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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation or…

editorial3 March 2020

… why Self-Organization can no longer be seen as an Alternative Art Current

By Sandra Bradvić

The Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation was founded in 2012 in Warsaw by Marta Wróblewska, Krystyna Łysik, dr Magdalena Ziółkowska, Wojciech Grzybała with the goal to develop, popularise, and contextualise the knowledge of Andrzej Wrólblewski’s life and work (b. 1927, Vilnius – d. 1957, Tatry Mountains).

The impressive work the founders have done since the inception – like providing organizational and academic support for all those interested in the research on the life and practice of Andrzej Wróblewski; extending conservation supervision; initiating and organizing of exhibitions and other educational formats; completing the archive; and publishing activities – reads like a public contract of a national institution. The Foundation further very thoughtfully holds all proprietary copyrights to almost all works created by Andrzej Wróblewski, which has enabled it to release the reviewed scholarly publication Avoiding Intermediary States (Hatje Cantz, 2014), which since stands for the main reference source with regard to the proper and standardized use of the artist’s work titles, which alone is a pivotal accomplishment.

It is precisely because the Wróblewski foundation is not a state institution, but a personal initiative which has though set very high professional working standards –supposedly the sphere of competence assigned to major national institutions–, which makes such an endeavor even more remarkable and why it can even be considered a role model, not only for the ‘alternative’ art scene and not only but especially for post-communist/post-socialist states, whose ‘official’ institutions –as it is well known–, still happen to struggle with finding the right concepts and methodological approaches as to how to create and mediate new narratives of their own art history.

To take an example, one could look at Bosnia-Herzegovina, where in 2011 seven major cultural institutions had to close their doors to the public. The reason: their unresolved legal status after the collapse of former Yugoslavia in 1991. A lack of substantial financial support on the one hand, but also the lack of ideas to envision new possible structural models, most of them got lost in transition from one to the other socio-political system and remained caught in the legal limbo until this very day.

Wojciech Grzybała

So the relevant question in this context would seem to be: can institutionally independent and self-organised artistic and curatorial collectives any longer be seen as an alternative current, when their counterpart, namely the art institutions, have largely become dysfunctional and inefficient as a site for the creation and establishment of working standards, as well as of their visionary structural, organizational and conceptual changes? No, I would claim.

The Wróblewski Foundation, while being concentrated on one artist only, yet at the same time demonstrating a wide range of activities and a far-reaching visibility and international recognition of both the work of Andrzej Wróblewski and of the foundation, seems to prove it.

 

Non-Public Collection Paradox

editorial3 March 2020

Ieva Astahovska

Our visit to Starak Family Foundation was both a direct continuation and quite sharp contrast to the previous meeting with founders of Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation: from a voluntary run institution that dedicatedly takes care of Wróblewski’s creative legacy, but doesn’t possess any art works and even doesn’t have its own office space, we came to a semi-public art collection venue, run by private collectors Anna and Jerzy Starak, who own one of Poland’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

In its public part, entitled Spectra Art Space, we visited the exhibition by painters Maria Jarema (1908–1958) and Andrzej Wróblewski (1927–1957) Substantial Realism. Both artists, living and working at the same time and place, in their final years had very different relations to the political regime and its demands in art, socialist realism, and finally the shift to much freer expression. Yet in this exhibition that is structured in thematic flows “Maternity, Modern Woman, Love, War” Jarema’s mostly abstract, associative and ambiguous compositions that were not shown during the 1950s and Wróblewski’s realist paintings – some of them surreal, others poignant, but all very intimate –, form not a juxtaposition but a parallel view of the after-war epoch that bears both war traumas, and also a longing for humanity.

We had also an exclusive possibility to see the non-public part of Starak Foundation’s art collection that is partly displayed in its office building and includes classics of Polish postwar modernism. Quite paradoxically – or maybe it’s not so strange in today’s neoliberal times? – it was the only place during our program in Warsaw where we could see the original works by such significant Polish modernist authors as Władysław Strzemiński, Henryk Stażewski, Erna Rosenstein, Wojciech Fangor and others. This permanent display left rather an odd impression – art works arranged between stylish designer furniture, indoor plant beds, glass walls and on the most different flat surfaces – seemed to serve for its owners and viewers for something between decoration and fetish. One can observe increasing role of private collectors also in many other East European art scenes, and inevitably it brings also subjective tastes and different understandings of art and its displays.

Polish Socialist Realism

editorial3 March 2020

 

Maja and Reuben Fowkes

A group seminar at Zachęta National Gallery of Art was an opportunity for presentations dealing with Polish art of the 1950s, generating intensive discussion of the local modalities of Socialist Realism and the career trajectories of individual artists.

Magdalena Moskalewicz addressed the historiography of Polish Socialist Realism through the story of painter Aleksander Kobzdej (1920-1972), a celebrated hero of Socialist Realist painting who transformed himself into a modernist abstract painter during the post-Stalinist Thaw. She drew attention to the ambivalence of the local scene towards an artist whose international visibility was based on his willingness to adapt to changing official tastes in art.


Agata Pietrasik’s discussion of Socialist Realism in Poland set out to challenge assumptions that the style was simply imposed from outside and above by an oppressive regime, complicating the picture by considering the agency of individual artists, as well as the relation of the doctrine to local art discourses and traditions. She also raised the issue of the longevity of paradigms as well as institutional structures established during the Stalinist period.

Magdalena Ziółkowska shared with the group her research into Andrzej Wróblewski’s visit to Yugoslavia in 1956, revealing the personal and intellectual as well as historical and political dimensions of his three-week stay in the company of art critic Barbara Majewska. Going beyond attempts to identify the stylistic influence on the artist of the journey – manifest in his subsequent use of colour, expressive forms and the appearance of themes that were absent in his earlier work – she placed their visit in the context of the rapidly evolving relationship between the cultural policies of Poland in the era of de-Stalinisation and the socialist modernism of third way Yugoslavia.