Tag Archives: polish

“First step…” – Western Contemporary Art in Poland


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


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


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


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 Sherrie Levine’s conceptual sculptures and Andy Warhol’s prints – all from early 80s look outdated and out-of -place next to Eric Fischl’s or Philip Taafee’s recent paintings from the last decade.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.


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

Contemporary Art (6) – Jakub Julian Ziolkowski

Untitled , 2007,  oil on canvas,  15.75″ x 12.5″

The Great Battle Under the Table, 2006
Oil on canvas
190 x 165 cm / 74 3/4 x 65 in


The Garden, 2008
Oil on canvas
105 x 82 cm / 41 3/8 x 32 1/4 in


Jakub Julian Ziolkowski (b. 1980) – Polish painter, lives and works in Krakow, Poland.

Well, there seems to be a considerable, positive ‘buzz’ around this artist on the international art-scene… A Cinderella story, if one considers a newly graduated painter from a (still) ‘provincial’ Eastern Europe (Ziolkowski graduated from “Jan Matejko Academy of Art” in Krakow in 2005) having a successful, acclaimed exhibition in the Hauser and Wirth in London. At the moment, one can find his paintings  among others in the NEW MUSEUM – NY, at the prestigious “The Generational: Younger than Jesus” exhibition – a visionary event aiming at promoting the youngest, promising artists from around the world. And Jerry Saltz writes about them in the ‘New York – Art Magazine’: Jakub Julian Ziolkowski’s paintings aren’t about academic ideas of formalism, happy doodling, or mannered figuration; they’re visionary Bosch-meets-Ensor. (click on the link to read the entire review).

Not too bad at all as for an emerging artist…

Personally, what I find especially compelling about Ziolkowski’s work, is … its perverse realism...

“Realism?!” – I can hear you doubting – Call it sur-, call it magical -, call it dada-, but not just ‘realism’, for Christ’s sake ...

Well, they are realistic paintings – I can guess so, seeing this particular painter as my never-met mate from the same yard. We share our generation, our actual and, in parts – spiritual landscape – being born and brought up in one culture at the same time… Our education belonged to one of the most classical in Europe (in the world?), we had been taught, with the utmost solemnity,  that Greek/Roman mythology, classical philosophy, together with The Bible are totally responsible for how we think and perceive reality and ourselves.

So, reality is anything but a plaything to be messed with, reality is the residence of gods’ and humans’ stories – it exists to be reported, to be told, not to be ignored or subverted for the rebellion’s own sake… We may be tempted, of course, to turn our backs on it, to exorcise it from all the evil, cruelty and confusion so deeply ingrained into its tissue. We are the Polish X-generation from 90s, 00s – born out of oppressed parents (due to the Communists’ rule) into a world that could hardly offer us anything, except a perpetual struggle for survival –  to a country being itself  a huge mess due to a political, economic and cultural transformation… Hundreds of thousands if not millions of us from this very generation, from highly educated to those ‘just’ ‘resourceful’ ones, had left their homes as soon as the borders of Europe had been finally opened… And crossing the borders, alike staying behind on a land being slowly deserted by familiar faces and ideas – that makes one a realist – no matter what – a realist in a deep conflict with reality…

And there are hints of those intimate wars being fought in Ziolkowski’s paintings – battles between a duty to tell the ‘gods and humans’ stories as they are, and the perversion of imagination, troubled by the insecure, heartless world around.  Battles are fought under a table, while a huge spider-web covers after-Van Gogh’s-like wheat-field (Untitled, above) … well,  it didn’t surprise me when I read a reputable Polish author (of the older generation) commenting on Ziolkowski’s ‘dreamy hallucinations’ and his ‘private worlds of phobias’… Traditionalists would never accept Francis Bacon’s concept of the ‘concentrated reality’ –  being conveyed not merely as an illustration but an extract of it – presenting itself so intensely real that… mesmerizingly or shockingly unreal…


Czeslaw Mozil – just smile a little…

I’ve just come across this artist and I think it’s worth to introduce him to the wider public.

He is charming, free-spirited, playful, original, talented. He was born in Poland, yet brought up in Denmark. He speaks English, Dutch and Polish – all with an adorable accent. He plays to the accordion and piano with a considerable fluency. Here we can see a video made in his pub in Denmark – all the concept, realization, music, text, performance are the creation of Czeslaw (tcheslav) and his friends… One can obviously spot some influences, both Scandinavian and generally – European from different video artists, filmmakers, signers, poets…but I would say – as for a debutant – not too bad at all!

Lyrics are both bizarre and thoughtful – honestly – in moments beyond any translation… It tells an apparently light-hearted, random story about a lady, who found an old, broken little machine (a camera – presumably) and – out of a sentiment and tender love she decided to make it ‘working’ again… At the end, the sweetest of all choir signs:

We will be beautiful like we used to be…/And we will operating proficiently again…

O, yes – we will… Don’t try to understand or ‘explain’ anything – just enjoy and smile a little…

Official video uploaded on Youtube by the artist himself – thank you.

The Art of Winning

And now, again, for something completely different – yet, curiously similar to the whole endeavor of making, dealing with art:

Sunday 08 June 2008 – Robert Kubica takes his maiden win in the GP raceaaa

in Formula 1 car on a tor in Montreal.

Have been his warm admirer right from the first day he entered the competition over two years ago.

In such an ordinary, free from the inferior complex way, just as if he had belonged there…A quiet guy from Eastern Europe, with no money or tradition, ‘only’ with talent…

Those speeding cars playing with the laws of physics…Those drivers struggling at the edge of the human possibilities drawn by nature…

I take great pleasure feeling the passion behind that ridiculous, expansive game,I love the energy it emanates, the need of pushing the boundaries;

I love the madness of it and the excellency in planning and technological solutions;

I find it curiously beautiful and irresistible, despite of all the obvious vices inbuilt in it…

A year ago Robert Kubica might have been killed in a horrendous accident during the Montreal race. Many thought he would never, both physically and mentally, recover from that blow…This time, facing the same challenge, he delivers a delightful performance of character and skill.

The art or fighting back, the art of winning was there. I had some unforgettable moments on that day, just as inspiring as some of the great artworks are. All the best, Robert, your passion is infectious, let it last against time…

Blame me, if you have never been melancholic…

Yes, do blame me… If only words and expressions like ‘blue is my favourite colour’, ‘hey, all of you, just leave me alone (and I mean it)’, ‘every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence (Beckett)’ etc. – do not ring any bell, and never did – it’s OK… Just leave now and enjoy yourself somewhere else (there are thousands of places!) where sanguine, talkative, easy-going guys entertain visitors with fascinating stories about Obama, how to save this planet or how a baby can be born with two faces… Here is a sophomoric, flamboyant, esoteric and just sooo boring space of a pathetic, self-absorbed little bastard with artistic ambitions. Whatever I do, I do it for myself and you are a senseless, petty prick if you think otherwise. You are coming here thinking that you’ve just made me jumping up to the stars by your silent, ignorant, shallow presence… That I should treat you like a half-god grabbing your attention with attractively-written, stimulating posts and flirting with you by colourful images and stupidly smiling little yellow fellows… Just forget, this is an abuse post and it’s you who should be grateful that I devote my priceless time, energy and a skill to you – you anonymous, spongy, wooden-headed brat.

Here is Ewa Demarczyk (‘eva demartchik’, called ‘Polish Piaf’) signing a poignant to insanity poem by Julian Tuwim (‘tuvim) to the music by Z. Konieczny, translation mine (sorry master Tuwim):

Julian Tuwim ‘At the round table’

Would you consider, my darling
To go to Tomaszow for a day?
Maybe that very same September silence,
Still can be found there, in the golden dusk…
In that white house, in that room,
Which strangers filled up with their furniture,
We have to finish our conversation,
That from the past, sadly uncompleted…

It’s there where at the round table, still
We are sitting very still, like bewitched!
Who will rescue us from that spell?
Who will shake us awake out of cruel oblivion?

The salty little drop is still flowing
To my lips from my fair eyes,
And you answering me nothing
And you are eating white grapes…

And yet, my eyes are signing to you:
‘Du holde Kunst…’, and my heart is cracking!
And I have to go, so you are saying goodbye,
But your hand doesn’t tremble in mine…

And I went, I left
That conversation broke like a dream,
And I blessed and cursed you:
‘Du holde Kunst! So – without a word?’

That white house, that dead room
Even today is surprised, doesn’t believe…
The strangers had put their furniture there,
And they were leaving it in thoughtful sadness…

But – everything has been left there!
Even that very same September silence…
So, would you consider, my dearest,
To go to Tomaszow for a day again?


Uploaded to Youtube by abudab – thank you.

Marek Grechuta – Kantata

This is one of these almost-impossible-to-translate poems, when all the charm and even meaning of the text is being jeopardised by an attempt to find the proper expressions in a different language. And a translator (doomed to clumsiness and frustration) has to choose between being literally ‘loyal’ to the original (which will result in a terrible mess-in-writing) or trying a daunting task of ‘playing’ a poet him/herself – just in order to catch the essence of ‘what I think the author tried to say”… And if I am about to suicidally apply the second option I am doing it out of my deep regret that there is much too much forgotten or unaccessible art – that the artists’ names and their vision of the world, which should stir souls of international crowds remain, at best, national curiosities merely…

Marek Grechuta (‘grehuta’) – a poet, composer and a signer (died in 2006) was originally trained as an architect, but quite quickly and fortunately he allowed himself to become what he seemed to be born for. His artistic style was unique – an elegant, playful yet full of mystery; his sensitive yet intense, charismatic presence on a stage (one may say the he looked like ‘the poetry personified’) was bringing in mind artistic performances. Then his distinctive voice, perfectly controlled and full of expression, and the sublime lyrics (his own or adopted from Polish poets) arranged with always clever music into a one piece, which one can call ‘the synthesis of arts’.

Here, he sings “Kantata” (the ‘almost-impossible-to translate’) – a poem by Jan Zych (barely known, what a shame!), music by excellent Jan Kanty Pawluskiewicz (borowka7 has originally uploaded it to the Youtube service, thank you). I admire this piece for its ability to portray the extremes – dark and light, icy cold and golden warm, drama and perfect harmony…


I’ve dreamed about birds without the sky…
I’ve dreamed about horses without the land…

There is no other season here, only winter,
Here is the place heavy like a stone and confusing like a labyrinth,
Here a wall meets a wall, both are alien to each other,
And a fair flower of the sky dies on a stalk of a yard.

But somewhere there, they are sowing their land with seeds,
And drowsy hay is being carried into wide open barns,
Summer is ruling there with its golden sceptre.

And the last apple on the apple tree
Shines at the distance in that Kingdom.

Here is the place heavy like a stone and confusing like a labyrinth,
Here nobody will care if I fall among all this mechanical jungle,
And they will sweep me up, the alien man, like old snow before spring,
Four sides of the world and four seasons will unite in that one moment.

And everything I’ve experienced will rush to my heart,
And my memories will fight which one of them I belong to,
And let it be a sort of a confession, but without the absolution,
I don’t want to be robbed of anything I went through in my life.

Few words on poetry…

I just couldn’t help myself with that… I had to share my amazement with you… Quite recently I’ve came across Damien’s Rice ‘9 Crimes’ hugely popular song, which – being nicely performed with some sublime moments (especially the original video does have a visual impact) – is nothing more than one more piece about love. What stunned me was the ‘buzz’ around the lyrics – people launching discussions (on e-forums) and struggling to interpret one simple metaphor from that song (metaphor of a gun ‘being loaded’ and ‘shoot’). What had happened to us – ‘modern people’ – that we appear to be so analphabetic when it comes to digesting language only a little bit more ‘sophisticated’ that that informal one?… That we hit the wall and get excited when someone uses popular, mass-poetry – diluted and bleached in order to not to intimidate us too much by some ‘snobby’ messages?… O, yes… We tend to label as ‘snobby’ and ‘pretentious’ anything that reaches even few inches above the average. And the ‘beautiful’ word evokes the most repulsing reactions (I have them myself when someone refers to my art) – no, no, just don’t call it ‘beautiful’, it’s so old-fashioned and ‘cliche’ that sounds like a degradation rather than appreciation… call it ‘cynical’, call it ‘modern’, call it ‘difficult’… Don’t call it ‘poetic’, don’t you dare to call it ‘artisitc’ and never ever call it ‘beautiful’…

Right, something went in the wrong direction then… But, there is the light in a tunnel, there seems to be a great starvation for a meaningful (or, at least, ambiguous) message, we know that we are in a great need of that ‘metaphysical thrill’ which only true art – true beauty can deliver. To start with a simple metaphor from a hit song it’s OK, but we have to go further, much further… There are undiscovered worlds of written messages so astonishing that you are likely to fall of your chair if you perceptive enough…

So there my story goes on… Being provoked by the above-mentioned social observation I ended up immersing myself for hours in Polish poetry being sung by some outstanding artists… And I must say, I feel of my chair… Not only because (please, absolve me if it sounds too narcissistic for you) Polish seems to be perfect to convey sublime yet powerful – with all its whispering yet brisk sounds and not only due my native land’s innate love and a gift of poetic expression (before 2004 when Czeslaw Milosz sadly passed away, Poland was blessed by two living poets-Nobelists and dozens of those excellent, yet unknown broader abroad)… Simply, I’ve experienced anew how profoundly BEAUTIFUL is to be a man, a human being – to able to create and perform, to perceive and appreciate the pure transcendence caught in words and sounds.

I don’t mind being called the most ‘snobby’ creature on this planet – just try it yourself, just help yourself to BE, to be more…

In my next post – one of my favourite pieces I can listen to endlessly…

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