Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko
Zachęta – National Gallery of Art
The National Forum of Music in Wrocław from 19 February to 31 July 2019.Curators: Joanna Egit-Pużyńska, Anna Podsiadły, Henryk Gac
Building a collection of art is a process that, like art itself, is subject to constant transformation and periodic verification. The pride of many cultural institutions in Poland – museums, art centres, foundations – is the legacy of many generations of artists, successively collected for its sharing, popularisation and promotion. Fragments of individual collections, put together in different configurations, in different spaces and locations, allow a new look at the collection as an open system and dialogue of artefacts with what is up-to-date, current and at the top.
The exhibition prepared by the Center of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko and Zachęta – National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, based on the collections of both institutions, presents works by outstanding, canonical artists and significant artists of the young and middle generation, active within various tendencies and artistic trends. The show is a representative collection of Polish art of the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of our century.
From among many thousands of works, the curators selected nearly sixty exhibits, including full sculptures, spatial objects and installations, a video from the Orońsko collection and large-format oil and tempera paintings from the Zachęta collection.
The presentation is built, among others, of abstract and conceptual art, as well as works representing figurative, postmodern and expressive tendencies inspired by pop-art, which is a reaction to the new reality and the economic and cultural situation in our country after 1989. Some of them derive from their authors’ interest in the current phenomena of contemporary culture, while others are isolated from prevailing fashions or trends.
On the exhibition are presented two of Paweł Kowalewski's pieces: "September 17th. Juliusz Słowacki, Adam Mickiewicz, Czesław Miłosz, Władysław Jagiełło, Józef Piłsudski" from 1988 and "Fear and Impotence are attacking a man" from 1987.
The Jerke Museum in Recklinghausen prepared an exhibition of Pawel Kowalewski’s output which included his sculptures (most of them weren’t on a display for 30 years) and his most recognizable painting Me Shoot By Indians. In St Peter church you were able to find large works on paper with quotes from The Book of Psalms. Both exhibitions were connected by symbolic laser light.
As it turns out what was strong, political, controversial three decades ago retains its intensity today. Does it mean that these works gained new contemporaneity? Not necessarily.
Past and present in their synergy underlined universal aspects of these works which always were important to Paweł Kowalewski – matters of personal autonomy in relation to supreme forces both supernatural and super cial. This was what Zeitgeist was – the notion of being here and now, of making choices that shape our future and past as well.
Exhibition dates: 20.10 – 25.11.2017
Exhibition These Things Now was open in gallery Propaganda, Warsaw, from February 20 to April 2, 2016. The exhibition was presenting selection of works by Paweł Kowalewski from mid 80’s. Working on them he was younger then these works are today, and without a clue about what will happen in following thirty years, with all the socialpolitical changes in Poland, Europe, world in general, and of course his own life. These works on one hand are perfect examples of 80’s zeitgeist with their counter regime connotations, on the other due to their mystical and historical inclinations are profoundly timeless and universal. The question of their contemporaneity is the question raised within the framework of the exhibition. The context the works bear with their history is somewhat obvious but we strongly feel that we are not asking whether they have kept their actuality or not but what actually is their actuality. Our intention was to select works that have two main themes – religion and politics. Also they were never, or very rarely shown and thus gain additional significance. In the 80’s some of them were withdrawn from various exhibitions due to intervention of state censors and to avoid problems and after intervention of church. This stands as proof of strenght and ambiguity of the wit that shines through these works that pushes viewer into areas of profound uncertainty. Today all of this remains and given current political situation, in context of ever changing social situation, in time of great insecurity and also great ambitions it is difficult to be doubtless.
These Things Now are:
Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels open an exhibition of downgraded art in Munich, 1986
Six Proofs of Nonexistence of Jesus Christ, 1983
Food uneaten by Jairus' daughter
A stone that was made bread
An uneaten ear on the Sabbath
Money taken by the publicans above the amount that was appointed to them
The right ear of the high priest’s servant
Shoe latchet unloosen by John
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness, 1984
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree, 1985
The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth, 1985
Many are called, but few are chosen, 1985
The poked eye of God, 1988
Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels open an exhibition of downgraded art in Munich, 1986
The exhibition revolves around work that refers to infamous 1937 exhibition Die Ausstellung "Entartete Kunst". Nazis willing to discredit avantgarde and artists of Jewish ancestry organized this show that ironically was extremely popular and thus became a symbol of some sorts of paradoxical character of state intervention in art. Pawel Kowalewski in the 80's was among those who could be considered by state as degenerates, and was outside of the official circulation, which was also outside of his interest. These work stands as a statement about interference of state in shaping of cultural development to fulfil political agenda of ruling power, regardless of what ideology the regime follows. The risk that is inherent to those type of actions is not only upon policy makers but also curators, critics, historians and artists themselves. This work in joking manner shows that there is no control over art.
Six Proofs of Nonexistence of Jesus Christ, 1983
'Give me a person and article and section will be found' – a popular saying that could be a subtitle of this series of works. Proofs of Nonexistence of Jesus Christ are commentary to the way how communist regime tried to discredit its opponents and also ironically a theological discussion. Proofs refer to miracles done by Jesus Christ and in rational way are designed to discredit their divine character. The works do not engage in discussion about godly nature of Christ but in discussion about reason to such discussion. These works are perfect example of defending freedom of faith.
Fragments of Gospel (King James Version):
Gospel of Mark,1, 4-8
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost”.
Gospel of Mark, 2, 23-28
And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, “Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” And he said unto them, “Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?” How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?” And he said unto them, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath”.
Gospel of Luke, 3, 10-14
And the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answereth and saith unto them, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise”. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, “Master, what shall we do?” And he said unto them, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you”. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, “And what shall we do?” And he said unto them, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages”.
Gospel of Matthew, 4, 1-4
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread”. But he answered and said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”.
Gospel of Matthew, 9, 18-26
While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, “My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live”. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples. And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole”. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole”. And the woman was made whole from that hour. And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise. He said unto them, “Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth”. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.
Gospel of Luke, 22, 47-53
And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said unto him, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, “Suffer ye thus far”. And he touched his ear, and healed him. Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, “Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness”.
Series of works on paper, 19841985
These imposing in scale works illustrate quotes from the Psalms of David. Every each is a short meditation on the phrase that is written on them and Kowalewski’s variation on how religious picture is constructed. To many they are blasphemy i.e. The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth, that can be depiction of Satan but also of fear of the Just, or both at the same time depicting inherent human ambiguity – in the end antichrist also has to become human. The quote itself has of course political meaning that can be attached to anyone participating in public debate. We can imagine officer of secret police asking a question such as: ‘So Mr. Pawel, tell us who truly is The Wicked’, but also we can imagine asking the same question today.
A term ‘hot tap water’ became recently popular to describe certain state of achieved development. Work Lightness shows how easlly material well being can be redefined and idealised. The stairwell lamp has missing glass cover and missing light bulb has been replaced with sculpture element referring to permanent lack of supplies during communism. The ersatz of light bulb represents the lack in desire that constitutes the lack by itself.
The poked eye of God, 1988
If God does not exist – his eye can’t be poked out.
If God does exist – his eye can’t be poked out.
And here it is.
 In the 80’s very often exhibitions were held in places belonging to catholic church or in churches themselves.
In Totalitarianism Simulator the viewer is closed inside in an enormous dark cabin in which he watches a multimedia projection which places him face to face with the dark heritage of XXth century history. The installation is an allusion to well known simulators of various kinds which test human behaviour, such as ones dedicated to flight, ice or weightlessness.
Images of genocide, death and various other forms of evil that occur every day in the world, reach us using the same channels and the same ways as all other media messages. The only question is – how do we react? Paweł Kowalewski places us face to face with a terrifying system. By taking part in an experiment which we undergo in isolation in a closed cabin, the artist wishes to awaken our awareness of our unplanned but nevertheless present complicity.
This work was first presented in 2012 in Galeria Propaganda in Warsaw, as part of a solo exhibition which dealt with the subject of the totalitarian paradigm, which contrary to appearances is still responsible for shaping modern society. The exposition was concentrated around an interactive installation which was accompanied by light boxes from the NOT ALLOWED! series.
The Totalitarianism Simulator was activated for a second time a year later as an installation in a public space in Radom by Plac Konstytucji 3 May. This event was organised together with the Mazowsze Region Centre for Contemporary Art “Elektrownia”.
The series of photos NOT ALLOWED! was prepared over several years. While travelling Paweł Kowalewski took various photographs of different signs with orders and injunctions and on their basis made reproductions. They were presented for the first time at the 2 Mediations Biennale in Poznań in 2010. The main sign for the Biennale itself was one of the photos from the series, with the message “Europeans Only” printed on a large format banner.
This same photograph, reproduced with others of a similar theme, were produced on a series of post cards, which were available during Paweł Kowalewski’s performance activities during the Venice Biennale in 2011. The Artist visited tourist stalls and kiosks selling souvenirs and added his cards with multicultural directives to the typical tourist picture post card offer.
This project lends itself to multi-media. It functioned in outdoor form in 2010, in viral form in Venice and also as a series of light boxes which accompanied Paweł Kowalewski’s individual exhibition Totalitarianism Simulator in the Propaganda gallery in Warsaw. Here it was a commentary on the interactive powerful machine where the simulation deals with the issue of the totalitarian paradigm, which contrary to appearances in fact still shapes modern society.
The series was also exhibited at the Viennacontemporary, Austrian art fair in 2016.
Link: report from the fair in Vienna
Strength and Beauty. A very subjective history of Polish mothers is a form of tribute to the young women who were born at the beginning of the XX century, and whose youth fell during the time of the Second World War and the development of the two biggest totalitarian systems. The exhibition was first presented in April and May 2015 at the Artist’s House in Tel Aviv. It was accompanied by the publication of a history of the 10 women, known as polnische mame in which Polish mothers are treated as a kind of cultural code. The exhibition was accompanied by social media activity which spread further the memory of the strength and beauty of the heroines of these histories.
The project consists of large sized portraits (200 x 140 cm) based on archive photographs of the heroines. The graphics, created in a monochromatic style, are made from small dots which form a whole only from a certain distance. They use a special paint which is designed to last only for up to 1 year. After this time the pictures will fade. Of course they could be protected like icons in a temple. However they can also be looked at and we can observe how they slowly and systematically become less and less visible, to become in the end only a memory.
The history of polnische mame has also become a pretext to talk about the generation which is now leaving us, a generation which formed us – the people who currently are the strength of the World. The women whose history are shared, and whose portraits are exhibited, have become in a way a symbol of a whole generation, women who threw off their past youthful experience of totalitarianism so as to normally function in society. Irrespective of where they happened to come to live later. They have now lived their lives and have disappeared from our world, leaving behind them memories which become even more precious as they have left us. It is our duty to cherish this legacy. This memory of a person or time which we carry in ourselves, in our beating hearts. Nothing can change this. This is the strongest indicator of our heritage, though invisible and inaudible. But it is still there; just as a Genotype.
In the series “Fin de siècle” from 1992 Paweł Kowalewski deals with the characteristic feeling of catastrophe to be found at the end of every century. The works show wall paper made from a path of flowers which brings romantic art to a bourgeois interior. The paintings are inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and the idea of creating art that is functional and which serves society but which has not lost its aesthetic value. The artists of this movement were opposed to industrial production and moved back towards an ideal of handicrafts. The series “Fin de siècle” was shown in the Appendix Gallery in Warsaw. Later it was exhibited at a joint exhibition with Paul Delvaux at the famous Gallery Isy Brachot in Brussels.