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Bodybag, 1995
Cast hydrocal
23" tall
© Thomas Skomski 1998

Transcultural Visions:
Polish American
Contemporary Art

January 14 - March 3, 2001
Mon-Fri: 9 AM-5 PM;
Saturday 10 AM-5 PM.

The Hyde Park Art Center
5307 South Hyde Park Boulevard
Chicago, Illinois 60615
Telephone: 773/ 324-5520

Part II

"Transcultural Visions: Polish American Contemporary Art" at The Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, runs until March 3, 2001 -- an exhibition which gathers twenty-four artists with varying degrees of Polish identity. It is a laboratory, both of art and of identities. "Transcultural Visions: Polish American Contemporary Art," above all, offers an impressive selection of quality art.

Thomas Skomski is an artist who originally viewed his ethnic identity with self-doubt, with uneasy ambiguity. Skomski observed: "Abandoning ethnic roots was as unsettling as it was liberating. Along with the possibility of choosing my own 'myth,' came the inability to find groundedness beyond my immediate family history. My response was to seek my ground through art." Skomski is represented in "Transcultural Visions" by two pieces: Body Bag (male) (1995:23" tall), a work cast in hydrocal; and Backbone (2000:21"x4"x4"), made of styrofoam. It was an antiquarian distance -- the aura of age, of patina -- which all-the-more focused attention on the expressive essentials in the ancient Greek exultation of human form. Skomski builds on this, with a very modern wit and irony. Body Bag (male), true to its name, seems a dissevered casualty of war, an homage to Greek statuary... a humanoid sack of potatoes. It provokes a sense of seeking aesthetic beauty, and a questioning whether that search at times violates some sense of human decency -- should any 'body bag' -- an evidence of fatality -- be dispassionate and unengaged in its review? One senses here both America's Vietnam and the Greek eternity.

The human form need not instigate a social or a moral sense. It may well mentor it. Marion Kryczka has noted: "As satisfying as the concentration on still life painting is, I still religiously continue to draw the figure at least once a week. The direct and experiential nature of figure drawing has been an indispensible practice to me as a perpetual painter. I find that the two subjects now more richly inform one another and need not be separate in a conceptual sense." Kryczka's art appears in "Transcultural Visions" twice: both works are oils on canvas: Self Portrait with Photos of My Parents (1998:36"x24"), and the artist's Cleaning Women at Rest (2000:31"x41 1/2"). Each is a rich, sensual study in the art of light, and the reality of human form. Marion Kryczka received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an MFA from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He is currently featured in Art Scene, Chicago 2000 (Crow Woods: 2000).

Figurative art in this showing appears in several guises. Katharine Schutta's The Cleaning Women at Rest (2000:31"x41 1/2") is oil on canvas. but this artist equally interprets in Photo-collage/C print -- her Boys and Pencils (2000:24"x40 3/8"). This artist notes an admiration for the Polish master, Stanislaw Witkiewicz (Witkacy), who annotated his paintings with notes of the various narcotics, stimulants and hallucinogens used during their execution. One finds a speculative fancy coupled with technical discipline in Schutta's art. Schutta was graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a major in art history and a minor in Russian. After her second Baccalaureate, she studied printmaking in Krakow, where she gained an admiration for the posters of Roman Cieslewicz.

Plane, 2000
Oil/canvas+plane model+extension+shadow
© Edith Altman 2000

Edith Altman has noted that her art is "informed by the esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah," which she characterizes as "A passage inward and upward from the physical to the spiritual -- where matter becomes spiritual." This artist has further asserted: "This ties me to my cultural history and to Polish Constructivism, especially to Malevich and to his notion of the redefinition of time and space and spiritual accent/flight as a metaphor for the transformation of consciousness." She is represented by A History of Flight, Part I (2000:16"x13"x20": 30" for shadow), composed of acrylic paint, wood, construction, text, light. This exhibition features a second work: Creation=Drawing (1996:58"x46") rendered with oil stick on confil (non-woven synthetic). A History of Flight, Part I offers multiple overtones, but several viewers at this show's opening sensed a World War I reference. One spies the generalized form of plane, and about it, as if in prophecy, there is a rain of crosses: "In Flanders fields the poppies grow/ between the crosses, row by row...." Human consciousness is not predictable.

Drips, Runs, and Bleeds, 2000
Chlorophyll drawing
© Monika Kulicka

Monika Kulicka offers a work from her series: Drips, Runs, and Bleeds (2000: 24"x18"), rendered with chlorophyll on paper, and plexiglass. For this artist, the fundamental seed for art is an ambivalent regard toward our age: "I am very much of my times, a believer in technical capabilities of our civilization and profane approaches of our scientists. Yet, I am aware of the tendency of our own cleverness to twist against us. So I try to counterbalance the highly logical, rational and effective technical world around me with irrational, futile gestures, seemingly naive, foolish acts, with the emotional and intuitive, sometimes desperate or inadequate; my aim is to stir our hidden appreciation of the absurd, to startle minds set by the logic of cause and effect of the machine."

From Obsession, 1993
VHS videotape
© Maciej Toporowicz

This exhibition does include more pointed critiques of modern culture. Maciej Toporowicz's Obsession (1993) is part of an extended project. In addition to the artist's VHA videotape, Toporowicz has produced black and white photographs with silkscreen. It may be that the artists born within the U.S. are most prone to accept much of popular image: the advertisements and creations of mass media, and that their dissent or assent is topical, at times even polemical. The Polish born more often come to the images prevalent here with reservations. Toporowicz has asserted that "The fascist dream of purity and Aryan symbolism is often used by modern advertisement. The search for beauty and innocence flirts with desire for pure society. The OBSESSION consists of photographs of Nazi sculptures and monuments combined with photographs from Auschwitz." (http://www.artincontext.org/LISTINGS/IMAGES/FULL/1/DJ5C7701.htm).

In "Transcultural Visions," Tom Czarnopys stands as another artist who asserts the real and natural sense of life. Czarnopys's untitled steel diptych (1991:42"x68") seems a return to the Romantic view of material reality. Here, there is the deep appreciation of natural textures, metals which alter under the actions of air, which possess their specific nature, and for which the artist solicits the viewer's close attention. Czarnopys further offers Tree Drawings (1999:14"x14"x5/8"), a work in graphite on lacquered steel panel.

"Transcultural Visions" is rounded out by Kasimir Karpuszko's Mother Cabrini Green Project, Chicago, Illinois (1954), and that artist's Bucky Dome, Aspen, Colorado (1953). Bill Cass is represented by Settlement (1998:60"x48"x2"), an oil on canvas.

This is an exhibition which offers a diverse selection of quality art. Born of first experiences, as is the case with art, the human sense -- sight and the affections, perceptions which arise from it -- all have a say in what we make of them. That determines who we are -- identity. But it is neither determined, nor wildly random. There is, after all, among the Swiss -- despite four languages -- a commonality, a worldview which is shared. Nor would one pretend that Haitians, Cajuns, or the Quebequois, despite a common tongue, are anything alike, nor anything like the Parisian French. And if a mainstream denies an ethnic sensibility -- a challenged perception of the wider world -- perhaps it speaks more of the discontents of an emergent, denatured and homogenized Brave New World. Still, American Southerners are not quite like New Englanders. Those within a distinct community, or an ethnic legacy, may share a sensibility which is not reducible to words. Which is not to say that all the artists in this showing share a Polonian ethos. Some have only the formalities of history. "Transcultural Visions," is, however, an exhibition of consistently fine quality, and one which offers variety: excellent work; a range of expressions.

A question does remain as to whether so many artists can have a bond in common, and it may well be that having a Polish origin, or even a Polish name, in America, prompts a heightened awareness of America's mainstream society. It is as much a self-conscious choice: whether to assimilate eagerly, or to hold back and hold to intimate and different alternatives, garnered in childhood from home and community -- as the deliberate decision to choose America has been for newcomers. And American Art, like American society, has never been a purely 'native product.' It is repeatedly re-created; both its strength and its weakness. It is a process noted by a British poet, settled decades in America:

And as foreign settlers to strange country come,
By mispronunciation of native words
And intermarriage create a new race,
A new language, so may the soul
Be weaned at last to independent delight.

W.H. Auden, "1929"

The artists of this showing are: Edith Altman, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Jan Brud, Ellen Campbell, Bill Cass, Tom Czarnopys, Neil Goodman, Donald Lipski, Joseph Jachna, James Juszczyk, Kasimir Karpuszko, Gosia Koscielak, Dennis Kowalski, Monika Kulicka, Marion Kryczka, Tadeusz Myslowski, Marlena Novak, Ed Paschke, Frank Piatek, Miroslaw Rogala, Katharine Schutta, Thomas Skomski, Maciej Toporowicz, Mary Lou Zelazny

"Transcultural Visions: Polish American Contemporary Art" is at The Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, until March 3, 2001. It is well worth a second trip.

Other exhibitions concurrent with the Hyde Park show are: the Chicago Cultural Center, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Renaissance Society and Gallery 400.

Finis Part II

--G. Jurek Polanski

Jurek Polanski has previously written and art edited for Strong Coffee in Chicago. He's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek is currently a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

Editorial Note: Books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews may be purchased through this site's Barnes & Noble link. Of further interest are and [Richard] Anuszkiewicz OpArt (Gerd Hatje Verlag: 1999); David S. Rubin's Donald Lipski: Poetic Sculpture (Freedman Gallery: 1990); and Tadeusz Myslowski's Towards Organic Geometry: 1972-1994: 163 Photographic Images (Irena Hochman Fine Art Ltd, N.Y.,N.Y.: 1994). Miroslaw Rogala is treated in Art Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames & Hudson/MCA,Chicago: 1996). Mary Lou Zelazny, Frank Piatek, Ed Paschke and Miroslaw Rogala are featured in Spirited Visions (University of Illinois Press: 1991). Marion Kryczka and Frank Piatek are also in Art Scene, Chicago 2000 (Crow Woods: 2000). W.H.Auden's "1929" appears in Collected Poems (Vintage International, Ed: E.Mendelson: 1991). Stanislaw Wyspianski's "The Poet and The Peasant Bride" is given in Five Centuries of Polish Poetry, Jerzy Peterkiewicz and Burns Singer (Dufour Editions: 1962). "In Flanders fields the poppies grow" is quoted from the 1915 poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.

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