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Confrontations: Sessions in East European Art History

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Sounds of the Underground

editorial3 March 2020

Johana Lomová

In his talk Daniel Muzyczuk (a curator at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź) presented research behind two exhibitions that he had prepared together with David Crowley. Sounding the body electric mapped connections of sound and visual culture in Eastern Europe, and Notes from the underground concentrated on the underground culture where music and visual arts has merged. A few important issues came out during the presentation. Besides the regional interest of both curators in Eastern Europe that included Russia (St. Petersburg has a special place in their research), we have been introduced to a different time frame for research of culture under socialist politics as the second mentioned exhibition ended in 1994. In this way Muzyczuk and Crowley were able to show how the underground culture reacted to a new political regime. A rather provocative thesis of connection between neoprimitivism and right-wing radicalism opened a discussion and our attention was drawn towards a concept of overidentification, politics of self-representation and other. The blurriness of the boundary in between official and unofficial art (or rather the uselessness of this division) was illustrated by the fact that a number of nonconformist artists did have an artistic licence.

Deterritorialising Modernity

editorial3 March 2020

Asja Mandić

After the group seminar and thought-provoking presentations in Museum Sztuki/MS 1, the group headed to the newest museum branch, MS 2 for a guided tour with Joanna Sokolowska who showed us the museum collection through the Atlas of Modernity exhibition.

The venue, located inside Manufactura, the former 19th century factory complex, now the city’s main touristic hub, associates the museum to the world of spectacle, entertainment and leisure culture of the post-industrial consumer society. Enveloped in the redbrick, it does retain the image of the mill factory, nevertheless the interior gallery spaces are somewhat conscious of the modern white cube. Atlas of Modernity reflects a similar mode. Modernity, the ideas about it and the experience of modernity in the 20th century art as well as its traces in recent artistic practices, as the main conceptual framework of this show, directs presentation of national as well as international pieces from the collection. Rather than providing an historical overview of modern art in Poland, the exhibition pinpoints several themes, like the points in an atlas or a map, among which are machine, progress, capital, revolution, emancipation, but also autonomy and the self. Arranged in a manner to correspond to this web of ideas or fragments of modernity, the works from various media, time periods as well as stylistic features, make very interesting juxtapositions.

This inspiring museum visit brought us back to some questions addressed in our previous discussions, such as relationship between socialism and modernisation, issues of socialist modernity… as well as to the notion that “socialism and modernity do coexist”. (Tomáš Pospiszyl)

Museum in Process

editorial3 March 2020

Agata Pietrasik

During our visit to Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz the Confrontations group had a chance to see the highlights of the collection of Muzeum Sztuki, as well as reflect on the history of the institution. We began our tour with visiting the most famous part of the museum – the Neoplastic Room designed by the pioneer of Polish avant-garde Władysław Strzmiński. Daniel Muzyczuk, curator at the Muzeum Sztuki, presented the complicated history of the space, which was opened in 1948, destroyed only two years later due to introduction of socialist realism, and eventually re-created in 1960.

We also discussed how museum tries to activate the space with interventions by contemporary artists. We also paid a visit to the Museum’s library, which is one of the oldest art libraries in Poland and possesses many unique books and documents. Some of them were on display. For example, we could read a letter to Strzemiński written by his Jewish colleague Jozef Kowner. The letter resonated strongly with the earlier lecture by Luiza Nader.

Our group was taken away by the visit to museum’s storage rooms, where we could see a fascinating combination of artistic practices: avant-garde artworks of Karol Hiller, socialist realist paintings by Wojciech Fangor and rarely exhibited 1949 Strzeminski’s sketch for the Egzotyczna cafe in Lodz.

Touring Muzeum Sztuki

editorial3 March 2020

Marta Zboralska

At Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Maciej Cholewiński introduced us to the institution’s library collections. They include the personal correspondence of key figures in twentieth-century Polish art, a selection of which was on display inside a dedicated vitrine. Maciej also hand-picked other archival materials relevant to the interests of our group – such as the pamphlet issued by the Łódź branch of Solidarity for Construction in Process, the 1981 exhibition discussed during the presentations the day before.

We then had the privilege of being shown around the museum’s open storage by Paulina Kurc-Maj. Few of the paintings we saw were straight-forwardly Socialist Realist, instead complicating the coherence of this category. Some of the period’s inherent contradictions were exemplified by Władysław Strzemiński’s study for a wall relief entitled Colonial Exploitation, made during 1949: the year that both followed the opening and preceded the destruction of the famous Neoplastic Room. As we toured the Room’s reconstruction with Daniel Muzyczuk, we had the opportunity to reflect on the historical intersections of figuration and abstraction – or the plasticity of this very dichotomy.