Art Review Archives:
The Polish Connection:
The Chicago Athenaeum
"The Polish Connection: Contemporary Polish Artists in Chicago" is showing at The Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg, Illinois until September 10, 2000: Twenty artists representing Poles, Polish painters and sculptors living abroad, and a number of Polish-American artists -- a world-class exhibition of serious art. "The Polish Connection" at The Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg presents painting and sculpture, prints and drawings; and in content it ranges from serious meditations to the fanciful and surreal.
Artur Popek's art is presented in four etching/aquatints: Our First Machine For Kiss-Making; A View Over a Non-Existent Brickyard; Singing Drunkards Are Chasing After Us; and The Merry Holiday of A Maniacal Murderess; all 10"x10" and all executed in 1999. Popek's titles themselves suggest the free imaginativeness and light and celebratory air of the prints. Within the world of Popek's work, one meets a 'Rube Goldberg' sense of how things might be fit together, with a very fundamental feel for the human heart that both laughs and cries at its self-same weaknesses: both imagined and (all too often) real at heart. And if one does not smile here, then surely his sanity is suspect. Popek's is a world congenial to kindred souls like Charles Bragg: scenes of whimsy from a very mortal point of view.
In the Evening When the Paths are Deserted, Spiders Sing To the Moon, Those Noiseless Shadow Constructors (1996) is one of several canvases by Jacek Wojciechowski in this showing. Wojciechowski was born in 1954, and was graduated from the Department of Paintings, Graphics and Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, Poland. He is now a professor at the Department of Art at the M.Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, Poland. Art critic Lechoslaw Lemanski noted in Wojciechowski's art sympathies with Jean Miro and Yves Tanguy; but Lemanski specified: "as much as the most prominent European surrealists of the 1930s seem to be mesmerized mainly by the fauna of oceanic depths, Jacek Wojciechowski either remains on the surface of the Earth, or locks himself up surrounded in an empty non-room on the walls of which disturbed bio-geometric forms begin to creep." [In the catalogue, At The Heaven's Gate/ You Have To Wait (1112 Gallery, Chicago: 1998).] Wojciechowski's art indeed often seems to portray Lilliput as interpreted by Hieronymus Bosch: figures enmeshed in matter and the spinnings of their own mental archetypes. In the Evening When the Paths are Deserted, Spiders Sing To the Moon, Those Noiseless Shadow Constructors offers essential forms of spidery parts, what seems animated viscera; all these upon a background regularized web of nervous line. Line and subtle, repeated glazes of color lend clear resolution to freely conceived phantasmagoria. As in dreams, all seems so clear, and yet eludes the rational.
Jacek Wojciechowski's Aggregates of Dream - Two Grandpas and One Grandma of Adas Are Missing (47"x82.5": 1995) counterfocuses baby and female image, with empty clothing ambiguously about; all against a Kandinsky-like pattern of mechanical schematics. The baby rides in what seems part Lady Slipper orchid, slug or erotic referent. In what could easily mirror commercial illustration, Wojciechowski intrudes the human and subliminal. Aggregates of Dream... provoked spirited interpretations among gallery visitors at the Chicago Athenaeum; which indicates that herein lies, as Lemanski observes: "a fairy tale story in which the reality has been replaced with symbols and signs taken straight from the line in between reality and dreams." [Op.Cit.].
Andrzej Umiastowski was born in 1956, in Sopot, Poland, and was graduated in 1984 from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, where he now resides. At first sight, Umiastowski's oils on canvas display the illustrator's touch -- a bit of Max Beerbohm, perhaps -- and they might well seem in place in The New Yorker magazine. There is a whiff of J.S. Perelman, Ludwig Bemelmans... as well as the gentler visions of a Fernando Botero or Charles Bragg. Umiastowski treats Chaplin-esque instances of the mundane. Whether in The Heterosexual (51"x45": 1998), or in Personal Services (51"x45": 1998), his art revels in loving feature, and in an acceptance: acceptance of aging, of mild eccentricities, of the simply human. It is almost a Parisian sensibility; but our age so often loses that at puberty, and we are poorer for it, and all too quickly accept lesser surrogates. In Umiastowski's art, the child within -- at times amused, at times a critic of our fellow men -- still lingers on. So much of the background cast in Umiastowski's art is formed from cool and somber hues; but the figures, somewhat corpulent, incongruously pleasant, are caught up in their moment: happy. The artist takes his simple pleasures where he can. This is not nostalgia, but rather poignancy. And if philosophers would deny us this, we declare their practice null and void. A viewer should relax... he will enjoy the images.
Miroslaw Rogala is represented by a multiple-image work on acetate which, in a series of panels, starts with a 'fish-eye' perspective and proceeds through the familiar Cartesian coordinates -- the x and y of graphs, into the angles and curves of polar coordinates: i.e. concave horizons wrap about central architectures in convexity. Some invertebrates are said to see the world so, and humans have gained a new 'feel for sight' through such experiment. Rogala's career is well-documented in books such as Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames and Hudson/MCA: 1996) and Spirited Visions (University of Illinois Press: 1991).
Michal Herman's art indulges a soft, eerie sensibility. There is a touch of human mannequin, and even more, God's puppetry. "The Polish Connection" features four distinct pieces; all oils on canvas: Journey (29.5"x18") and Lovers (53"x23.5": 1997). The latter is a triptych with a large central panel, flanked by two cognate and symmetric panelboards. To an American viewer, this must seem again a Gallic sensibility of Punch and Judy souls. But, despite all the harsh 'philosophies' of current art, these are a comfort for the tiring eye, a indescribably human voice.
Anna Hoga is represented by three examples of Polish landscape (18"x18": 1995). These are soft pastels on paper; circumscribed in informational structures and open in the 'reading.' of the visual images. Jan Sliwinski's Harbor (43"x53": 1995), a mixed media on canvas, as well as his Tuesday, Chicago 1993 (43"x53": 1993) and Layer of Time (41"x53": 1996) are abstractions which still hover about their initial inspirations. Sliwinski's work cuts image with a thick and dimensional free use of paint. Tadeusz Hipner's art begins, as evidenced in his Untitled (50"x50": 1995), with a Pointillist starting point. But Hipner then explores the concept and potential of the pointe; and in a work as Epitaph For Andy Warhol (60"x48": 1997), Warhol and Marilyn Monroe are 'veneered' or 'interfered' by a spottier red, blue, and yellow visual 'spot noise.' Barbara Wegorek's three works; all Untitled (46"x30": 1989) and all on canvas, equally impress.
Jan Brud has four pieces in "The Polish Connection," and these evoke both the achievements of Piet Mondrian's analysis of form and sight, and the subsequent developments of American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. A sense of verticals and horizontal line predominates, and becomes itself a leading guide for the eye. In Brud's canvases, the splintering and subsequent restructuring of the rectangle and, with it, its color fulfillment work to great visual effect. There is vivid color, and as well the skilful deployment of gilt surface.
"The Polish Connection," includes digital photographs by Krzysztof Wasko: and of particular note here are: Cathedral VI (48"x50": 1997); Cathedral X (48"x60"); Cathedral VII (58"x48"); and Cathedral XII (48"x59": 1997). Adjacent to Wasko's piece are the two oils on canvas of Blanka Domagalska. In so rich a showing, the gallery viewer must proceed on somewhat personal criteria. However...
...No viewer should neglect the four sculptures, in mid-room, by Adam Fedorowicz. Primarily of bronze, Fedorowicz's works each fashion a varied ensemblage of Looney Tune musical motifs. Night Flight Or Solo For Trumpet (20" high: 1998) a bronze on marble base, gathers in the salient visual forms of music such as jazz. In all Fedorowicz's sculptures, the driving motivation is music, and a delight in musical motif.
Rafal Komorowski's Simple Story (72"x56": 2000), a black and white acrylic on paper, sustains a semiotic narration without explicit text, much in the manner of a Masereel distilled a step further to street signage, to American logo and commercial, market vocabulary.
The twenty Polish artists in this exhibition differ in style, expression, approach; all reveal inspiration fulfilled in consummate technique. In "The Polish Connection," the question did arise of whether a 'Polish style' emerges in the exhibition and, in fact, an American viewer does feel some vague sense of commonalty here; just as some Americans think of most European Jazz as somehow 'cerebral' or 'refined.' Perhaps general aspects indeed can be discerned in "The Polish Connection." In modern history, great powers more than once conspired to exterminate the entire Polish nation: to be a Pole -- and especially to be an artist -- was a forbidden, sometimes fatal act of affirmation. Whether or not artists worked consciously aware of being a symbol of nationality, a societal authority, art among Poles has never been superfluous -- a mere diversion or something theoretical. Nor did it lapse into solipsism. The act of making art here is always significant: there is a discipline of technique, a sensitiveness to creative process -- so much more of the artist as person, and so much less of ambient 'appropriated image' or concern with idle theorizing with 'Art' ( -- capital "A"). Among all these artists, art really counts. Each of the pieces in "The Polish Connection" bears witness to that.
The artists in "The Polish Connection" are: Jan Brud, Blanka Domagalska, Adam Fedorowicz, Marek Hapon, Michal Herman, Tadeusz Hipner, Anna Hoga, Jerzy Kenar, Rafal Komorowski, Grazyna Lippert-Zajaczkowska, Artur Popek, Miroslaw Rogala, Grzegorz Stec, Jan Sliwinski, Tadeusz Torzecki, Andrzej Umiastowski, Krzysztof Wasko, Barbara Wegorek, Jacek Wojciechowski, Leszek Wyczolkowski, Pawel Zajaczkowski. "The Polish Connection: Contemporary Polish Artists in Chicago" is curated by Christopher D. Kamyszew, who is Director of The Society For Arts and its Gallery 1112 (1112 N. Milwaukee, Tel. 773/ 486-9612).
"The Polish Connection" is an international exhibition; and it is indeed in Schaumburg, Illinois. The Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg has a website http://www.chi-athenaeum.org. Some of the artists' work may also be viewed at http://www.societyforarts.com
Finis Part II
--G. Jurek Polanski
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