Poland has been on my mind for a few years now. Asia Zak of Zak/Branicka Gallery in Berlin was the first guide to show me that there were interesting Polish artists beyond the stars we know from the big galleries. Her gallery (originally on her own and then teaming with Polish art scholar Monica Branicka) has become an ambassador for Polish art outside of Poland. Since meeting Asia, I've been keeping an eye out for Polish galleries at fairs and Polish artists showing with Western galleries. The fact that the art I was seeing -- in a variety of media, styles, and perspectives -- was all of a remarkably high standard and complexity, whetted my appetite to know more. I was developing a curiosity about what art I wasn't seeing; what art hadn't found a gallery or was not being taken to fairs. It seemed unlikely that a culture and art scene that had developed so many art stars would have, to use a sports metaphor, no bench.
Of course, there are names that are familiar to many of us through museum shows, art fairs, and high profile gallery affiliations. Paweł Althamer, Wilhelm Sasnal, Monika Sosnowska, Piotr Uklanski, Robert Kuśmirowski, and Paulina Ołowska are to name but a few. Perhaps less well-known to US art consumers are Tomasz Kowalski, Katarzyna Kozyra, Zofia Kulik, and Joanna Rajkowska. Along with Zak/Branicka, there have been a few seminal Polish galleries that have had a presence at the big fairs -- Raster and Foksal, for example -- who have had an impact on the awareness in the West of Polish artists. But despite the high profile of these galleries in Poland and at major art fairs, I'm betting that most US art lovers are unaware of them or are under-informed about their rosters and programs.
Readers of this blog will remember that I visited Krakow a few years ago. That was my first foray within the borders of Poland which yielded, with the help of Galeria Zpaf i s-ka, 3 of the artists that I used in my Camera Club show in September. Zpaf i s-ka may be less off the radar after their participation in Paris Photo next week, but even then you couldn't say that they were unknown. For some years they were organizing Krakow Month of Photography, which (along with Lodz MoP) has been developing a loyal following every May. From Zpaf i s-ka and the gallery scene in Krakow, I was really starting to get a taste that there's more going on in Poland than we see in the US. I was determined to go back and make a more thorough investigation.
Before I really dive into the substance of my week in Poland, I need to say some thanks. Karol Hordziej from Zpaf i s-ka was my primary resource who got me started off with some introductions to galleries and institutions. Artist and curator Katarzyna Majak, who I met through a friend in Bratislava, was also a generous resource and translator. Martha Kierszenbaum, whom I met briefly at an opening at the Contemporary Art Center in Warsaw, is a young curator of French/Polish background who is working now in Poland but has experience in the US at the Whitney and the New Museum. She led me to some galleries and artists I wouldn't have found otherwise, and seems to be someone to watch for on the curatorial scene in the coming years. Her perspective is right on the money.
But my biggest debt of gratitude goes to Jan Dziaczkowski. Jan has been written about a few times on this blog and I included him in my Camera Club show last September. He's a talented and intuitive artist. I simply could not have done this trip without him. He spent whole days with me leading me from gallery to museum, to artist studio, to artist café. Needless to say, my Polish language skills are not, shall we say, fluent, so even if his contribution had only been as translator, I would be in his debt. But he was so much more. Jan is tied into the scene as a relatively recent graduate of the Warsaw Art Academy, so he knows who's doing what and where they're doing it.
Rather than make this an endless, run-on post, I've decided to break Poland up into multiple parts. I'm still struggling to digest all that I saw, so I can't say that I yet have a cohesive, overall impression of what I experienced. Perhaps that will come with time and maybe a few more visits (I'll go back in May for MoP in Krakow and Lodz). For now, I'll tell you about the places I saw and a few of the people I met (mostly with links to explore). Perhaps a picture will develop as I replay the trip for you. As always, I welcome your comments, impressions, and amendments. More to come.....