Contemporary Lynx: Recently, a Polish weekly magazine Polityka in its annual ranking of Poland’s top 20 galleries has distinguished Tarnow’s BWA Gallery by placing it in the 13th place. The author of the list, Piotr Sarzyński – a well-known art critic, praised the BWA for “directors’ unwavering commitment to presenting a programme that commands respect: diverse, open, and valuable.”
Where do you get ideas and inspiration for new exhibitions and projects?
Ewa Łączyńska-Widz: Polityka has ranked us for the very first time — it was a big surprise for us. Being placed among such excellent “neighbours” as the BWA from Białystok and the BWA from Zielona Góra (successfully run for years by Monika Szewczyk and Wojciech Kozlowski respectively) was an additional honor.
If you ask about my inspirations, in the first place, it is the city itself. When recently moving into our new BWA building I found my own job application I had submitted in 2008. The ‘Interests’ section read: “city, people.” That has not changed at all. We’re just trying to react to what is happening around. I have been working here for five years now. During this time, the BWA has changed its location three times: first, it was the historic tenement house at the Renaissance Market Square, then the wing of an active PKP railway station, and now it is the neo-Gothic mansion in the Park. A move to the Station was unplanned and very quick. At the Market Square we had had a small “hole,” with no chances for development. The railway company beautifully renovated its Art Nouveau station and it turned out they had some extra vacant spaces. Knowing that we were in need of larger premises, the city made a quick decision. It was an experiment –there were as many supporters of this idea as there were detractors. In the end, the experiment proved to be successful. We worked there very actively for two years. I think it was successful because we focused on the uniqueness of this place and thus, were able to turn all its drawbacks into advantages. Architecture and background sites are important sources of inspiration for us.
CL: Ewa, you’re a curator and art historian. You graduated in 2007 and in 2011 were already the head of the BWA in Tarnow. What are the challenges that such a young gallery director must face?
EŁW: Well, it happened very quickly and certainly was not as I had planned. I think that under the other, “healthy” circumstances, if I were to become a director, it would have happened probably 10 years later. Sure, I was not fully prepared for that. I was hired by the then director of the BWA, Boguslaw Wojtowicz, to whom I owe so much. He had noticed a gap in the gallery program — no exhibitions of modern art — and decided to create an additional post, which – as I now know – is not that easy. I found out about the job opening and applied. We got along very well. After exactly two years of my working here, director Wojtowicz made me his deputy. I had mixed feelings, because I knew that while I was good at issues related to the artistic program, its content and implementation, all the organisational matters concerning the institution as a whole were totally alien to me. I remember one sentence by Wojtowicz: “Do not worry, you can handle it. And if you have a problem, I’m just behind the wall.” Three months later, he died of cancer. We were absolutely shocked. In the meantime, we were given a new location at the Station. What is more, we found out that our project to renovate and transform the Pałacyk Strzelecki mansion into our future permanent location obtained EU funding and would be implemented. There was no time to think, we had to go to work. As I was officially a deputy director, I was appointed ‘acting director’ by the Mayor and thus, we could make decisions by ourselves. Otherwise – till the announcement of the competition for the post – the City Council would have assigned a temporary “Head” of the BWA. I say “we” all the time because back then, we were a team of six— the Tarnow’s smallest cultural institution. Full mobilisation of the entire group. We also had great support from the Department of Culture, the City Council, and other institutions. I was the ‘acting director’ for the next nine months and it was a very good school of “cultural management”— 100% practice. Then, there was the competition for the post of the BWA director but I was no longer afraid to enter it.
During the competition, Dawid Radziszewski (curator of the Tarnów. 1000 years of Modernity project that we were running then) did some research. It came to him that I was the youngest director of the Polish national art gallery. You ask about the challenges. Well, at the beginning the most difficult was to understand how it all works, that as a municipal institution we depend on the City Council which approves our budget or examines our additional motions. There are plenty of strange reports, provisions. Everything happens on an annual basis, i.e. after more or less a year, you know what to expect in the next one, how to plan and organise your work.
CL: In Tarnow, you organize world-class exhibitions — no different from those in Warsaw, Wroclaw or Berlin. One of the best-known programmes carried out by the BWA was a research program you already mentioned – Tarnów. 1000 years of Modernity, focusing on the modernist urban plans for Tarnow and Mościce (2010-2011). Contemporary artists like Wilhelm Sasnal, Monika Sosnowska, Paulina Ołowska, and many others reminded us about the potential of Tarnow. How do you manage to invite best young Polish artists as well as those established internationally to a city with a population of 100,000 people, far from cultural centres such as Krakow or Warsaw?
EŁW: I started my job at the BWA with the project Polish Alphabet with the aim to present contemporary art to the Tarnow audience. Every week, a new artist would come and talk about what he/she was doing. Then we would arrange and open a working exhibition. At the end of the year, there was one group exhibition and a catalogue. The artists that came to our city just within a few months were, among others, Joanna Rajkowska, Zorka Wollny, Nicolas Grospierre, Basia Bańda, Agnieszka Polska, Bartosz Mucha, Julita Wojcik. No one refused. It was a bit striking that they all found time and willingness to come to us, that they got involved in our project. Most of them were in Tarnow for the first time. I find working in a place like this very meaningful and important, and it seems to me that the artists also believe that getting involved in the contemporary art-related activities away from large institutions and major cities is – perhaps –the most valuable.
Then, Dawid Radziszewski conceived the Tarnow. 1000 years of Modernity and it has really been our biggest and most important project in recent years. When launching it I did not know that we were touching upon such an important part of our history: Mościce was the second largest investment (after the construction of Gdynia) of the Second Republic of Poland. Dawid is a very talented curator. I think that artists appreciate working with him. He invited all of the artists himself, so it is his great success. I also think that we were a good team in terms of the programme and its realisation. David devised the whole plan, and the BWA managed to make it happen.
CL: At present, works of Jan Głuszak “Dagarama,” Tarnow’s visionary artist and architect, are featured at the group exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London (one of the most important contemporary art institutions in the UK). This mad genius was honoured with an exhibition that you co-curated at the Avant-Garde Institute (Warsaw, 2012). Is the London show a consequence of that Warsaw event?
EŁW: In March this year, the Hayward Gallery asked us about our book: Tarnow. 1000 years of Modernity, which we managed to publish also in English. One big chapter of the book was dedicated to Dagarama’a unusual projects. The exhibition at the Avant-Garde Institute was beautiful. This is a very special place that every person visiting galleries in Warsaw should absolutely see. The display was opened by Zbigniew Warpechowski – the father of Polish performance. Warpechowski and Dagarama both studied architecture; lived in the same dorm room. Warpechowski claims that meeting Głuszak influenced his decision about quitting architecture and taking up studies at the Academy of Fine Arts. We are very happy that Głuszak’s projects have gone out into the world, yet it is difficult to say whether the London exhibition is a direct result of our initiatives. Certainly, Michał Duda from the Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw, which owns a collection of Głuszak’s best drawings, had a hand in making it happen. What is interesting, Głuszak’s presence at the exhibition whose theme is not limited to the architecture only, indicates that he has moved beyond this architectural circle. Although the Tarnow. 1000 years of Modernity project is over, one work is still present in the public space. It is a plaque commemorating Jan Głuszak. It is located at the Tarnow’s Market Square by the Regional Museum which houses Dagarama’s interesting projects and where he worked as a doorman. The plaque, designed by Rafal Bujnowski, is heated to the temperature of fever. I really like this place in Tarnow.
CL: The gallery in Tarnow presents classics of Polish and foreign contemporary art, as well as works of young artists. Right now, you are running an exhibition-project entitled Out of sight, Out of Mind about Tadeusz Kantor’s connections with Tarnow. Within the framework of this series of contemporary art exhibitions, you invite international artists to refer to the cultural heritage of Malopolska. Tell us more about this project?
EŁW: Out of Sight, Out of mind is a direct consequence of the 1000 Years. It turned out that projects combining modern art with the history of our city are valued. More people are interested in them, including artists themselves, and for us, who carry them out, it is just pure fun. Besides, there is another important aspect. We are touching upon the most recent cultural heritage of Tarnow, which is often too young to be protected under conservation policy or by law. Our ephemeral activities promote awareness of what surrounds us. It’s nice to know more, just to mention the famous phrase from the Institute of History of Art: “To see, you need to know.” We have chosen four topics from the history of the twentieth century Tarnow that we believe will work out well in the field of contemporary art. They are: Tadeusz Kantor’s youth in Tarnow, Zalipie – a village near Tarnow where women paint flowers on the houses, Roman history of the city and the Jewish one. The exhibition How One Becomes What One Is inaugurated the Out of Sight series, but also marked the opening of our new, in-the-park seat. It was prepared by Agnieszka Pindera and Marika Zamojska who invited brilliant artists. We had Simon Fujiwara, Jonas Mekas, Zbigniew Libera, Eugeniusz Rudnik and many others. The “gem” of the exhibition was Kantor’s landscape Ogród Strzelecki [Strzelecki Garden] from 1932. The image shows the Park that houses the BWA gallery. Kantor painted it at the age of 17, when he lived nearby, at Skargi Street. The exhibition was very well orchestrated by Robert Rumas; the audience really enjoyed it. I think we managed to achieve something that we hold dear: we organised an exhibition that on the one hand was interesting and important for Tarnow and its local community and on the other was very attractive for the people from the art world. A second part of the series – dedicated to Zalipie A Rose is a Rose – will open on October 11. The exhibition will be curated by both me and Jadwiga Sawicka and will showcase artworks of Yayoi Kusama.
CL: Perhaps Poland’s most internationally acclaimed contemporary visual artist, Wilhelm Sasnal, comes from Tarnow. Are Tarnow residents proud of this fact?
EŁW: Oh yes! Even before I started working at the BWA, I read comments about Wilhelm Sasnal and his success on our municipal forums. Tarnow’s residents wished to have his artwork display included in the BWA program (they wanted to see here in Tarnow what was so appreciated outside the city). We did it. Wilhelm’s works were exhibited at the PKP railway station and what’s more, it turned out that in 2006 Wilhelm painted a part of our PKP station and that it was exactly the same part to which the BWA would later move. We regarded it as a driving force of art. Wilhelm and the London owner of the artwork agreed for the reproduction of the artwork to be printed on our railway tickets. Within the Tarnow. 1000 years of modernity project a permanent sculpture, designed by Sasnal, has been created in the city’s public space. It is located at Chemiczna Street, close to the railway station in the phenomenal Mościce. It refers to Mościce of the 1980s, where Wilhelm grew up.
CL: Assuming the post of the BWA Director in Tarnow you said “I hope that it will be an important point on the map of Tarnow” (Radio Maks, 2011). It turned out that you did even more, you placed the BWA on the Polish “artistic” map. How far do your next plans reach?
EŁW: I realise that for some people living in Tarnow the BWA term does not say anything. I believe that contemporary art is for absolutely everyone and that it should be part of our life. It does not mean that everyone should regularly come to see our exhibitions, but I wish that every resident knew that there is such an institution where some interesting and worthwhile projects happen, and that this place is worth visiting from time to time. It is nice to see that what you are doing here is interesting for someone there. As for the plans, I wish we were able to set the whole BWA activity in such a way that organisational matters and all the bureaucracy were smooth enough and did not obscure the involvement in and satisfaction with the artistic program. And also, that we were able to set such a program, here in our new location, that the carefully prepared and planned in advance exhibitions could be combined with the projects-spontaneous responses to the interesting things that pop up suddenly and which we want to share with our audience without delay.
CL: Thank you for your time and we wish you every success!
BWA Tarnow: Cultural Institution of the city of Tarnow presents contemporary art: classics of the Polish contemporary art, most interesting phenomena of the Polish art in recent years, and Tarnow’s community of artists. Each year, the gallery organises more than 30 exhibitions and artistic events, at the BWA and other places in Tarnow, as well as at many other galleries in Poland and abroad.
In accordance with its programme, the gallery carries out educational activities that bring the world of art to both young and adult audiences. One of the educational initiatives of the gallery is Polish Alphabet – a kind of archive based on meetings with the most interesting artists of the younger generation. Additionally, The BWA conducts research programmes related to the identity of the city and its contemporary culture and heritage, e.g. Tarnow. 1000 years of Modernity, focusing on the modernist potential of Tarnow and Mościce (2010-2011), or its current project Out of Sight, Out of Mind. A Series of Contemporary Art Exhibitions of International Artists Relating to the Cultural Heritage of Malopolska. From 2010 to May 2013 gallery was based at the PKP railway station. Now it is located in its new permanent seat – Pałacyk Strzelecki.
Ewa Łączyńska–Widz is an art historian, a curator, and an author of texts on art. The Director of the BWA Gallery in Tarnów, where she has been curating a series of exhibitions. Lives in Tarnów.
Find out more about the BWA in Tarnów: http://www.bwa.tarnow.pl/
Interviewed by Sylwia Krason
Translated by Urszula Płoch-Syhłowej