Tag Archives: exhibition

‘Making Worlds’ by losing your way…

That is a surprisingly romantic title for an enormous international art show – ‘Making Worlds – Fare Mondi’… Right from the day it was announced I knew I got to see it.

In a strange way that name referred to my own idea of art as a device for creating universes, for inventing new realities and new ways of perception of what is ‘known’ and ‘familiar’… To see how very different artists from tens of countries address this very issue right now; and to experience it in one place within only few days of an intense take – that sounded like a dream-come-true opportunity.0

Then I made my way to Venice… A group of us – final year fine art students – we spent half of a night and most of a day getting ourselves from a tiny, misty Irish airport right to an artistic epicenter of the 53rd Biennale. And then – the true challenge had begun… Being a first time visitor to Venice – one has to invent ways – quick and efficient:  of avoiding crowds, of finding ways in an omnipresent maze of lanes and canals, of keeping cool when faced with a wondrous strangeness and beauty of the place and, finally – to get the most (and the best) of the shows presented – tens of them blown around the city like some erratic parts of a huge machinery; often in places that even locals found difficult to find…

I can be pretty sure not to be the first and the last of the 53rd Biennale visitor, who was immensely tempted to dismiss the entire pandemonium and to spend some quality time in one of the Irish or English pubs; just drinking some wine and staring at Venetian light reflected from the Grand Canal… So tempting…

Anyway, I went through it all in a less indulgent way, which means: I stuffed myself, my cameras and my notebook with the visions of ‘Making Worlds’… Facing it all, and reflecting on it afterward looking for a compendium, links and any order – that is a sort of making yet another world – so diverse, rich and demanding the whole experience is. Yet, it does not necessary mean, that the Biennale was/is a miraculous, creative Wonderland…quite to the contrary – but by its intrinsic qualities like the size, inter-nationality and the inherited prestige – it’s born to leave a clear mark on one’s artistic psyche; not matter how critical and contemptuous one becomes when addressing it.

Making Worlds… artistic (and curatorial!) calling, duty, obsession, wonder and a doom. Nothing more self-indulgent, nothing more pretentious. Nothing more marvelous, nothing more risky. In fact, I don’t personally believe that the most of Birnbaum’s show has stood up to its own challenge… And instead of some down-spine shivers and wide-opened eyes browsing a miracle of some new-born, never seen before worlds – one had to chew up, once again, the same familiar concepts and interventions  cooked and served in a way, which anyone even mildly accustomed to the history of the contemporary art has to know by heart by now…

In other words, there was a chance-taking, adventure -seeking, alternative-supporting attitude bitterly missing in all the curatorial effort of this Biennale. Each show of this type is a sort of an authorship (sometimes – dictatorship); but if a good author hides his strings he is pulling to make his personal vision to be appreciated, Birnbaum made it all too predictable and dull as a whole. One has to allow to risk it all, to be completely lost in order to make entire world out of this self-implied or provoked chaos. There is no other way of creating new world than the one which faces chaos and a gulf; otherwise we got ‘re-making’ old worlds or ‘recycling’ the existing, but worn out ones…

I lost my way dozens of times in Venice. Venice is the space to be lost and to be found, and this very process goes in circles and in-finitum… One has to throw away all maps, one has to trust his instincts and follow no path other than the one which cuts across the old ones instead of re-drawing them…

Making worlds is the most human of all human dwellings… And it is possible, yet not easy – to make a new world out of this too-familiar, too-excessive, too-indulgent entropy of art today.  By losing one’s way in it – one will find the way out of it…

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New toys of a dirty boy – Eric Fischl

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A gifted boy with dirty imagination is back.

Eric Fischl (b. 1948, NY) has apparently abandoned his flamboyant yuppies and bad boys lost in their hedonistic activities on daddies’ yachts and in flashy apartments. Or rather – he grew up with them, since the new characters of his painted stories are middle- aged couples, lost again, yet in thoughts more than in purely sensual stimulants.

In 2002 the painter has staged and directed few episodes of a very contemporary drama, he hired actors and then extensively photographed them in a home-like setting; then he painted a series of works based on their performance there. So-called “Krefeld Project” (from then name of a place in Germany) has been accomplished.

As the portrayed relationship goes deeper and stranger, so the paint on the surface of canvas dissolves and disintegrates. Identity of the examined individuals goes to pieces (or rather – layers) with it. They are every-and-any-of-us, white, heterosexual, ‘normal’, inhabiting a modern-looking, comfortable space.

Yet, there is that unsettling, heavy air that lingers, much like in D. Lynch’s movies. Sexually charged atmosphere is rendered beautifully in peachy, golden light; a viewer is faced with everyday scenes of great intimacy… But it’s hardly yet another “Casablanca” – nobody is going to make a life-saving sacrifice here. A couple plays enjoyable roles in their cushy world, just like many of us do. They may stay this way for years or leave each other next day, to find another apartment with fresh towels and soft robes, to create a new illusion of communication and sense with another human being. Like many of us – middle-class, Caucasian, modern – would do…

Leaving all these complex (always highly individualized) readings of Fischl’s work, there is no way to miss his technical mastery (best appreciated, obviously, in details), which he had managed to gain over the years and displays in his recent paintings. He virtually doesn’t ‘paint’ mechanically speaking – he seems to project his thoughts seamlessly on canvas, like dreams project upon consciousness without any conscious effort or even a will. Fluid yet fractured, complex yet straightforward, intimate yet sunk in itself – the life, the world, the people of our age. We – our – selves… A lesson from a grown-up dirty boy?

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One can appreciate E. Fischl paintings from the “Krefeld Project” in the National Museum of Krakow, Poland till the end of August 2009. To see my article on the exhibition there: here. To see more detailed photos and descriptions: here.


“First step…” – Western Contemporary Art in Poland

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Phillip Taaffe, Artificial Paradise (Loculus), detail,  2008, oil on linen

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Miquel Barcelo, Des Meduses, detail, 2000, mixed media on canvas

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Eric Fischl, The Bed. The Chair. Touched, detail, 2001, oil on canvas

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Andreas Slominski, Untitled, 1993-94, bike/plastic bags

Well, this exhibition may serve perfectly those who know, how the bipolar disposition works.

One moment – one is proud and full of gratitude, tasting great art in an unexpected setting… only to go mad in the next second, when realizing some obvious organizational and curatorial flaws.

“First step… Towards a Collection of Western Contemporary Art” in the National Museum in Krakow (Cracow) is the show of ambition and potential with some recent works (mainly paintings, photos and prints) by  Nobuyoshi Araki, Miquel Barceló, Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl, Mike Kelley, David LaChapelle, Sherrie Levine, Andreas Slominski, Philip Taaffe and Andy Warhol on a display. On the other hand it is, indeed, ‘the first step’ , which had to be done in order to learn how to walk.

Creators deserved credit for overcoming many practical and theoretical problems – it’s still not as easy as it should be – to borrow and even temporary import artworks to Poland, red tape and financial reasons are the main obstacles. And theoretically speaking – it’s all in the title – Polish art lovers had to leave for Paris, London and New York in order to see contemporary art in a compendium, in moments – to… see it at all… Some sort of an  ideological attitude, then lack of the proper connections and even specifically driven individuals made that ‘first step’  difficult to be accomplished.

But it’s been finally done. With the choice of artists, which, unfortunately, looks accidental – one cannot help thinking – that whatever was comparatively easy available – has been put on a list, and then – on a display. Sherrie Levine’s conceptual sculptures and Andy Warhol’s prints – all from early 80s look outdated and out-of -place next to Eric Fischl’s or Philip Taafee’s recent paintings from the last decade. Francesco Clemente is represented by a series of moderately interesting pastel drawings only, mentioned Warhol by his hardly revolutionary prints/collages taken from one private collection. On the overall, one faces an acute sense of hunger, of an insufficiently experienced encounter, aesthetically and historically speaking.

Then, those who paid for the privilege of photographing artworks get to realize, with all the surprised uneasiness, that it borders impossible to capture some of the works in their full glory. As for an example: P. Taaffe’s mesmerizing “Artificial Paradise” in two uncovers, each at least 4 x 4 m. has been put in a small passage, corridor-like space; to experience these artworks properly, not to mention to document them in this very setting, is a task for a superman. The same relates to the most of the paintings presented in Krakow – it appears like, quite unsurprisingly, the communist designers of the Main Building of the National Museum didn’t allow enough space to comfortably fit in something bigger than folk artifacts.

On the other hand – the biggest rooms has been taken to accommodate another international, simultaneously presented exhibition of American art and design. Who said that quantity over quality in art serves well or even to the acceptable level anyone – curators, visitors, artists and – art above all?

Well done for trying, not so well done for not trying even more. Looking impatiently forward to see further steps of Polish curators towards the Western Contemporary Art.

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All photos by K. Skonieczna. To see more pictures from this exhibition go here


The story of Bacon’s studio

ks317ks3222Well, the story is simple, yet it remains, as for my current knowledge without a precedent in the contemporary art history. It goes like this:

At 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington, London; at the last floor in a shabby, industrial-looking building Francis Bacon has lived and worked for the last thirty years of his life (1961-1992). It was there, where a big chunk of his works of had been created – in solitude and in the ‘ordered chaos”, as he would call the towering pandemonium of his workshop.

John Edwards, the artist’s old companion became a heir of the space (and its contents) and after its main occupant’s sudden death, he has donated Bacon’s studio to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Contemporary Art in Dublin. For three long years art historians and conservators, supported by archeologists were documenting, removing and reconstructing every inch of the room and every bit of dirt in the new ‘home’.

In May 2001 the studio was open to the public, drawing significant numbers of visitors – art students/researchers/admirers to the gallery. However, some bitter discussions and arguments has sustained for years over that ‘transplantation’ as London’s art world – never truly giving any credit to Bacon’s Irish roots (artist was born in Dublin, then moved to London in his teens) had to swallow a bitter pill indeed, after Edwards had decided against everyone’s expectations (of leaving the treasure where it was). Irony adds a grotesque element to the whole story – the perpetrator of the mess, the painter himself had nothing to do with all that phenomenon germinating as happily and unstoppably as the mould has been in his beloved studio. He remained loyal to it despite numerous offers of much better (objectively speaking) locations, and never truly concerned what will happen to it after he’s gone.

But, what is that phenomenon all about? Does it exist at all beyond the claustrophobic circle of Bacon’s fans and London-Dublin microcosm of the local politics? What is the matter – after all?

A relatively tiny attic space, gray and dark, with no widows except of a skylight. Its contents – beyond any description (hence photos). Treated with awe, respect and a sort of a silenced admiration which one adopts facing a great artwork. Is Bacon’s Studio an artwork on its own? There are many, who have never doubted it… If so – can a significant artwork be created without its creator’s conscious will, sometimes – even against it; as Bacon would ‘fight’ his chaos from time to time, removing a part of the mess? What sort of the methodological and aesthetic tools one needs to approach ‘an artwork’ of this kind? Questions just keep flowing raising some controversial issues on the nature of art, its very core/sense/meaning…

I remember seeing it at Hugh Lane, with a long, elegant corridor of a very well-behaved art decorating the walls leading to it – the contrast was almost sublime, yet – all the project of that post-mortem ‘repatriation’ seemed pointless to me, even cruel for some reason. Great artist’s spirit locked in a maze of his belongings was right there – mocking mercilessly all the ‘gentile’ surroundings, yet – paying an unfairly high price at the same time – the price of being the perfect stranger, the alien “Other”… Packed in a sterile cage of a gallery’s room like a bizarre gift and a trophy for the visitors – that intensely private (Bacon would never let anyone to enter this space, except the closest friends), and – must say – profoundly moving and in a deep sense beautiful room seemed like the loneliest, the most misunderstood space within the art-world. An amusing ‘freak-show’ for some, a perfect epitome of the genius-artist’s workshop for many…

What else can be said – would you ever consider a couple of your old socks, you’ve had used as wipes  becoming a gallery/collection jewel?… would you ever give a thought, that your online ‘studio’ – your ‘e-space’ may look as madly creative, legendary and desired to ‘possess’ by dozens as 7 Reece Mews had been? Would you… this makes all the art-creating business even more interesting… Doesn’t it – after all?…

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Both photos above of F. Bacon’s studio by Perry Ogden; scanned by me from 7 Reece Mews; Francis Bacon’s Studio, Thames and Hudson, London, 2001.


Modern Sculpture – what is this?

British Museum in London hosts an interesting sculpture project – Statuephilia – open just until 25 January 2009 (see here for details), so – hurry up, anyone interested… It features recent work of six distinguished, contemporary artists: Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Ron Mueck, Noble and Webster (they present one collaborative piece) and Marc Quinn. The sculptures are ‘hidden’ among the artifacts of the permanent collection, which introduces an element of a play, a surprise and a fascinating dialogue with the history and different cultures. I remember, being in a hurry, I couldn’t find Hirst’s proposition – after glancing impatiently the glass cabinets filled in with countless antiquities, bones, masks etc. I asked a member of the staff: ‘Hirst – please’ – and she pointed towards a cabinet, just few yards away, full of brightly coloured, plastic sculls02 – which, obviously, I failed to notice on my own… Not being a particular fan of this artistic ‘celebrity’ of today, I just had to admit it – it was so simple and brilliant – Hirst’s exposition, difficult to digest in any other context, worked very well there, teasing the solemn contents of the room and the ‘elevated’ expectations of the visitors (at the same time, making evident existential comments on the human condition in general).

Ron Mueck’s hyper-real self-portrait: Face II – 2002 (look my photo – above) makes you think about the “Big Brother”‘s eye scrutinizing every imperfection of your daring image, and about Leonardo’s anatomical drawings where faces of would-be angels has been transformed into the knots of muscles, and about your post-mortem mask – defenseless facing stares and comments, and… about many other things. Quite to the contrary – Antony Gormley’s huge, winged statue: Case for an Angel I – 1989 (look my photo – below) takes a bird-view on the human condition.  It greets visitors with a wings-giving message – there is an angel hidden in us, the wings are there to stretch them out and to learn how to fly – again, very simple language,  yet bearing quite an intense compilation of meanings.03

Generally, the show proves the strength of the contemporary sculpture as an artistic discipline and the means of an artist’s self-expression. Answering question from the title and in a described context: What is the modern/contemporary sculputre? It’s a meaningful, distinct voice making eager, expressive figurative/human figure-based comments; it’s a playful and provocative proposition able to engage the modern viewer into a thoughtful interaction; and it’s a grandgrandhild of all great artworks of the ancient past – still willing to keep a dialogue with the tradition. I really enjoyed that exhibition, looking forward for similar collaborative projects around Europe…


Bacon or how to suffer in an outstanding manner…

Francis Bacon is back again in London – Tate Britain (11 Sept. 2008 – 4 Jan. 2009) – or, as I should write – he strikes again in this major retrospective show, displaying the formidable panorama of his paintings right from the first attempts (1940s) to the last experiments executed before his death in 1992. The exhibition fills in ten rooms with the most of the representative works present. Additionally – what I fully appreciated as a student – there is one room devoted to the methods and materials of the artist’s research and another one – called the “Crisis” featuring his artistic mistakes. And it’s probably from Bacon’s mistakes that one should start to view his art (maybe right after the impressive early period) – they clearly show how perfectly balanced his masterpieces are and how incredibly difficult had to be to find that fine line – between the genius audacity/ an outstanding quality of suffering portrayed and a pure, cheap melodrama/grotesque strangely embodied into it.

There are different sorts and qualities of suffering, to mention only few: the one, which glows with inner nobility and sophistication; other, which is low and attention-seeking, flirting with itself and seeking self-approval; the one, great and intense, which has no name until some kind of a higher/different level of self-recognition takes place and the one, which cannot be named at all – simply because is beyond human capacity of the verbal expression and anything you can do is to be silent in its presence. And Bacon’s paintings actually look like those, by a default, silent companions of their creator’s inner turmoil – giving it voice by the artistic language yet, paradoxically, communicating or conveying nothing beyond its own captivating void. The vision presented is the Alpha and Omega in itself, a riddle not to be explained – only accepted, with all the courage and emotional maturity it demands. For this Irish-born painter, alike Peter Handke in his autobiographical story, where he tries to reflect on his mother suicide (“It’s about the moments, when the mind boggles with horror so brief that speech always comes to late. Horror seems real and meaningful only when it is incomprehensible…” ) – leads us at the very edge of what the typical cognitive system perceives as ‘human’.

What is utterly fascinating in all this, is that that enigmatic, powerful monster and alien encaged into Bacon’s canvases keeps the modern viewer under his spell, even wins the claim as ‘genius’ instead of, as the common sense whispers -to provoke a total rejection or simply, to scare him away. Just like with Shakespeare’s murderers and witches – one cannot simply apply wrong/right brackets, we are suspended in the unnamed and the dark, hold there by the sheer magic of the art… Only very few artists out of dozens who were trying to confront the man with his own shadows succeeded, only few suffered – in an outstanding manner – through their art, teaching us – perhaps unwittingly – how to acknowledge and express our own pain. Bacon belongs to those few and that will probably sound shamelessly, but … I’m glad that he happened to exist, in the very unique way of his. His story casts as much shadow as it illuminates – it’s good to have it ‘documented’ in the great artworks, it’s great to have those audacious screams in paint among us.

P. S.

See the virtual, interactive tour of the exhibition here, yet – for the better results, see it in life…


‘Byzantium’ in London

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The Royal Academy – London presents its truly extraordinary exhibition of “Byzantium 330-1453” in co-operation with the Benaki Museum, Athens. That was an unusually mild winter day in London when we arrived there – a group of Fine Art students and tutors from Ireland. The subway wagons and the streets were as feverishly busy as, I suppose, they always are in this modern metropolis; but also – to our sincere surprise – there were even biggest crowds inside the RA building, everyone heading for the exhibition. One could overhear the anxious curators voices considering if some sort of an access restriction shouldn’t be introduced. And the fears were fully justified, since once you found yourself in those dark, small rooms completely packed both with priceless artifacts and excited people swinging around them their ants-like dance, you could hardly distinguish the space between the ‘art’ and the ‘viewers’ – so painfully vast and dividing in some of the galleries.

But one had to also immediately admit that the show was prepared with an admirable passion and professionalism, armed in detailed, general history and art history-based introductions/descriptions, yet loosing nothing from its considerable spiritual impact. And when I wandered endlessly around those cabinets and walls, listening both to the lively comments of those around me and to the ‘voice of the ancient past’ present in the artworks, when I allowed myself to be completely mesmerised both by an absolute mastership of the Byzantian art and my contemporaries admiration of it, I thought that is the sheer power of the human spirit in its long pilgrimage throughout the centuries and continents, that gives this exhibition the miraculous wings of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes.

One doesn’t have to be a believer to be reduced to his ‘kneels’, neither you are expected to have a degree in esoteric-sounding disciplines like, for example – ‘History of the Ancient East’ to get the message at all – there is something so profoundly universal and timeless about the art presented, something so gloriously soul-commanding that one just has to surrender admitting the superiority of that long-dead civilization. I must write I felt privileged in a sense having strong roots in the East and in the Christian tradition – I was at home there reading icons with some knowledge and previous experience or appreciating the richness of the palette and symbols – again well-known in my part of Europe. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the splendour, genius and a challenge of that art – the Sublime in its purest, most profound form, especially in such a number displayed in one place.

What else can be written without getting too esoteric – I believe this exhibition just has to be seen and experienced (and re-experienced, re-thought again and again) to make any sense at all. It’s a fantastic honor just to be able to go there and to see it…

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Well-written, beautifully printed and quite reasonably priced (in a paperback) catalogue of the exhibition is highly recommended to buy/save for future inspirations/ references.


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