirosław Bałka, 230 x 107 x 10 / Blue Wave (detail), 1990, wood, steel, concrete, salt, 7 7/8 × 90 5/8 × 42 1/8". Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.

Mirosław Bałka, 230 x 107 x 10 / Blue Wave (detail), 1990, wood, steel, concrete, salt, 7 7/8 × 90 5/8 × 42 1/8". Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.

Mirosław Bałka

Mirosław Bałka, 230 x 107 x 10 / Blue Wave (detail), 1990, wood, steel, concrete, salt, 7 7/8 × 90 5/8 × 42 1/8". Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.

Concurrently with Mirosław Bałka’s first retrospective in Italy at Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, the artist had his fourth solo exhibition at Galleria Raffaella Cortese. The show—spread over the gallery’s three exhibition spaces—was conceived as a journey in stages that would gradually introduce the visitor to motifs of both continuity and divergence in Bałka’s research. Born in Warsaw in 1958, this Polish artist is particularly representative of his generation, and the work presented here made it possible to trace the past three decades of Bałka’s output and to identify his fundamental thematic concerns. The show included works created in the 1980s and the 1990s as well as his most recent production, conceived specifically for this occasion. Viewed as a whole, the progression of the exhibition could be understood as an acceleration “in relation to time,” which is the English translation of its German title, “In Bezug auf die Zeit.”It is physical time, however, that was manifested both metaphorically and experientially in this show, as the spans of time during which the works were devised and executed by Bałka, and as time in relation to the subjective encounter of the viewer who enjoys them.

In the first gallery space, the exhibition’s path began with a core group of works that marked the artist’s transition from the figurative to the abstract, a process laden with consequences for Bałka’s research. Among these, the most important was clearly 230 x 107 x 10 / Blue Wave, 1990, created from part of the wooden fence that once delimited the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. This is the first artwork in which Bałka used salt, a densely symbolic material that has become a recurrent presence in his three-dimensional vocabulary. 

The gallery’s second space contained two works tied to the artist’s memory, comprising an installation that was simultaneously intimate and solemn, almost liturgical. There were two works in steel, 215 x 135 x 60, 2005, and 61 x 59 x 31 / Sereno è (61 x 59 x 31 / It Is Peaceful, 2006/2017, respectively a monumental candelabra and a loudspeaker assembled by the artist. The speaker emitted the slowly spoken words “Sereno è” taken from the homonymous 1974 song by Drupi, an Italian singer who was famous in Poland in the ’70s. On the one hand, this personal reference point brought to mind the relationship between art and life, ever-present in Bałka’s work, and on the other it illustrated his predisposition to collaboration, another basic characteristic of his modus operandi, which over the years has led him to join forces with directors, poets, actors, and musicians. 

The final space hosted some of Bałka’s most recent creations, characterized by a decisively minimalist vocabulary and a juxtaposition of repurposed objects with materials possessing antithetical properties. For example, 250 x 14 x 13,2017, is a sculpture composed of a granite pedestal that supports a thin glass tube filled with red wine. These pieces expressed a palpable tension, seemingly in search of a private dialogue with the viewer. 

Overall, the exhibition escorted the viewer on an evocative journey, dense but rarified, through selections of work that illustrated the artist’s profoundly allegorical worldview. This is art that describes the unyielding precariousness of humankind, exemplified here through a series of subtle symbolic passages, both temporal and spatial, that involve the viewer in a lacerating and existential vision imbued with a sense of inevitable transience. 

Eugenio Viola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.