Critic's Guide: Warsaw

Contributing editor Krzysztof Kosciuczuk selects his favourite shows from the Polish capital

BY Krzysztof Kościuczuk in Critic's Guides | 02 JUN 16

Jagoda Przybylak, Osieki, 1979, archival photographs, 40 x 53 cm each. Courtesy: Propaganda gallery, Warsaw / PL

Jagoda Przybylak, ‘Close-Ups’
21 May – 18 June

Jagoda Przybylak (b.1929) took up photography following a meeting with eminent Polish experimental photographer Zbigniew Dłubak. She made her debut in 1969 with a conceptual series of 100 shots of a fishing net. Titled ‘Close-Ups’, her current retrospective at Propaganda spans her work from that first show until 2005.

Among the highlights are a number works, based on archival group photographs (taken by Przybylak, found, or sourced from family archives), in which the artist has traced the relationship between the pictured individuals. In three snapshots from a prominent event in Osieki, Poland, in 1979, Przybylak focuses on the figure of pioneering Polish avant-garde painter Henryk Stażewski, exposing his apparent estrangement from the art world as he stands alone in a crowd.

‘I’m waiting for someone to call me.’, 2016, exhibition view at Dawid Radziszewski Gallery, Warsaw. Courtesy: Dawid Radziszewski Gallery, Warsaw

‘I’m Waiting for Someone to Call Me’
Dawid Radziszewski Gallery
15 May – 4 June

On the ground floor of a hulking block of flats, Dawid Radziszewski Gallery is dwarfed by its surroundings, but gallerist Dawid Radziszewski relishes the challenge of these physical limitations, taking every opportunity to explore unconventional formats. This time he has programmed a string of audio works – performances or narrative and sound-based pieces – each available on an iPhone that lies on the gallery floor.

Narrated by artist Paweł Kruk, the show features several absorbing contributions from the likes of Wojciech Bąkowski, Patricia Esquivias, Hanne Lippard and Igor Savchenko. The last work is David Horvitz’s simple instruction: Walk Until You Don’t Know Where You Are (2016). Conveniently, just outside the gallery Paweł Althamer has installed a white painted gate, which leads the way to a nearby square.

Pierre Huyghe, This Is Not A Time For Dreaming, 2004, video still. Courtesy: Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw

‘Objects do Things’
Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle
26 Feb – 31 July

Curated by Joanna Zielińska, ‘Objects do Things’ looks at the intersection of visual arts and theatre in contemporary practice, and is one of the highlights of the Warsaw CCA’s recent programme.

Placing video works from the likes of Paul McCarthy and Pierre Huyghe alongside objects by such artists as Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Christopher Kline, Antje Majewski, Shelly Nadashi and Paulina Ołowska (some of which are animated by the artists as part of the performance programme), ‘Objects do Things’ connects the exhibition as display with a series of live acts. Developing this idea further, a recent ‘Puppet Slam’ brought together professional puppet theatre actors and some unlikely appearances by artists and curators.

Cezary Bodzianowski, Untitled, 2016, installation view at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Courtesy: the artist and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw

Cezary Bodzianowski, ‘Bugs’
Foksal Gallery Foundation
21 May – 11 June

I once compared the way that the unassuming works of performance artist Cezary Bodzianowski inhabit the exhibition space to stick insects living inside a glass tank. At no time was this more true than in his current show ‘Bugs’, for which Bodzianowski has fashioned mass-produced objects into a group of critters that appear to have flown or crept into the sun-flooded rooms of Foksal Gallery Foundation. Lazy with the heat and unable to escape, their various plastic and metal bodies rest motionless on windows, walls and in the corners.

For the opening, the artist handed out minuscule magnifying glasses with which to examine the outsized creatures, at which point he dissolved into the crowd.

Habima Fuchs, ‘Salt Sea Water Absorbed by Cloud Turns Sweet’, 2016, exhibition view at Zachęta Project Room, Zachęta — National Gallery of Art, Warsaw. Courtesy: Zachęta — National Gallery of Art, Warsaw

Habima Fuchs, ‘Salt Sea Water Absorbed by Cloud Turns Sweet’
Zachęta Project Room, Zachęta — National Gallery of Art
16 Apr – 12 June

For her first institutional show in Poland, the Czech artist Habima Fuchs has transformed the Project Room of Zachęta National Gallery into an all-encompassing environment. Her highly poetic and meditative works engage with the surroundings by means of setting, light and smell, creating a journey that literally leads the visitor underground to the gallery’s basement.

An avid traveller herself, in ‘Salt Sea Water…’ Fuchs uses a range of materials – from large sculptures and drawings to fine twigs, dry leaves and fragile clay vessels fired in the hot sands of the Stromboli volcano – evoking symbols from a range of cultures and religions. 

Tomasz Mróz, Still Life with an Apple, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: Piktogram, Warsaw

Tomasz Mróz, ‘I Can See Crevices in a Clod, I Heal with Spit’
14 May – 18 June

One of the most exciting young Polish artists working today, Tomasz Mróz became known for his meticulously sculpted tableaux of people, animals and disconcerting objects, often heavy with sexual overtones, from the allusive to the downright explicit (some of which would leave even the Chapman brothers at a loss.)

At Piktogram, however, things are seemingly toned down. Here are long rubber nails in the walls that are sent swinging by concealed mechanisms and a wooden table with a desk lamp, a spoon and bread loaf set in the centre. The table is haunted by a paranormal being that, once you approach, chases the piece of cutlery around the surface to a loud tapping noise. But then, there’s also a slow-moving and undeniably phallic sausage-like object balancing on the same table.

Frank Stella, Bogoria V, 1974/82, etched aluminum. Courtesy: Tufts University Permanent Collection © 2015 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

‘Frank Stella and Synagogues of Historic Poland’
Museum of the History of Polish Jews – POLIN
19 Feb – 20 June

Featuring works from Frank Stella’s celebrated ‘Polish Village’ series and various historical materials mostly relating to architects and scholars Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, the exhibition at the POLIN Museum connects two seemingly distant narratives: the destruction of the remarkable wooden synagogues on Polish soil, preserved in an album published by the Piechotkas following the Second World War, and the emergence of the captivating geometrical reliefs of Frank Stella, who drew inspiration from the 1959 English edition of that very book.

Spread across five sections, each named after a different town that also lent its name to one of Stella’s works, the exhibition positions historical photographs and survey drawings alongside the artist’s own materials, from sketches through models to reliefs.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Society of Rascals’, 2016, exhibition view at Raster, Warsaw. Courtesy: Raster, Warsaw

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Society of Rascals’
21 May – 30 July

At Raster, the collective Slavs and Tatars make reference to the Society of Rascals who, operating in Vilnius in the early 19th-century, used satire and irony to mock not only the social vices and unhealthy habits of the time, but also the lofty and self-important patriotic discourse that was popular amongst Polish romanticists. The centrepiece of the show is an installation offering a range of fermented juices, typically vegetable-based, with which the artists ‘bring in the centuries-​old kitchen tradition of pickling to ferment or turn sour the romantic conception of fatherland and power’.

With a characteristic wit replete with citations, allusions and their trademark lexical gymnastics, Slavs and Tatars make a statement that seems especially topical now, when the rhetoric of patriotism (here and elsewhere) has taken on a distinctly sinister tone.

Lead image: Mary Reid Kelley & Patrick Kelley, The Thong of Dionysus, 2015

Krzysztof Kościuczuk is a writer and contributing editor of frieze. He lives between Poland and Switzerland.