Monday, November 21, 2005

Sex, Art, Feminism and national culture

The Gallery of Polish 20th-Century Art at the Krakow National Museum just reopened (Polish link) with a brand new look. (Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to the Museum's website, which still seems like an archaeological exhibit rather than an important European venue and isn't even translated into English)
Among the various new elements, presence of the "youngest" generation is quite a novelty, as so far anyone born after 1939 and/or using any other means than oil on canvas or marble wasn't welcome at national (permanent) exhibitions.
This wasn't an easy step. Poland has a problem with tradition. It is defined through culture, which is defined through art, and thus artists are turned into monuments, and desired dead or at least "understandable", i.e., consistent with what had already happened before in art and (Polish) history. Recently, though, the Polish art world seems to be slowly waking up from the romantic dream of our "great forefathers", to discover that the artists haven't been sleeping, and their creations are as rich and diversified as pretty much anywhere else in the bad, bad, commercialized and rotten world we live in.
No awakening would be real without a few controversies. One of the major ones in Poland are women artists speaking of the female condition, graphically, shockingly, without the customary shyness or estheticizing. Sex is there, gender plays funny games, culture meets nature just to fight it till death over who we are, and how.
I found an interesting article by Paweł Leszkowicz about this new generation of Polish women artists. Some of it I agree with, some of it is speculation or stretching the limits of interpretation, but it's an interesting look at an important voice in the contemporary discussion about sex, gender and identity. As to the affirmation that "the critical violations of women’s art expose the violence of sexual inequality hidden under layers of democratic jargon and religion-turned-ideology", hopefuly this reinvented gallery at the Krakow National Museum will be an important step in proving, or rather making, this statement a false one.

Alicja Żebrowska, Original Sin (still) (1994)

Katarzyna Kozyra, Bonds of Blood (1999)

(you can find more about contemporary Polish feminist art here and here)


Anonymous said...

you are from portugal, right? i live nearby poland in berlin though i seldom visit the country. nevertheless i think your impressions are only partly valid. my impression is that poland, even compared with germany, has a vivid noncommercial art scene. i know many works that could never be found anywhere else but in poland. polish artists are somewhat enclosed in a parallel world it seems, many of them can shrug off the commodification of art it seems to me.

check out my blog and look for "polen":

vvoi said...

I'm actually Polish, though I live in Portugal. I visit Poland every couple of months. My knowledge of the Polish "art scene" is far from profound, nonetheless I think I haven't made myself clear: when I speak of the "Polish art world", I mean the official art world, basically, those with money and power. The artists and the small and/or poor galleries have been coming up with some great stuff, but it simply took a long time to start and appear (as in: become visible, acknowledged) in Poland. And I think their recent appearance as valid, important artists has a lot to do with the scandals.
I think in countries like France and Germany knowing the avant-garde, appreciating it, is part of being "educated" - in Poland a lot of (sometimes very well educated and art-savvy) people still believe avant-garde was a movement in the 20s, and after sanity returned. That's why they might appreciate the likes of Duda-Gracz or Starowieyski, but don't go far beyond (they both had their glorious periods some 20-30 years ago or so). And this is beginning to change. Very slowly, with a lot of resistance, but it is.

Hans said...

Tough stuff from the Polish women, I almost can not believe that 'original sin' is from 1994, but anyway. Please more of Polish art !

vvoi said...

Grijsz, I'll try to post more on Polish art. And have to put some Portuguese one too, while I'm here (you never know...).

as for the winer-spam, I won't delete it, because I find it hilarious: put "sex" in the title, and you'll get unwanted publicity...

dead said...


this post was very interesting...thank you.


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