Fotograf Magazine

Polish! Contemporary Art From Poland

Let us assume that there exists no such thing as an ethnic or national art within the context of contemporary global art.[ref]Hans Belting, Contemporary Art as Global Art. A Critical Estimate, in: Hans Belting, Andrea Buddensieg (Eds), The Global Art World. Audiences, Markets and Museums, Ostfildern, 2009, pp. 38–73.[/ref] Instead of using the designation “Polish art”, let us use the term “art from Poland”. But it is precisely the case of Poland that one senses this type of essence being present in the artifacts displayed at contemporary art exhibitions and art fairs, an essence which expresses some kind of “Polish” element, almost clearly discernible and yet hard to define.

The new publication Polish! Contemporary Art From Poland is an attempt to interpret this ambiguity in a somewhat awkward manner, although in a luxury gift wrapping. The book emerged as a private joint project of the Krakowbased foundation Żak Branicka, established by two Polish gallery owners who are active chiefly in Berlin, Monika Branicka and Asia Żak, and the private Art Stations Foundation of the collector Grażyna Kulczyk, based in Poznan. Attractive at first sight, the book boasts a striking red and white cover featuring the work of Piotr Uklański and presents the work of 37 contemporary Polish artists. Some of these, however, do not live in their native Poland, and it is in fact the perspective of their eminence and activities on the international art scene that becomes the criterion for their selection. This is a rather debatable, if not highly questionable standard of quality. One can thus read between the lines an effort to promote artists who have brought their gallery representatives and agents considerable success on the contemporary art market. In spite of this, the selection of artists is certainly representative enough, featuring as it does well-established artists such as Zbigniew Libera, Mirosław Bałka and Katarzyna Kozyra, artists of the solid middle generation such as Goshka Macuga, Wilhelm Sasnal, Michał Budny and Artur Żmijewski, as well as younger artists such as Agnieszka Polska and Tomasz Kowalski.

As mentioned in the introductory essay by the eminent Polish art critic Andy Rottenberg, the international art scene began to demonstrate serious interest in Polish art only at the end of the previous decade, when the artists presented in this book started to assert themselves. Thus we have a paradoxical situation where a more famous younger generation has opened a path for the recognition of an older and unknown stage of this original source of identity. Rottenberg explains the evolution of post-war art in the context of the historical and social conditions in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly during the 1980’s, which is strikingly similar to the situation in the former Czechoslovakia. This, however, is the sole scholarly essay on the subject of art from Poland in the entire book, which thus lacks sufficient erudition and reflection to explain this phenomenon to the reader, while throwing light on its sources. Still, what distinguishes the present publication, which is generous in terms of both format and content – featuring as it does five hundred illustrations – from similar books meant merely for browsing are the detailed essays on each artist, penned by a range of prominent art historians, critics and curators, such as David Elliott, Charles Esche, Christoph Tannert and Adam Budak.

Lucie Drdová