The art galleries of Warsaw and Krakow participating in ArtVilnius’16
Odrija Fišere 09/06/2016
From June 9 to 12, Lithuania’s contemporary art fair ArtVilnius’16 holds its seventh iteration at the Litexpo Exhibition and Conference Center. It is the largest event of its kind in the Baltics, and this year it features 55 art galleries from twelve countries. At this year’s ArtVilnius, Poland has been given special status as a country that has been determinedly strengthening its contemporary art positions on the world art scene since the 1990s. The Fair will be hosting ten galleries and art institutions from Warsaw and Krakow, thereby giving a good overview of works by both the most well-known contemporary artists and the latest young artists to have emerged in the field.
With the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Arterritory had the opportunity to visit Poland at the beginning of May – to meet with artists and galleries in both Warsaw and Krakow, including those which will have representative stands in Vilnius this coming weekend.
The world’s interest in Poland’s contemporary art has not slackened since the 1990s when, along with the political changes taking place in the country, the Polish contemporary art scene also became more active. Today, works by Polish artists continue to enter notable art museums and private collections around the globe. Miroslaw Balka, Katarzyna Kozyra, Wilhelm Sasnal, Paweł Althamer, Artur Żmijewski, and Monika Sosnowska are just a few of the names from a long list of artists which international art galleries, as well as the Polish people themselves, are immensely proud of.
One of the most influential Polish galleries over the years has been Foksal Gallery in Warsaw, which was established back in 1966. During this time the gallery’s team has changed many times over, but ever since its inception, it has been a school for many up-and-coming curators, critics, and even artists. Founded in 1997, the Foksal Gallery Foundation has employed, among others: Adam Szymczyk, curator at Kunsthalle Basel and next year’s Documenta 14; Sebastian Cichocki, an internationally renown Polish curator; and Joanna Mytkowska, the current director of the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw. Overwhelmingly, it was the Foksal Gallery Foundation that served as a stepping-off-point in the 90s and early 2000s for almost all of the Polish artists who are working on an international level today. And during our recent meetings with Polish galleries, Foksal was mentioned by every single one. Along with another influential gallery, the Raster, the Foksal Gallery Foundation, with all of its contributions, was named the forger of Warsaw’s contemporary art scene at the start of the 2000s.
But these two galleries are not, of course, the only two galleries currently working and creating the contemporary art field and -market in Poland – in last year’s Warsaw Gallery Weekend catalog, there were 21 galleries that had been deemed worthy of the moniker “the best”, per the opinion of the organizers of the event. This private gallery festival has been taking place since 2011, and every year at the end of September collectors from all over Poland, as well as foreign collectors, converge upon Warsaw as every gallery strives to show off its best assets during the festival. Following the same format, a similar festival takes place every spring in Krakow; in 2015, the Krakow Gallery Weekend catalog featured 31 galleries.
In order to get a better overview of the art market in Poland, we spoke to many gallerists and artists both in Warsaw and Krakow. We’ll start with the galleries that will be represented in Vilnius this weekend.*
Most of the people we spoke to expressed their fears about the future of the contemporary art situation in Poland due to political changes – museums that used to receive generous financial support for acquiring new pieces for their contemporary art collections have been cut out of this year’s state budget. In addition, the people who used to collect contemporary art have seen, due to these same political developments, their financial situations take a turn for the worst, and therefore do not plan on expanding their collections anytime soon. However, as in all political transitions, there is always someone who does stand to gain; in this case, the galleries that had not managed to cross over into the group of officially recognized galleries now have the chance to show their mettle. And others, seeing the current situation as unprofitable, have decided to take the first steps towards participating in art fairs outside of Poland.
Natalia LL. “Consumer Art”. 1975. Photo: Courtesy of Lokal_30
One of the most stable galleries (in its eleventh year now) is Lokal_30. It came into being in 2003 as the brainchild of art historian Agnieszka Rayzacher and artist Zuzanna Janin, in a small apartment in the center of Warsaw. Back then the gallery was actually more like an open art studio, but over time it has transformed into a project and exhibition space. For a couple of years the gallery had a branch in London, but since 2013 it has limited its scope to a 170-square-meter apartment on the upper floor of an Art Nouveau building in downtown Warsaw.
Rayzacher is currently managing the gallery on her own, whereas Janin has decided to devote herself entirely to her art while still being represented by Lokal_30. When asked about the current status of the Polish art market, Janin explains: “The art market in Poland is very young and is not strong enough that artists can live off of just creating art. Since I work with very-large-format installations and sculptures, only public institutions and museums can afford to purchase my work. In this sense, the situation right now is very unfortunate because the politics governing the country have changed, and the Commission of the Ministry of Culture has completely rejected contemporary art, instead buying only works from the 70s and 80s.
“In the 1990s, contemporary art was acquired by the national collections through a program called ‘Sign of the Time’ – every art institution, in larger and smaller cities alike, purchased contemporary art pieces. It was one of the best cultural undertakings to have taken place in the country in the last 15 years.”
This year Lokal_30 has already managed to participate in New York’s Frieze Art Fair, and at ArtVilnius it will present an intriguing show by the scandalous artist Natalia LL. Lokal_30 is one of the galleries that used to participate in such mega art fairs as Madrid’s ARCO, Art Cologne, Artissima, and Basel Liste; at Viennafair, Lokal_30 once even received the award for best stand exposition.
One of the most interesting galleries we visited in Warsaw was Czułość, which deals in photography. In Polish, the word “czułość” means sensitivity, which can be interpreted as either the sensitivity of film in relationship to light, or as one’s “sensitive” psychological demeanor.
Janek Zamoyski, a photographer and one of the galleries founders, says that Czułość should be looked upon as an art project. It began in 2010 as the coming together of a group of Polish artists, but now it has members from other cities and countries, too – Kiev, China, Tokyo and Berlin. Czułość does not produce group works, but they are united by their attitude and way of thinking in terms of photography and its place in art.
Currently the gallery is located in Warsaw’s Old Town, this being its fifth location so far. Czułość is not a shop-style gallery where one can simply walk in and buy a piece of art; it is more of a movement, a meeting place for artists, photographers, musicians – this latest location has a bar, a stage for concerts, and the plan is to add on a music studio. It looks nothing like a classic gallery with white walls – many of the furnishings are handmade, and constructed from recycled materials. Zamoyski explains: “Perhaps we’re a group of crazy artists, but nevertheless, it is important for the gallery to be active in the official art market and participate in art fairs – and thereby be independent. To exist in the art market, the gallery sells photographic editions developed on special paper with an accompanying certificate; the gallery has also published five books.”
In 2013 Czułość won the Emerging Gallery Prize at Viennafair The New Contemporary; Zamoyski’s works were exhibited by the gallery at Photoespana 2015, and the gallery has also presented at a satellite fair of ARCO. “At ArtVilnius our show will feature every one of our artists. Right now there are eight of them: Nampei Akaki, Stanisław Legus, Weronika Ławniczak, Kuba Mount, Bao Ting, Vova Vorotniov, Johann Winkelmann, and Janek Zamoyski,” says Zuza Koszuta. She goes on to say that about 40 people in Poland collect the new contemporary art, and that a large part of them also collect photography. However, collectors often mention that photographic artworks are not unique because they are printed in multiple copies. But then again, those who have to work within a limited budget perfer photography precisely because of its affordability.
One of the older galleries that has never before participated in an art fair is M2, headed by Matylda Prus. Founded in 2007, the gallery has resisted going out of country despite having received invitations from both Madrid and Vienna. Prus defends her choice: “I believe that going outside of one’s country leads to joining an already existing structure, but in my opinion, this is the place where one should begin. Several years ago, almost no one was buying the works of new Polish artists; nevertheless, our gallery continued to promote these young artists. I’ve discovered many artists while they were still at the Art Academy. Their first shows took place here. I still work with some of them now. The art market has completely changed since the gallery was founded, but not in the way that I had expected. That’s one of the reasons why I agreed to participate at ArtVilnius this year. We have about 20 very good galleries in Warsaw, but we feel that the time to put on art fairs in Poland has not yet arrived; we still don’t have enough collectors. Ten years ago, we thought that things would have developed further along by now.” At ArtVilnius, M2 will be showing two artists who have worked with the gallery for some time now: Grzegorz Sztwiertnia from Krakow, and Marcin Savitzky.
The gallery Apteka Sztuki (“Art Apothecary”) is a part of the NGO Open Door Association, the mission of which is to aid disabled persons, the unemployed, the homeless, single mothers, and children. The organization has many branches in Poland, one of them being this art gallery which has been operating for nine years now. Apteka Sztuki has held sixteen exhibitions, and it represents anywhere from 13 to 18 artists. The gallery has been participating in art fairs since 2012, having shown its artists in both Berlin and Budapest. This will be its first year at ArtVilnius, where it will present works by Tomasz Milanovski and Agnieszka Cieślińska, among others.
In speaking about the art market in Poland, the gallery’s curator, Katarzyna Haber, doubts the existence of one: “Here, people make deals – art is sold based on contacts, between friends, sometimes between organizations. Perhaps, however, a market is gradually developing. If in 2009 we sold maybe two or three works a year, then last year was better; but that’s still not good enough for us to survive. When I spoke to the Minister of Culture two years ago, I complained about the lack of an art market in Poland. He said I shouldn’t be surprised because only six percent of Poland’s population falls into the middle class. One can’t expect the art market to develop with such a small number. Compared to Western countries, we still have small wages, and we can’t afford to buy art. Even middle-class intellectuals who come to the gallery in the hopes of buying something can’t afford 3,000 zloty (~ 680 EUR) for an artwork. The highest price we can get at the gallery is around 10,000 zloty (~ 2,300 EUR). In addition, for many years we’ve had a situation in which the Ministry of Culture officially sponsors only 14 art galleries. We weren’t on this list, and only with the change in government last year did the situation change. We are much better off now – for the first time we are officially represented by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.
Zbigniew Libera. “Body Master: A Play Kit for Children”. 1994–1997. Photo: MOCAK
The factory owned by the famous German businessman Oskar Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jews from almost-certain death during WWII, is located in Krakow. Since 2011 the building has been the home of Krakow’s MOCAK Contemporary Art Museum.
We meet with Maria Anna Potocka, the energetic director of MOCAK, in the Museum’s cafe. Potocka tells us that the Museum’s inception arose from her own collection: “I began my first gallery in 1972, in my bedroom. It was a conceptual gallery, of course – non-commercial. Three more followed after that. After the exhibitions, I acquired the works from the artists; that’s how I started my collection. By the 1980s the collections had become quite large. I approached the city with the idea for a contemporary art museum, but it was still too early then. We returned to the conversation of creating a museum at the start of the 1990s, but it took until the early 2000s to take off, which is when the state’s Minister of Culture began to encourage city mayors to create contemporary art collections in their cities. Around the same time, the Schindler factory, which was a pilgrimage site for many Jewish people, had fallen into a state of disrepair, and it was necessary to find a new function for it.
We opened the Museum with the exhibition “History in Art”. These sorts of exhibition series – in which we confront well-known artists and problems with artistic interpretation – could be said to be emblematic of MOCAK; we’ve had “Sport in Art”, “Economics in Art”, “Crime in Art”, “Gender in Art”, and “Medicine in Art”. We put the exhibitions together from our own collection, as well as invite international guests to participate.” Potocka informs us that about 50,000 people visited the Museum in its first year, and that the greatest yearly number so far is more than 120,000. Her goal, however, is to reach one million visitors a year. The MOCAK collection contains the works of many internationally-known artists, including those of Marina Abramović, Sarah Lucas, Ai Weiwei and Mirosław Bałka, but at ArtVilnius’16 the Museum will be displaying the works of Polish artists from the collection.
Marta Antoniak’s exhibition at the Baccilus F.A.I.T. gallery. 2016. Photo: Grzegorz Karkoszka
F.A.I.T. – behind these four letters hides the name “Innovation Theory Artists Foundation”. The gallery’s founding could be said to have taken place in 2005, when three young art students decided to organize exhibitions in Krakow’s old railway station. It was a huge space, and the shows were also huge; consequently, the young enthusiasts were so burned-out after two years that they decided to close down the gallery. But that didn’t last long, and soon enough a new idea would form, and a new space would materialize. Currently the gallery is in its fourth location: in a spacious three-room apartment, Gawel and Magdalena Kownacka organize solo shows for artists and continue to work on the gallery’s archive. Over the years, the gallery’s concept has settled onto focusing on art from the 1980s, made specifically by artists in Krakow. The gallery has been conducting in-depth research on the art of that period, and they have already assembled a substantial archive of interviews with artists who were active at that time.
At ArtVilnius, F.A.I.T. will be presenting several artists, including Marta Antoniak. In the past, F.A.I.T. has participated in art fairs in Stockholm, Vienna and Cologne, and after a long hiatus, the gallery is now gradually thinking about again traveling out of the country for such events. F.A.I.T. thinks positively about working on an international level, but it is not a priority for them.
When asked about the art market in Poland, Magdalena Kownacka does not hide the fact that most of their clients are in Warsaw or outside of Poland – some even in Asia and the USA. “Krakow really isn’t a place where people want to purchase contemporary art. There are individual artists that garner interest, and people from other cities and countries contact us about specific works. We’re trying to convince the city and the institutions that we should work on creating a snobbish attitude that is positive in nature – that is, create a circle of people who could be interested in art, but who are currently ignorant of the field. We work at supporting local artists, which is especially important in Krakow since there isn’t a functioning art market here. Right now there’s a large group of artists who were all born in the 1980s. They cooperate with one another quite actively, and they create interesting things. It could be that the fact that there is no art market – and subsequently, no competition – is what has encouraged this cooperation.”
Works by Łukasz Surowiec in the exhibition “Zielnik”, at Art Agenda Nova gallery
Art Agenda Nova
Another gallery holed-away in a downtown-Krakow apartment is Art Agenda Nova, established in 2002. This gallery focuses on Polish artists who have just started on their artistic journey, but the gallery also does work with artists from other countries, such as Mykola Ridniy from Ukraine (you may remember his name in connection with the 2013 Venice Biennale).
Katarzyna Mierzwinska, the gallery’s agent, believes that the art market in Poland is, as yet, just developing; she says that it still is difficult to explain contemporary art to people who are not interested in delving into it. “If a collector in Poland wishes to participate in an auction, he will most likely want to acquire 19th-century art.” Krakow Gallery Weekend plays a large role in educating viewers, and Art Agenda Nova is one of the organizers of the event. Nova works mostly with local collectors, and has great hopes of forming new contacts at ArtVilnius.
Krakow’s Galeria Zderzak is a gallery that can boast about being the first to have hosted the early exhibitions of a large number of Polish contemporary artists who are now very well-established. After graduating from the Art Academy in 1999, Wilhelm Sasnal – currently Poland’s premier artist – held his first show here; Marcin Maciejowski (now represented by the Thaddaeus Ropac gallery) debuted here, as did Jakub Julian Ziolkowski (now a leading artist at Hauser & Wirth gallery), and Joanna Rajkowska – whose most famous work, the 15-meter-high installation “Greetings From Jerusalem Avenue” (an artificial palm tree in the heart of Warsaw), serves as a reminder of Poland’s history to all who see it.
Founded in 1985, Galeria Zderzak was one of the pioneers (along with the Foxel Gallery Foundation) to begin participating in international art fairs – which they started to do in 1993. Their first international art fair was in Hamburg, which was followed by fairs in Chicago, Madrid, Italy, Germany, Vienna, and elsewhere. Marta Tarabuła, the head of Galeria Zderzak, says that they have now stopped participating in art fairs, and that ArtVilnius will be the first one after a lengthy hiatus.
The gallery works with a defined group of collectors; some of them are interested in only specific artists, and it is not unusual for them to buy out a whole exhibition. One of the gallery’s ventures is the search for new talent, and they often show young, emerging artists. Conversely, their other main endeavor is to shed light on artists from older generations, specifically those who have been underrated.
If you’re interested in the history of Poland’s art market, a valuable source is Galeria Zderzak’s 2005 book, “The Art Market in Poland. 1985-2005”. It features the works of artists active in this period, as well as an essay on the subject by Jan Michalski. And if you’re interested in the Polish art of today, then head on down to Vilnius this weekend for the ArtVilnius’16 art fair!