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Travelers' Tales: C-MAP Research in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Members of MoMA’s C-MAP Central and Eastern European group reflect on their research trip to Warsaw and Łódź, Poland and Berlin, Germany, which took place in late May / early June, 2016. Over the course of a week, the 14 travelers met with over 70 individuals, including artists, curators, dealers, and art historians; conducted two formal studio visits; visited 13 galleries; and toured over 15 institutions across the three cities. Highlights include our tour of The Travellers: Voyage and Migration in New Art from Central and Eastern Europe, curated by former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral C-MAP Fellow Magdalena Moskalewicz at Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw; our day spent with director Jarosław Suchan and his team at Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, with which MoMA has a long-term partnership; and our meeting Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin with curators Bojana Pejić and Rachel Rits-Volloch along with several artists featured in the exhibition HERO MOTHER: Contemporary Art By Post-Communist Women Re-Thinking Heroism. Read below for more about these and other moments from the trip.

Author

Ksenia nouril

Ksenia Nouril

C-MAP Fellow for Central and Eastern Europe The Museum of Modern Art Ksenia Nouril is a Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives (C-MAP) Fellow at MoMA, where she researches and plans programs related to Central and Eastern European art.... Read more »
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Travelers' Tales: C-MAP Research in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin MAP

Travelers' Tales: C-MAP Research in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Members of MoMA’s C-MAP Central and Eastern European group reflect on their research trip to Warsaw and Łódź, Poland and Berlin, Germany, which took place in late May / early June, 2016. Over the course of a week, the 14 travelers met with over 70 individuals, including artists, curators, dealers, and art historians; conducted two formal studio visits; visited 13 galleries; and toured over 15 institutions across the three cities. Highlights include our tour of The Travellers: Voyage and Migration in New Art from Central and Eastern Europe, curated by former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral C-MAP Fellow Magdalena Moskalewicz at Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw; our day spent with director Jarosław Suchan and his team at Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, with which MoMA has a long-term partnership; and our meeting Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin with curators Bojana Pejić and Rachel Rits-Volloch along with several artists featured in the exhibition HERO MOTHER: Contemporary Art By Post-Communist Women Re-Thinking Heroism. Read below for more about these and other moments from the trip....

Show More

Members of MoMA’s C-MAP Central and Eastern European group reflect on their research trip to Warsaw and Łódź, Poland and Berlin, Germany, which took place in late May / early June, 2016. Over the course of a week, the 14 travelers met with over 70 individuals, including artists, curators, dealers, and art historians; conducted two formal studio visits; visited 13 galleries; and toured over 15 institutions across the three cities. Highlights include our tour of The Travellers: Voyage and Migration in New Art from Central and Eastern Europe, curated by former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral C-MAP Fellow Magdalena Moskalewicz at Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw; our day spent with director Jarosław Suchan and his team at Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, with which MoMA has a long-term partnership; and our meeting Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin with curators Bojana Pejić and Rachel Rits-Volloch along with several artists featured in the exhibition HERO MOTHER: Contemporary Art By Post-Communist Women Re-Thinking Heroism. Read below for more about these and other moments from the trip.

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1 - WARSAW

Haunted by History

The “specter of communism” is still haunting Europe. Albeit cliché, these words penned by Karl Marx in his 1848 Communist Manifesto came to mind when I was in Warsaw, where I felt like I was experiencing a serious case of déjà vu. While Warsaw has rapidly developed into a twenty-first-century, globally networked city since the end of Communist rule in 1989, it has held on tightly to the trappings of its past. The specter of communism is most visible in much of the city center’s architecture, including but not limited to the Marszałkowska Housing District, the Palace of Culture and Science, and Defilad (Parade) Square, all of which are designed in the Socialist Realist style.

The Palace of Culture and Science was built between 1952 and...

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Haunted by History

The “specter of communism” is still haunting Europe. Albeit cliché, these words penned by Karl Marx in his 1848 Communist Manifesto came to mind when I was in Warsaw, where I felt like I was experiencing a serious case of déjà vu. While Warsaw has rapidly developed into a twenty-first-century, globally networked city since the end of Communist rule in 1989, it has held on tightly to the trappings of its past. The specter of communism is most visible in much of the city center’s architecture, including but not limited to the Marszałkowska Housing District, the Palace of Culture and Science, and Defilad (Parade) Square, all of which are designed in the Socialist Realist style.

The Palace of Culture and Science was built between 1952 and 1955, by order of Joseph Stalin, in the style of the Soviet Union’s “Seven Sisters”—neoclassic structures characterized by single tall towers and elaborate ornamentation. Today, it continues to host a variety of social and cultural organizations, including a cinema, a theater, a technology museum, a restaurant, a bar, and the newly reopened Galeria Studio. Founded in 1972 along with Teatr Studio, the gallery was host to exhibitions and amassed one of the first collections of modern and contemporary art in Poland, numbering hundreds of objects. In 2016, the avant-garde legacy of Galeria Studio was revived (although it never officially closed) with the exhibition From the Archive of Studio Gallery, organized by its new director, Dorota Jarecka, and curator Barbara Piwowarska. They gave us a tour of the exhibition, which traced the gallery’s history and included the designs for the adjacent theater’s remodeling by Oskar Hansen, most famous for his theories of Open Form.

The continued operation of this building has allowed contemporary Warszawiacy (Varsovians) to engage with its history. The resuscitation of the palace as a vital cultural institution, like it was in its heyday, is just one example of the historical turn that has swept Warsaw and other post-communist cities over the last two decades. By historical turn, I mean a looking back on and mining of official and unofficial, individual and collective, real and imagined histories culled consciously and conspicuously from the past and then applied to the present using primary and secondary sources, including artifacts, archives, and reconstructions.

This historical turn was evident already in the year 2000, when Anda Rottenberg, whom we met during this trip at Galerie Isabella Czarnowska in Berlin, curated the exhibition Szare w kolorze, 1956–1970: Kultura okresu gomulkowskiego (Gray in color, 1956–1970: Culture from the Gomulka era) at Zachęta National Gallery of Art. Mounted in honor of the museum’s centennial, this retro exhibition resurrected several key interiors of the period associated with postwar modernity in Poland, such as milk bars and jazz clubs, and made them fully functional and accessible to museum patrons. I first read about this wildly popular exhibition in the book Warsaw (London: Reaktion Books, 2003) by David Crowley, with whom we also met, but I had not had the opportunity to speak to Anda about her experience.

At the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie), we found an institution operating out of the famous Emilia, a former furniture store that is a prime example of the brutalist architecture of the socialist period, while it is in the process of building a new structure, designed by Thomas Phifer of New York, across the street on Defilad Square to house the museum as well as a theater complex. Though, as of writing (October 2016), this building is in the processed of being torn down for redevelopment in Warsaw's bustling center city.

Today, the neon sign that once lit the facade of Emilia can be found at the Neon Muzeum, located across the Vistula in Warsaw's Praga district. This atypical museum is dedicated to the documentation and preservation of these remnants of Cold War Polish culture.

Haunted by History

Capturing the Archive with Zofia Kulik

A few months prior to our visit, I did a brief email interview with Zofia Kulik about her activities in the 1970s as both an artist and an archivist. With her partner, Przemysław Kwiek, she was involved in performance activities as KwieKulik, and together, they founded their own institution, the Studio of Activities, Documentation, and Propagation (PDDiU), which actively archived documentation of KwieKulik performances as well as the work of a network of other local and international artists and art spaces. In the interview, Kulik made clear that this archive was meant to be generative, that is, to serve as source material for new work. In her words, “The archive seemed to be for us similar to the clay-plasmatic structure easy for...

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Capturing the Archive with Zofia Kulik

A few months prior to our visit, I did a brief email interview with Zofia Kulik about her activities in the 1970s as both an artist and an archivist. With her partner, Przemysław Kwiek, she was involved in performance activities as KwieKulik, and together, they founded their own institution, the Studio of Activities, Documentation, and Propagation (PDDiU), which actively archived documentation of KwieKulik performances as well as the work of a network of other local and international artists and art spaces. In the interview, Kulik made clear that this archive was meant to be generative, that is, to serve as source material for new work. In her words, “The archive seemed to be for us similar to the clay-plasmatic structure easy for transformation and re-arrangements.” Another aspect was that the archiving of new art practices was not a priority of state institutions: KwieKulik’s labor in accumulating materials was a response to an understanding that they would not be preserved otherwise. Kulik mentioned, “We had a quite deep conviction that something important would be lost if it was not captured by a camera, tape recorder. . . So, in our case, documentation was a weapon against permanent ‘discontinuity’ in art history.”

KwieKulik’s archiving activities were generally conducted in their small apartment in Warsaw. Kulik has maintained this archive over the last forty years and is in agreement with the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, which will acquire it. During our research trip, we were able to have a look in its current location at Kulik’s home in a suburb of Warsaw. The materials are well housed in archival folders and, from a quick glance, contain a broad survey of the international artists and artist-run spaces that were focusing on new types of art production and experiments in publishing and correspondence art in the 1970s and 1980s. I noted a folder for Franklin Furnace, which was founded in 1976 in New York as a performance space and archive, and also a folder for Other Books and So, an Amsterdam bookstore run by the Mexican artist Ulisees Carrión, which distributed artists’ publications.

This phenomenon of artist as archivist has been a recurring theme in C-MAP’s research of artists’ networks in Central and Eastern Europe. Contexts and scenarios for these archives are varied, but we have found there to be an overarching narrative of individuals compelled to collect and preserve documentation of art exhibitions and events. The motivation has often been a direct response to the dearth of opportunities for these materials to be preserved in state institutions. In fact, these archives are housing materials often full of oppositional perspectives that may have been, at the time they were made or collected, difficult or even dangerous to publically disperse.

Hitting the Ground Running: An Illustrated Studio Visit with Zofia Kulik

Every C-MAP trip is an adventure. Though the intent of the program is to expand our curatorial vision beyond the confines of our collective knowledge base—to give aid to our critical need to expand the scope of “our” modernism by seeing works firsthand within the context of their creation, meeting with artists, critics, historians, and museum professionals we would have limited access to otherwise—occasionally these trips are curious in and of themselves. This trip began with a quaint handwritten boarding pass.

After arriving in Warsaw, we immediately embarked on a trip to visit with Zofia Kulik in her studio and home in the northwestern outskirts of the city. Kulik is best known for her powerful photography-based work and...

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Hitting the Ground Running: An Illustrated Studio Visit with Zofia Kulik

Dp1
Photo: David Platzker

Every C-MAP trip is an adventure. Though the intent of the program is to expand our curatorial vision beyond the confines of our collective knowledge base—to give aid to our critical need to expand the scope of “our” modernism by seeing works firsthand within the context of their creation, meeting with artists, critics, historians, and museum professionals we would have limited access to otherwise—occasionally these trips are curious in and of themselves. This trip began with a quaint handwritten boarding pass.

Dp3
Photo: David Platzker
Dp2
Photo: David Platzker

After arriving in Warsaw, we immediately embarked on a trip to visit with Zofia Kulik in her studio and home in the northwestern outskirts of the city. Kulik is best known for her powerful photography-based work and lexicon of intricate uses of human forms and objects composed within stark design frameworks. While reviewing her works and listening to her speak about them—and the highly considered craft in the production of her photographs—it became increasingly apparent that her background in sculpture and performance lent a logical pathway to her meticulously crafted silver gelatin prints. The choreography of her darkroom work, which she shared through her archives, was breathtaking to see.

Dp4
Photo: David Platzker

In the image above, Kulik is presenting, to Christian Rattemeyer, a stenciled template with advent calendar–like windows, which was used to produce a single frame of the multi-panel photographic work. Here Kulik is pointing to where the element was utilized within a small reference image for The Splendor of Myself.

Dp5
Photo: David Platzker

We also saw notebooks of her raw photographs, which she draws upon in an encyclopedic manner, occasionally returning to singular images in differing works over a span of years.

Dp6
Photo: David Platzker

After seeing how Kulik builds her images with great precision and many templates, it came as no surprise that her darkroom procedures are equally well managed, like a well-conceived performance executed with split-second timing.

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Photo: David Platzker
Dp9
Photo: David Platzker
Dp8
Photo: David Platzker

As a prominent and very active member of the Warsaw artistic scene, Kulik has corresponded with a wide range of Polish and international artists since the 1970. Her incredible, highly organized archives are a testament to these relationships, not only documenting her own participation in exhibitions, publications, and performances but also relaying a connectivity between global artists irrespective of national boundaries.

Art without a Passport

Art without a Passport

I’ve never taken for granted the ability to travel internationally; to the contrary, I’ve relished the many opportunities I’ve had to experience different parts of the globe. But as we embarked on our C-MAP trip to Warsaw (my first visit) and Berlin, I admit I did not anticipate that travel and restrictions on the freedom to do so would be such a common thread in the art we encountered. Travel was restricted during the second half of the twentieth century in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of the Cold War, martial law, and economic instability, among other circumstances. This, of course, had a direct effect on many of the artists, impacting their artistic strategies and choice of materials as well as the dissemination of their...

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Art without a Passport

I’ve never taken for granted the ability to travel internationally; to the contrary, I’ve relished the many opportunities I’ve had to experience different parts of the globe. But as we embarked on our C-MAP trip to Warsaw (my first visit) and Berlin, I admit I did not anticipate that travel and restrictions on the freedom to do so would be such a common thread in the art we encountered. Travel was restricted during the second half of the twentieth century in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of the Cold War, martial law, and economic instability, among other circumstances. This, of course, had a direct effect on many of the artists, impacting their artistic strategies and choice of materials as well as the dissemination of their work. What surprised me was that the subjects of travel and movement—of people and things, across borders and seas, voluntary and forced—still loom so large for the new generation of artists working in the region.

Our first stop after landing in Warsaw was Zofia Kulik’s home and studio, where she showed us her digital and physical archives of decades of work as well as mock-ups of her more recent large-scale photo collages. Later in the trip, we saw an exhibition at Žak | Branicka in Berlin of KwieKulik’s work (which Kulik made in collaboration with her former husband Przemyslaw Kwiek) called The Monument without a Passport. Made during the period of martial law in Poland (1981–83), when citizens were not allowed to travel outside of the country—or, in many cases, even between cities—this body of work explores the restrictions explicitly. The exhibition included everything from barely discernable passport photos to photographs documenting performances in which Kulik’s head and feet were restrained, evoking her inability to move freely.

The next day, we visited The Travellers: Voyage and Migration in New Art from Central and Eastern Europe, an exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, curated by Magdalena Moskalewicz (a former C-MAP fellow). The exhibition featured work in a variety of media by nearly thirty contemporary artists addressing “travel in a region where freedom to travel was, until recently, a luxury available to the very few.” We heard from artist Janek Simon about Alang Transfer, an installation of dozens of signs and images salvaged from retired ships—some of which had traveled the world for decades—and sold at auction. This comprised an incongruous and, at times, humorous combination of imagery, languages, and visual systems.

While there, we also heard from Radek Szlaga about Transatlantic, made in collaboration with Honza Zamojski, after their journey, in 2012, on a cargo ship from Belgium to the United States. After just a few days, the two became disenchanted with the ship’s food, ran out of reading material, and grew bored of playing basketball, and they began to long for the convenience, connectivity, and communication so readily available to them in their everyday lives on land. They presented elements of their journey in a multimedia installation including video, plants, a self-published newspaper, and a bunk bed.

When we visited the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, I was drawn to Halil Altindere’s latest rap-video-with-a-political-message called Homeland (no doubt a reference to the television show of the same name, which has been widely criticized for being Islamophobic). The lyrics (voiced by Mohammad Abu Hajar, a Syrian rapper now based in Berlin) and staged footage look at the experience of the forced migration of refugees—an increasing reality in both Turkey and Germany, where the video was filmed. Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport—just a few kilometers from the Biennale venues—has recently been transformed into a refugee camp and it serves as a central backdrop in Altindere’s video. In one of many simultaneously poignant and absurd scenes, refugees wearing orange life jackets run along a beach, while nearby, a group of presumably European women in athleisure wear strike yoga poses as they passively look on.

Looking back over my photos of the trip with a few months’ hindsight, I was struck by one image I took during the group’s visit to Edward Krasiński ‘s studio, in Warsaw, where he lived and worked from the 1970s till his death in 2004. Though Krasiński was reluctant to discuss the meaning of his trademark use of the blue Scotch tape with which he lined walls, works of art, furniture, and other objects, he once commented: “The tape has ascribed meaning to itself. Once it came into being, it was then free to do anything, to frolic. The meaning is inherent in the tape; I inspired only its spirit.” To me, this freedom to frolic—in this case, around a small globe turned on its head and suspended in time and space many years after he placed it there—is a small, but powerfully optimistic symbol of what it can mean to freely travel the globe.

An Illustrated Look at Artists' Archives in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Our trip to Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin began with a magical evening.

After arriving from New York, we went directly to meet with artist Zofia Kulik at her home and archive. Being in her presence, at that place, brought her work to life.

She shared with us her process of working with her archive, which is divided into three parts: documentation of her collaboration with Przemysław Kwiek as KwieKulik, encompassing more than two hundred events; materials related to other artists and galleries; and contextual materials including her library.

It is not just the archive’s usefulness in documenting the past that is of interest, but also its power and potential to shape the future. Kulik is constantly working in and on her...

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An Illustrated Look at Artists' Archives in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Our trip to Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin began with a magical evening.

Img 3076
Photo: Michelle Elligott

After arriving from New York, we went directly to meet with artist Zofia Kulik at her home and archive. Being in her presence, at that place, brought her work to life.

Img 3068
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3058
Photo: Michelle Elligott

She shared with us her process of working with her archive, which is divided into three parts: documentation of her collaboration with Przemysław Kwiek as KwieKulik, encompassing more than two hundred events; materials related to other artists and galleries; and contextual materials including her library.

Img 3059
Photo: Michelle Elligott

It is not just the archive’s usefulness in documenting the past that is of interest, but also its power and potential to shape the future. Kulik is constantly working in and on her archive, and it serves as source material for her current work. Furthermore, she has promised her collection to the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, which intends to install it in the galleries, as a work of art, and not simply to preserve it as a research collection.

Our next visit was to the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, where I was eager to learn more about this novel and intriguing approach of exhibiting the Kulik Archive as an entity. There, we benefited from presentations by Joanna Mytkowska and Marcel Andino Velez about the history of the museum’s programs and building project. Robert Jarosz provided an in-depth description of the extensive work they have done to borrow or acquire, digitize, and publish online significant artist archives, including those of Eustachy Kossakowski and Alina Szapocznikow. They all look forward to thinking through the possibilities and the challenges of the future Kulik Archive acquisition and installation, and I eagerly await their results.

Screen shot 2016 10 31 at 12.19.22 pm
Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

Of course, no visit to Warsaw is complete without a stop at the enchanting and captivating studio of Henryk Stazewski and Edward Krasinski. It was like a warm homecoming, as we had visited their studio six years before, on our first C-MAP voyage to Warsaw, when for me, it was the absolute highlight and revelation of the trip. In fact, following that expedition, each member of the team was asked to propose potential future acquisitions. I presented Krasinski, and I am pleased to note that since that time, some half a dozen works have been acquired by MoMA.

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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

Another highlight was in Łódź, where, at the Muzeum Sztuki, I had the good fortune to spend a few hours delving into their archives and speaking with their rockin’ (literally, as in a former punker) archivist, Maciej Cholewiński. Our conversation was recorded, and the video will be available here on post in the coming weeks!

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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

For me, the most important and meaningful part of our C-MAP trips is the opportunity to meet and speak with the artists themselves and to review and discuss the archives and ephemera that record the history of their production. We had the opportunity in Berlin to meet with Polish artist Ewa Partum at Galerie M + R Fricke. There, Partum regaled us with anecdotes about her compelling and provocative work, as well shared documents from her archive, including those related to her Galeria Adres (meaning Address Gallery, as it was for a time located in her apartment), which promoted ephemeral and mail art practices in the mid-1970s.

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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

These are but a few highlights from a trip that was filled with great encounters with both art and artists.

Highlights from Warsaw to Berlin

An unexpected highlight of the trip was an unscheduled visit that several of us made to a new experimental space for contemporary art in the Starak Family Foundation, at the start of our stay in Warsaw. On view was an exhibition of Henryk Stazewski’s monochromatic paintings and metallic reliefs of the 1960s–1970s, displayed against floating planes of color that locked them into the interior space. Adding color in this way was a high-risk but effective strategy on the part of the curators that I found sympathetic to the spirit of Stazewski’s statement on the title wall: “A work of art should neither blend into the surroundings, nor decorate or facilitate anything. It should dominate them artistically.” Nearby was a related exhibition of...

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Highlights from Warsaw to Berlin

An unexpected highlight of the trip was an unscheduled visit that several of us made to a new experimental space for contemporary art in the Starak Family Foundation, at the start of our stay in Warsaw. On view was an exhibition of Henryk Stazewski’s monochromatic paintings and metallic reliefs of the 1960s–1970s, displayed against floating planes of color that locked them into the interior space. Adding color in this way was a high-risk but effective strategy on the part of the curators that I found sympathetic to the spirit of Stazewski’s statement on the title wall: “A work of art should neither blend into the surroundings, nor decorate or facilitate anything. It should dominate them artistically.” Nearby was a related exhibition of more Op art black-and-white paintings of the 1970s by Ryszard Winiarski. As someone fascinated by design as an artistic and spatialized practice, I found these installations a thought-provoking start.

A recurrent theme in several of our visits was the rethinking of and response to Communist culture by contemporary artists, for instance the Piktogram “Bureau of Loose Associations” in Warsaw, or the Blockchain Visionaries installation at the Berlin Biennale, presented in the former building of the East German State Council—a largely untouched Communist monument replete with its original stained glass, mosaics, and mural program. It was fascinating to talk with Christoph Tannert about the exhibition he was developing with Eugen Blume, Voices of Dissent: Art in the GDR 1976–1989, which opened in July at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The Hero Mother exhibition at MOMENTUM of Kunstquartier Bethanien exhibited art by post-communist women rethinking heroism in the context of twenty Communist countries, and touching on issues of gender, nationalism, citizenship, and migration. We visited two private foundations in Berlin, the Sammlung Boros and Julia Stoschek Collection, which have reconfigured concrete-bunker architecture of the Cold War era to dramatic effect.

Toward the end of our trip, it was a pleasure to share with colleagues the small treasure house of twentieth- and twenty-first-century product and graphic design culture–the Museum der Dinge in Berlin. The core of this collection is formed by the archive of the Deutscher Werkbund, an association of designers, industrialists, and politicians concerned with industrial design, founded in 1907. In charting the trajectory of design reform on both sides of the postwar divide between East and West Germany, the displays reveal much continuity in the design culture, and an exhibition of East German magazines is a reminder of how vibrant graphic design could be even in the more hardline cultures of the Soviet bloc. It was also a fascinating opportunity to view the museum’s installation of the Frankfurt Kitchen designed in 1926 by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky prior to my installation of it at The Museum of Modern Art, New York this fall.

2 - ŁÓDŻ

Snapshots from a fast-moving train: Łódź

Like lumps of fresh, unmolded clay, we were hurled with unremitting force at one cultural amazement after another, barely having time to take a deep breath, and realign our brain cells to all that we encountered. Our visit to Łódź was one among many whirlwind days. Some of the group had visited Łódź previously, and we had had the invaluable association with Jarosław Suchan, the director of the city’s Muzeum Sztuki, both on previous trips to Poland and in New York. Suchan is a man of contagious energy and brilliance, eager to share his insights on art and vision for a major art center in the middle of Central Europe. He, Department of Modern Art head Daniel Muzyczuk, Department of Modern Art Collection head Paulina Kurc-Maj, and their...

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Snapshots from a fast-moving train: Łódź

Like lumps of fresh, unmolded clay, we were hurled with unremitting force at one cultural amazement after another, barely having time to take a deep breath, and realign our brain cells to all that we encountered. Our visit to Łódź was one among many whirlwind days. Some of the group had visited Łódź previously, and we had had the invaluable association with Jarosław Suchan, the director of the city’s Muzeum Sztuki, both on previous trips to Poland and in New York. Suchan is a man of contagious energy and brilliance, eager to share his insights on art and vision for a major art center in the middle of Central Europe. He, Department of Modern Art head Daniel Muzyczuk, Department of Modern Art Collection head Paulina Kurc-Maj, and their colleagues Anna Saciuk-Gąsowska, Maria Morzuch, Katarzyna Sloboda, Maria Franecka, Joanna Sokołowska, Paweł Polit, and Łukasz Zaremba greeted our group, upon our arrival, at the trendy ms1 café, where a delicious lunch had been prepared for us to share, giving us the opportunity and time to meet and be reacquainted. The ms1 café, in one of the renovated spaces in the original building, is a gathering spot for Łódź, serving great food in a contemporary atmosphere that evokes the early 1930s, when the museum first opened in 1931. We were showered with conversation and also presents of museum publications and tote bags.

After lunch, part of our group visited the museum’s archives, located in ms1, with archivist Maciej Cholewiński. I chose instead to revisit the fabulous Neoplastic Room with the other members of our group. We were led through the spaces by Suchan. The installation is so fresh and actual—a treasure chest of Neoplastic art given to Łódź with all of the hopefulness and idealism of the early twentieth century. We also visited Daniel Buren and Edward Krasinski’s installation and Igor Krenz’s 2000 video work Prostowanie skrzywienia (Straightening out the curve), which reference works in the Neoplastic room.

We were also very fortunate to meet the Hungarian artist Tamás Kaszás, who was in the process of installing his major exhibition Exercises in Autonomy (June 3–September 25, 2016). Kaszás is one of the new Futurists exploring the post-collapse and destruction of late twentieth-century Eastern European societies and cultures. After Poland, we went to Berlin, where we encountered a number of artists in the Berlin Biennale who shared these concerns and were also exploring a number of ways across many media to express their post-cataclysmic aesthetics. Kaszás’s work is raw and smart, filled with energy about his ideas and vision.

Following our time at ms1, the two MoMA groups reunited, and we walked the few blocks to ms2 for a flyby visit to the fully modernized and installed main museum building. We got glimpses of masterworks like Krzystofa Wodiczko’s Pojazd (Vehicle, 1971–73). We also saw two striking paintings by Fernand Léger; video work by Douglas Davis; major works by Ewa Partum: Legalność przestrzeni (The Legality of space) installation photographs (1971) in Freedom Square, Łódź; some great photomontages by Teresa Rudowicz (1928–1994); and so much more on four floors—or were there ten floors? We all wished that there was more time. I very much liked ms2’s innovative installation design, which breaks the white-cube paradigm and encourages exploration of areas within the spaces, allowing unexpected sight lines.

Leaving ms2, we rushed to the legendary Wschodnia Gallery, founded in 1984, which has a history of supporting progressive artists not only from Łódź, but also from other parts of Poland and other countries. The space was very sparse, with a Minimalist work, perhaps a reaction to the Muzeum Sztuki’s luxuriant installations and holdings. Two of the gallery’s artists briefly spoke with us, and Adam Klimczak, cofounder of the Wschodnia Gallery, talked at length about the gallery’s history in front of a marvelous thirty year–anniversary photographic chart of events at the gallery. Unfortunately, it was impossible to transport ourselves back in time to experience what must have been very artistic and vital activities in Łódź. Hopefully, we will have opportunities in the future to see the gallery’s substantial archives.

During our trip to Poland, we were constantly reminded of the importance of archives, from our arrival and visit to Zofia Kulik’s home, to the presentation at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, about their extensive archives, to the Muzeum Sztuki’s archives, and finally to the Wschodnia Gallery’s archives, which we heard about but did not see. The idea of archives is holding on, surviving, not letting the fragile moments slip through uncaring fingers—all the more important in transitional times. The established is usually saved, while the ephemeral, the naughty, the provocative, the unpopular is so often lost—discarded, destroyed, and forgotten, or never known. We must be very grateful to Klimczak and others who have made enormous efforts to preserve records of their important work and activities.

The Pleasure of Business

Midway through the trip, before heading to Berlin, the group traveled to Łódź, Poland (population 760,000) to visit the Muzeum Sztuki (MS), which opened in 1931 and now has an extensive collection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art. Other members of the C-MAP Eastern Europe group had visited previously—and having heard about MS’s accomplished collection and robust exhibition schedule, I was very much looking forward to visiting for the first time.

While at MS, I met with my exhibitions counterpart to discuss planning procedures, timelines, budgets, and facilities. We toured MS’s two locations, ms1 and ms2. Located in the Poznański family palace, ms1 is home to the museum’s renowned Neoplastic Room and two floors dedicated to...

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The Pleasure of Business

Midway through the trip, before heading to Berlin, the group traveled to Łódź, Poland (population 760,000) to visit the Muzeum Sztuki (MS), which opened in 1931 and now has an extensive collection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art. Other members of the C-MAP Eastern Europe group had visited previously—and having heard about MS’s accomplished collection and robust exhibition schedule, I was very much looking forward to visiting for the first time.

While at MS, I met with my exhibitions counterpart to discuss planning procedures, timelines, budgets, and facilities. We toured MS’s two locations, ms1 and ms2. Located in the Poznański family palace, ms1 is home to the museum’s renowned Neoplastic Room and two floors dedicated to showing modern and contemporary art, and ms2, located in a renovated nineteenth-century weaving plant, consists of six vast levels.

Ms1’s annual visitation is twenty thousand and the building consists of five thousand square feet of gallery space dedicated to the permanent collection and loan exhibitions. The main exhibition on view at ms1 was Neoplastic Room: Open Composition, along with a suite of smaller contemporary loan exhibitions.

Ms2’s annual visitation is sixty thousand and the building consists of forty thousand square feet of gallery space dedicated to the permanent collection and loan exhibitions. The main exhibition on view at ms2 was Atlas of Modernity: The 20th and 21st Century Art Collection, which opened in January 2014, and highlights the MS’s vast permanent collection.

What a treat it was to see Daniel Buren’s homage to Henryk Stazewski; the fabled Neoplastic Room; and my personal favorite, Alina Szapocznikow's Goldfinger, a sculpture with gold-patinated cement and cart parts.

An Illustrated Look at Artists' Archives in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Our trip to Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin began with a magical evening.

After arriving from New York, we went directly to meet with artist Zofia Kulik at her home and archive. Being in her presence, at that place, brought her work to life.

She shared with us her process of working with her archive, which is divided into three parts: documentation of her collaboration with Przemysław Kwiek as KwieKulik, encompassing more than two hundred events; materials related to other artists and galleries; and contextual materials including her library.

It is not just the archive’s usefulness in documenting the past that is of interest, but also its power and potential to shape the future. Kulik is constantly working in and on her...

Read More »

An Illustrated Look at Artists' Archives in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Our trip to Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin began with a magical evening.

Img 3076
Photo: Michelle Elligott

After arriving from New York, we went directly to meet with artist Zofia Kulik at her home and archive. Being in her presence, at that place, brought her work to life.

Img 3068
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3058
Photo: Michelle Elligott

She shared with us her process of working with her archive, which is divided into three parts: documentation of her collaboration with Przemysław Kwiek as KwieKulik, encompassing more than two hundred events; materials related to other artists and galleries; and contextual materials including her library.

Img 3059
Photo: Michelle Elligott

It is not just the archive’s usefulness in documenting the past that is of interest, but also its power and potential to shape the future. Kulik is constantly working in and on her archive, and it serves as source material for her current work. Furthermore, she has promised her collection to the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, which intends to install it in the galleries, as a work of art, and not simply to preserve it as a research collection.

Our next visit was to the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, where I was eager to learn more about this novel and intriguing approach of exhibiting the Kulik Archive as an entity. There, we benefited from presentations by Joanna Mytkowska and Marcel Andino Velez about the history of the museum’s programs and building project. Robert Jarosz provided an in-depth description of the extensive work they have done to borrow or acquire, digitize, and publish online significant artist archives, including those of Eustachy Kossakowski and Alina Szapocznikow. They all look forward to thinking through the possibilities and the challenges of the future Kulik Archive acquisition and installation, and I eagerly await their results.

Screen shot 2016 10 31 at 12.19.22 pm
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3075
Photo: Michelle Elligott

Of course, no visit to Warsaw is complete without a stop at the enchanting and captivating studio of Henryk Stazewski and Edward Krasinski. It was like a warm homecoming, as we had visited their studio six years before, on our first C-MAP voyage to Warsaw, when for me, it was the absolute highlight and revelation of the trip. In fact, following that expedition, each member of the team was asked to propose potential future acquisitions. I presented Krasinski, and I am pleased to note that since that time, some half a dozen works have been acquired by MoMA.

Img 3087
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3084
Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

Another highlight was in Łódź, where, at the Muzeum Sztuki, I had the good fortune to spend a few hours delving into their archives and speaking with their rockin’ (literally, as in a former punker) archivist, Maciej Cholewiński. Our conversation was recorded, and the video will be available here on post in the coming weeks!

Img 3148
Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

For me, the most important and meaningful part of our C-MAP trips is the opportunity to meet and speak with the artists themselves and to review and discuss the archives and ephemera that record the history of their production. We had the opportunity in Berlin to meet with Polish artist Ewa Partum at Galerie M + R Fricke. There, Partum regaled us with anecdotes about her compelling and provocative work, as well shared documents from her archive, including those related to her Galeria Adres (meaning Address Gallery, as it was for a time located in her apartment), which promoted ephemeral and mail art practices in the mid-1970s.

Img 3186
Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

These are but a few highlights from a trip that was filled with great encounters with both art and artists.

3 - BERLIN

Before Brexit: A Meeting Between Bridges

A couple of weeks before the result of the United Kingdom’s European Union referendum was announced, I visited Wolfgang Tillmans’s non-profit space Between Bridges. This is an exhibition and event space, formerly founded in Bethnal Green, London, now in Keithstrasse, Berlin, which provides a discursive platform for political engagement as much as artistic creativity.

Tillmans was born in West Germany in 1968, shortly after the Berlin Wall was completed, when the country was still divided by the Cold War. He studied in Britain, soon becoming a chronicler of contemporary social movements and the youth generation, shooting pictures for music, fashion, and culture magazines such as i-D and The Face. In 2000, Tillmans became the first...

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Before Brexit: A Meeting Between Bridges

A couple of weeks before the result of the United Kingdom’s European Union referendum was announced, I visited Wolfgang Tillmans’s non-profit space Between Bridges. This is an exhibition and event space, formerly founded in Bethnal Green, London, now in Keithstrasse, Berlin, which provides a discursive platform for political engagement as much as artistic creativity.

Tillmans was born in West Germany in 1968, shortly after the Berlin Wall was completed, when the country was still divided by the Cold War. He studied in Britain, soon becoming a chronicler of contemporary social movements and the youth generation, shooting pictures for music, fashion, and culture magazines such as i-D and The Face. In 2000, Tillmans became the first non-British artist to be awarded the Turner Prize. Between 2009 and 2014 he was a trustee of the Tate, and in 2014 he became a member of the Royal Academy of Art. His stature in England was amplified by his activist work. Over the past thirty years, his work has been a poignant exploration of what constitutes an image, and how that image functions in different contexts—aesthetic, activist—and proliferates technologically and socially.

In June, on view at Between Bridges, was an installation titled Meeting Place, which focused on Tillmans’s pro-EU anti-Brexit campaign. It featured a series of video projections of public speeches and pacifist collective gatherings, showing episodes in which people stood together in situations of crisis. The video program was compiled by independent curator Marianna Liosi and Between Bridges. A selection of political posters combining expressive images with bold texts conceived by Tillmans urged citizens to register to vote in the EU referendum: “Say you’re in if you’re in.” “No man is an island. No country by itself.” “What is lost is lost forever.” Envisioned, in the artist’s own words, “as an attempt to open a space for dialogue about the current political climate,” the exhibition constructed a context conducive to intellectual exchange in which art experimentation matched a strong commitment to urgent political and civic questions.

Before Brexit: A Meeting Between Bridges

A Conversation with Ewa Partum

A Conversation with Ewa Partum

Before settling in Berlin in 1982, Ewa Partum was very active on the Polish artistic scene with her linguistic actions and installations, poetic objects, films, and performances. The C-MAP group met with the artist in her gallery, M+R Fricke, where we had the opportunity to see some of her films and photographs as well as part of her archive and to talk with her, gallerists Marion Fricke and Roswitha Fricke, Polish feminist scholar Ewa Majewska, Polish art historian Karolina Majewska-Güde, and Partum’s daughter Berenika Partum.

The film Active Poetry. Poem by Ewa (1971), in which the artist scatters the paper letterforms that make up the words in one page of James Joyce’s Ulysses into non-artistic spaces, was being projected in the...

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A Conversation with Ewa Partum

Before settling in Berlin in 1982, Ewa Partum was very active on the Polish artistic scene with her linguistic actions and installations, poetic objects, films, and performances. The C-MAP group met with the artist in her gallery, M+R Fricke, where we had the opportunity to see some of her films and photographs as well as part of her archive and to talk with her, gallerists Marion Fricke and Roswitha Fricke, Polish feminist scholar Ewa Majewska, Polish art historian Karolina Majewska-Güde, and Partum’s daughter Berenika Partum.

The film Active Poetry. Poem by Ewa (1971), in which the artist scatters the paper letterforms that make up the words in one page of James Joyce’s Ulysses into non-artistic spaces, was being projected in the gallery. The actual letters were also displayed. Fricke told us that the artist continues to perform this piece, scattering other letters in many different spaces and contexts, including museums and biennales. We learned that the inspiration for this work came from socialist propaganda material. This action instigated a discussion about Partum’s performances in public spaces and what they meant in the context of socialist Poland in the 1970s. Majewska pointed out that while many critics state that there was no public art in Eastern Europe in that period, Partum’s performances belie that claim. She cited the artist’s installation Legalność przestrzeni (The Legality of space, 1971) in Freedom Square in Łódź, where the artist installed prohibitory and other regulatory signage, both real and fictional. The artist told us that actually her first public performance was in 1965, when she was still a student at the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Łódź (now Łódź Fine Arts Academy). During her vacation at the seaside in Sopot, she wanted to paint but then instead decided to lie down on pieces of blank canvas, on some of which she outlined her body; to some of the images, she added accessories, like sunglasses and boots, and then she even made an installation with the canvases. We were able to see photos of these actions, which she entitled Presence/Absence (1965). The question of documentation came up, and the artist revealed that the documentary photos were taken by her friend, in the presence of bewildered tourists, with a very simple camera.

Particularly fascinating was hearing about Partum’s gallery Adres, established in 1972 in the Łódź branch of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers. The name of the gallery, which translates as “Address,” is associated with the mail art tradition that developed in Poland in the 1970s as part of the international artistic exchange network. Materials related to Adres activities were exposed in vitrines at M+R Fricke, along with the rest of the artist’s archive. When Partum was forced to leave her gallery space, she moved it to her apartment. There she organized a film festival, whose motto was film as idea, film as film, film as art. Material related to this festival, including the program of the first festival, was also on display. The list of names of the invited filmmakers was pretty impressive: Robert Filliou, Ben Vautier, Maurizio Nannucci, Jozef Róbakowski . . . The artist talked more about her interest in her own series of short films Tautological Cinema, intended as a structural analysis of the medium itself.

We spent lot of time talking about Partum’s photographic cycle Self-identification, in which the artist’s nude body is inserted in the social life of a Polish city in 1980. “My problem is a problem of all women” was another of the artist’s mottos.

Back in the GDR

Christoph Tannert, the artistic director of Künstlerhaus Bethanien, delivered a fascinating illustrated lecture on the exhibition he was preparing with Eugen Blume, head of the Hamburger Bahnhof museum, entitled Gegenstimmen: Kunst in der DDR 1976–1989, which has since opened at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. “Gegenstimmen” translates “Voices of Dissent,” but the original German connotes the idea of “counter-voices.” The show picks up from an exhibition that the two curators organized in 1990 in Paris. Remarkably, it took more than twenty-five years to secure a venue for the project in Germany, even though the subject appears to be one that should find a ready audience there.

Tannert explained, very convincingly, that the lack of...

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Back in the GDR

Christoph Tannert, the artistic director of Künstlerhaus Bethanien, delivered a fascinating illustrated lecture on the exhibition he was preparing with Eugen Blume, head of the Hamburger Bahnhof museum, entitled Gegenstimmen: Kunst in der DDR 1976–1989, which has since opened at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. “Gegenstimmen” translates “Voices of Dissent,” but the original German connotes the idea of “counter-voices.” The show picks up from an exhibition that the two curators organized in 1990 in Paris. Remarkably, it took more than twenty-five years to secure a venue for the project in Germany, even though the subject appears to be one that should find a ready audience there.

Tannert explained, very convincingly, that the lack of interest within Germany in researching the art of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) has to do with a national emphasis, encouraged by the federal government, on integrating the two halves of the country, which has led to a tendency to discourage evidence of the stark differences between the two cultures. Underground artists in the east have been undervalued since the reunification of Germany, and critics have often declared the official party artists to be more interesting to study.

In fact, as Tannert explained, there was a significant underground movement in the visual arts, even though in East Germany, it was never as radical as parallel movements in other Eastern-bloc countries. Although the East German artists often did not think of themselves as dissidents, and sometimes did not even see themselves as political, their work documents an intellectual resistance to the authoritarian culture, which deserves to be better known today and is particularly relevant in a period when Russian politics have once again become a divisive issue in Eastern Europe.

Though Tannert’s lecture style was understated, there was an urgency to his remarks that suggested to me his perception of the dangers inherent in attempts to forget the realities of GDR-period repression, especially for the generation that has come of age in Germany after 1990. Hopefully the show and its accompanying catalogue will lead to a reevaluation within the country of this significant period of dissident art.

You can read a illustrated transcription of Tannert's lecture here.

Retracing the Steps of KwieKulik

In the late afternoon on Saturday, June 4, the last day of our C-MAP trip, we visited several galleries on Berlin’s Lindenstrasse, among them Žak | Branicka, where the exhibition KwieKulik: The Monument without a Passport was on view. The show presented a modest but powerful selection of works spanning Przemysław Kwiek and Zofia Kulik’s KwieKulik collaboration, from 1971 to 1987, which focused on the pair’s criticisms of state oppression. Made in Poland during the Communist regime by two avowed socialists whose revolutionary ideas for art and life, paradoxically, proved too extreme for that system, the works on view complicate and challenge basic assumptions about artmaking in Poland during this period. As our colleague at the Museum of...

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Retracing the Steps of KwieKulik

In the late afternoon on Saturday, June 4, the last day of our C-MAP trip, we visited several galleries on Berlin’s Lindenstrasse, among them Žak | Branicka, where the exhibition KwieKulik: The Monument without a Passport was on view. The show presented a modest but powerful selection of works spanning Przemysław Kwiek and Zofia Kulik’s KwieKulik collaboration, from 1971 to 1987, which focused on the pair’s criticisms of state oppression. Made in Poland during the Communist regime by two avowed socialists whose revolutionary ideas for art and life, paradoxically, proved too extreme for that system, the works on view complicate and challenge basic assumptions about artmaking in Poland during this period. As our colleague at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Łukasz Ronduda, pointed out, “KwieKulik were a classic example of Žižekian ‘subversion through identification’ . . . trying to realize their ideas in too literal a fashion, [they] were treated particularly harshly by the regime, which did not identify with its own rules.”

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KwieKulik, Ameryka, on view at Žak | Branicka, Berlin. Photo: Ksenia Nouril

The works on view in Berlin were richly complex, mesmerizing, and so very absurd, particularly a series of photographs titled Ameryka. Begun in 1972, these images show a young, smiling couple in a variety of pleasant though largely unremarkable situations—strolling through a park on a winter’s day; at a party toasting to the camera; standing in front of a lush, wooded expanse, etc. Named after the eponymously titled Polish-language magazine published by the United States Information Agency and distributed in Poland by the US Embassy, KwieKulik’s Ameryka is a rejoinder to the idealized images contained within the pages of the original publication. As the photographs attest, people in Poland experienced the same freedoms as those in the West—or at the very least and, in fact, a similar ability to stage reality. The act of representation, no matter how benign, is inherently deceptive, Ameryka tells us, and rarely is it benign. This is underscored by KwieKulik’s own history. Although the Ameryka photographs include images of the couple in front of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany (1983) and in Banff, Canada (1985), the artists’ movements had indeed been curtailed. In 1978 they did not receive passports and could not leave Poland to exhibit their work abroad as a result of the government’s having deemed an earlier project of a “low ethical, ideological, and artistic value.” The decision was appealed during the following year. In 2016, when many political conversations across Europe and United States are centered on issues of movement and migration, opening borders or erecting walls, and aggressively identifying an “other,” these photographs prove to be surprisingly prescient and unwittingly urgent—reminding us of the ease with which reality can be bent out of shape.

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Detail of KwieKulik, Ameryka, on view at Žak | Branicka, Berlin. Photo: Ksenia Nouril
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Detail of KwieKulik, Ameryka, on view at Žak | Branicka, Berlin. Photo: Ksenia Nouril

Art without a Passport

Art without a Passport

I’ve never taken for granted the ability to travel internationally; to the contrary, I’ve relished the many opportunities I’ve had to experience different parts of the globe. But as we embarked on our C-MAP trip to Warsaw (my first visit) and Berlin, I admit I did not anticipate that travel and restrictions on the freedom to do so would be such a common thread in the art we encountered. Travel was restricted during the second half of the twentieth century in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of the Cold War, martial law, and economic instability, among other circumstances. This, of course, had a direct effect on many of the artists, impacting their artistic strategies and choice of materials as well as the dissemination of their...

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Art without a Passport

I’ve never taken for granted the ability to travel internationally; to the contrary, I’ve relished the many opportunities I’ve had to experience different parts of the globe. But as we embarked on our C-MAP trip to Warsaw (my first visit) and Berlin, I admit I did not anticipate that travel and restrictions on the freedom to do so would be such a common thread in the art we encountered. Travel was restricted during the second half of the twentieth century in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of the Cold War, martial law, and economic instability, among other circumstances. This, of course, had a direct effect on many of the artists, impacting their artistic strategies and choice of materials as well as the dissemination of their work. What surprised me was that the subjects of travel and movement—of people and things, across borders and seas, voluntary and forced—still loom so large for the new generation of artists working in the region.

Our first stop after landing in Warsaw was Zofia Kulik’s home and studio, where she showed us her digital and physical archives of decades of work as well as mock-ups of her more recent large-scale photo collages. Later in the trip, we saw an exhibition at Žak | Branicka in Berlin of KwieKulik’s work (which Kulik made in collaboration with her former husband Przemyslaw Kwiek) called The Monument without a Passport. Made during the period of martial law in Poland (1981–83), when citizens were not allowed to travel outside of the country—or, in many cases, even between cities—this body of work explores the restrictions explicitly. The exhibition included everything from barely discernable passport photos to photographs documenting performances in which Kulik’s head and feet were restrained, evoking her inability to move freely.

The next day, we visited The Travellers: Voyage and Migration in New Art from Central and Eastern Europe, an exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, curated by Magdalena Moskalewicz (a former C-MAP fellow). The exhibition featured work in a variety of media by nearly thirty contemporary artists addressing “travel in a region where freedom to travel was, until recently, a luxury available to the very few.” We heard from artist Janek Simon about Alang Transfer, an installation of dozens of signs and images salvaged from retired ships—some of which had traveled the world for decades—and sold at auction. This comprised an incongruous and, at times, humorous combination of imagery, languages, and visual systems.

While there, we also heard from Radek Szlaga about Transatlantic, made in collaboration with Honza Zamojski, after their journey, in 2012, on a cargo ship from Belgium to the United States. After just a few days, the two became disenchanted with the ship’s food, ran out of reading material, and grew bored of playing basketball, and they began to long for the convenience, connectivity, and communication so readily available to them in their everyday lives on land. They presented elements of their journey in a multimedia installation including video, plants, a self-published newspaper, and a bunk bed.

When we visited the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, I was drawn to Halil Altindere’s latest rap-video-with-a-political-message called Homeland (no doubt a reference to the television show of the same name, which has been widely criticized for being Islamophobic). The lyrics (voiced by Mohammad Abu Hajar, a Syrian rapper now based in Berlin) and staged footage look at the experience of the forced migration of refugees—an increasing reality in both Turkey and Germany, where the video was filmed. Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport—just a few kilometers from the Biennale venues—has recently been transformed into a refugee camp and it serves as a central backdrop in Altindere’s video. In one of many simultaneously poignant and absurd scenes, refugees wearing orange life jackets run along a beach, while nearby, a group of presumably European women in athleisure wear strike yoga poses as they passively look on.

Looking back over my photos of the trip with a few months’ hindsight, I was struck by one image I took during the group’s visit to Edward Krasiński ‘s studio, in Warsaw, where he lived and worked from the 1970s till his death in 2004. Though Krasiński was reluctant to discuss the meaning of his trademark use of the blue Scotch tape with which he lined walls, works of art, furniture, and other objects, he once commented: “The tape has ascribed meaning to itself. Once it came into being, it was then free to do anything, to frolic. The meaning is inherent in the tape; I inspired only its spirit.” To me, this freedom to frolic—in this case, around a small globe turned on its head and suspended in time and space many years after he placed it there—is a small, but powerfully optimistic symbol of what it can mean to freely travel the globe.

An Illustrated Look at Artists' Archives in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Our trip to Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin began with a magical evening.

After arriving from New York, we went directly to meet with artist Zofia Kulik at her home and archive. Being in her presence, at that place, brought her work to life.

She shared with us her process of working with her archive, which is divided into three parts: documentation of her collaboration with Przemysław Kwiek as KwieKulik, encompassing more than two hundred events; materials related to other artists and galleries; and contextual materials including her library.

It is not just the archive’s usefulness in documenting the past that is of interest, but also its power and potential to shape the future. Kulik is constantly working in and on her...

Read More »

An Illustrated Look at Artists' Archives in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

Our trip to Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin began with a magical evening.

Img 3076
Photo: Michelle Elligott

After arriving from New York, we went directly to meet with artist Zofia Kulik at her home and archive. Being in her presence, at that place, brought her work to life.

Img 3068
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3058
Photo: Michelle Elligott

She shared with us her process of working with her archive, which is divided into three parts: documentation of her collaboration with Przemysław Kwiek as KwieKulik, encompassing more than two hundred events; materials related to other artists and galleries; and contextual materials including her library.

Img 3059
Photo: Michelle Elligott

It is not just the archive’s usefulness in documenting the past that is of interest, but also its power and potential to shape the future. Kulik is constantly working in and on her archive, and it serves as source material for her current work. Furthermore, she has promised her collection to the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, which intends to install it in the galleries, as a work of art, and not simply to preserve it as a research collection.

Our next visit was to the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, where I was eager to learn more about this novel and intriguing approach of exhibiting the Kulik Archive as an entity. There, we benefited from presentations by Joanna Mytkowska and Marcel Andino Velez about the history of the museum’s programs and building project. Robert Jarosz provided an in-depth description of the extensive work they have done to borrow or acquire, digitize, and publish online significant artist archives, including those of Eustachy Kossakowski and Alina Szapocznikow. They all look forward to thinking through the possibilities and the challenges of the future Kulik Archive acquisition and installation, and I eagerly await their results.

Screen shot 2016 10 31 at 12.19.22 pm
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3075
Photo: Michelle Elligott

Of course, no visit to Warsaw is complete without a stop at the enchanting and captivating studio of Henryk Stazewski and Edward Krasinski. It was like a warm homecoming, as we had visited their studio six years before, on our first C-MAP voyage to Warsaw, when for me, it was the absolute highlight and revelation of the trip. In fact, following that expedition, each member of the team was asked to propose potential future acquisitions. I presented Krasinski, and I am pleased to note that since that time, some half a dozen works have been acquired by MoMA.

Img 3087
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3084
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3083
Photo: Michelle Elligott

Another highlight was in Łódź, where, at the Muzeum Sztuki, I had the good fortune to spend a few hours delving into their archives and speaking with their rockin’ (literally, as in a former punker) archivist, Maciej Cholewiński. Our conversation was recorded, and the video will be available here on post in the coming weeks!

Img 3148
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3149
Photo: Michelle Elligott
Img 3145
Photo: Michelle Elligott

For me, the most important and meaningful part of our C-MAP trips is the opportunity to meet and speak with the artists themselves and to review and discuss the archives and ephemera that record the history of their production. We had the opportunity in Berlin to meet with Polish artist Ewa Partum at Galerie M + R Fricke. There, Partum regaled us with anecdotes about her compelling and provocative work, as well shared documents from her archive, including those related to her Galeria Adres (meaning Address Gallery, as it was for a time located in her apartment), which promoted ephemeral and mail art practices in the mid-1970s.

Img 3186
Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott
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Photo: Michelle Elligott

These are but a few highlights from a trip that was filled with great encounters with both art and artists.

Highlights from Warsaw to Berlin

An unexpected highlight of the trip was an unscheduled visit that several of us made to a new experimental space for contemporary art in the Starak Family Foundation, at the start of our stay in Warsaw. On view was an exhibition of Henryk Stazewski’s monochromatic paintings and metallic reliefs of the 1960s–1970s, displayed against floating planes of color that locked them into the interior space. Adding color in this way was a high-risk but effective strategy on the part of the curators that I found sympathetic to the spirit of Stazewski’s statement on the title wall: “A work of art should neither blend into the surroundings, nor decorate or facilitate anything. It should dominate them artistically.” Nearby was a related exhibition of...

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Highlights from Warsaw to Berlin

An unexpected highlight of the trip was an unscheduled visit that several of us made to a new experimental space for contemporary art in the Starak Family Foundation, at the start of our stay in Warsaw. On view was an exhibition of Henryk Stazewski’s monochromatic paintings and metallic reliefs of the 1960s–1970s, displayed against floating planes of color that locked them into the interior space. Adding color in this way was a high-risk but effective strategy on the part of the curators that I found sympathetic to the spirit of Stazewski’s statement on the title wall: “A work of art should neither blend into the surroundings, nor decorate or facilitate anything. It should dominate them artistically.” Nearby was a related exhibition of more Op art black-and-white paintings of the 1970s by Ryszard Winiarski. As someone fascinated by design as an artistic and spatialized practice, I found these installations a thought-provoking start.

A recurrent theme in several of our visits was the rethinking of and response to Communist culture by contemporary artists, for instance the Piktogram “Bureau of Loose Associations” in Warsaw, or the Blockchain Visionaries installation at the Berlin Biennale, presented in the former building of the East German State Council—a largely untouched Communist monument replete with its original stained glass, mosaics, and mural program. It was fascinating to talk with Christoph Tannert about the exhibition he was developing with Eugen Blume, Voices of Dissent: Art in the GDR 1976–1989, which opened in July at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The Hero Mother exhibition at MOMENTUM of Kunstquartier Bethanien exhibited art by post-communist women rethinking heroism in the context of twenty Communist countries, and touching on issues of gender, nationalism, citizenship, and migration. We visited two private foundations in Berlin, the Sammlung Boros and Julia Stoschek Collection, which have reconfigured concrete-bunker architecture of the Cold War era to dramatic effect.

Toward the end of our trip, it was a pleasure to share with colleagues the small treasure house of twentieth- and twenty-first-century product and graphic design culture–the Museum der Dinge in Berlin. The core of this collection is formed by the archive of the Deutscher Werkbund, an association of designers, industrialists, and politicians concerned with industrial design, founded in 1907. In charting the trajectory of design reform on both sides of the postwar divide between East and West Germany, the displays reveal much continuity in the design culture, and an exhibition of East German magazines is a reminder of how vibrant graphic design could be even in the more hardline cultures of the Soviet bloc. It was also a fascinating opportunity to view the museum’s installation of the Frankfurt Kitchen designed in 1926 by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky prior to my installation of it at The Museum of Modern Art, New York this fall.

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Lecture at Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius

As part of my C-MAP trip in June, I traveled to Lithuania at the invitation of the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in Vilnius. The CAC has, since 2009, created a public space called the CAC Reading Room. This space houses a library of books and magazines on Lithuania and international contemporary art. Their mission has been to create a working collection of international publications that the local population might not otherwise have the chance to encounter and consult. The reading room staff regularly adds new titles, particularly in the subject areas of cultural theory and philosophy, and also maintains a growing collection of artists' books and other experimental publications. MoMA Library had sent a donation of experimental journals...

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Lecture at Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius

As part of my C-MAP trip in June, I traveled to Lithuania at the invitation of the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in Vilnius. The CAC has, since 2009, created a public space called the CAC Reading Room. This space houses a library of books and magazines on Lithuania and international contemporary art. Their mission has been to create a working collection of international publications that the local population might not otherwise have the chance to encounter and consult. The reading room staff regularly adds new titles, particularly in the subject areas of cultural theory and philosophy, and also maintains a growing collection of artists' books and other experimental publications. MoMA Library had sent a donation of experimental journals and magazines (duplicates from our Millennium Magazines exhibition in 2011) after my last visit to Vilnius, in 2010, and a small section of the room is devoted to that donation. The Reading Room also functions as a public work space for local academics, artists, and writers. When I was there, the room was populated by several “readers,” working at tables with books from the collection or just from their laptops. The Reading Room also hosts readings, lectures, and book launches as part of their public program. I was there in the context of this public programming and gave a lecture one evening on the history of artists’ publications. It’s a lively space, with a small cafe adjacent to it that serves a meeting place for the local community of artists, designers, and curators.

During my stay, I visited the Lithuanian Art Museum to revisit a set of photomontages by Mindaugas Navakas, which is installed in the Vilnius National Gallery of Art’s (NGA) permanent display. These works are part of a series of proposals for public sculptures. In each print, examples of Navakas’s sculptural objects are superimposed onto images of iconic buildings and cityscapes in Vilnius. The original prints were shown in an exhibition at the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic Architects’ Union in 1986, but the show was only open for one hour before it was shut down. The artist subsequently self-published a book of the images in 1988 with the title Vilnius Notebooks. Navakas published a second volume in this series in 1995 with the title Vilnius Notebook 2, and he gifted a copy to MoMA when we visited him in 2010.

In a recent exhibition catalogue, published in conjunction with a large retrospective of his work at the Lithuanian Art Museum, these socially provocative gestures intended for the urban sphere, are compared to Claes Oldenburg’s proposals for public monuments (which the artist created in the mid- to late 1960s and that were published in his book Proposals for Monuments and Building 1965–1969 in 1969), which also function as a kind of send-up of the monumental in public space. It seems that further connections could be made to other artists in Central and Eastern Europe who, around the same time, were manipulating the socialist urban landscape by co-opting the idea of the monumental in official state architecture. I think of Tadeusz Kantor’s proposal for a giant-chair sculpture, which was presented at the important Wrocław ’70 Symposium. The organizers of this event had promised that the proposals would be realized, but Kantor’s idea was deemed too much of a provocation to the Polish state program of constructing socialist monuments. Another similar example of socialist fantastic architecture is Julius Koller’s Ping-Pong Monument, in which a photograph of a hand holding a Ping-Pong paddle upright is collaged onto an image of a Czech urban landscape. In revisiting Navakas’s compositions at the NGA, I thought again about the connections between his works and those of Kantor and Koller, and I imagined a show made from these and other examples of fantastic architecture in Central and Eastern Europe under socialism. (If someone has already made one, I don’t know about it!)

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Travelers' Tales: C-MAP Research in Warsaw, Łódź, and Berlin

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