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POLISH PRESENCE AT FRIEZE LONDON

The winner of this year’s Frieze Award, women, performative shift and Polish artists living abroad.

 

Some people love it, some people hate it but Frieze Art Fair is the most important art event in the UK. It was established in 2003 and since then it expanded to Frieze Masters (showcasing art from the ancient era and Old Masters to the late 20th century) and opened an outpost in New York in 2012. The Los Angeles version is planned for 2019. Frieze London showing contemporary artists, is always very busy and somewhat chaotic. Frieze Masters has got the reputation of being more sophisticated and less hectic, but not this year. Since people appreciate it so much, it has become as busy as its sister fair.

Contemporary Lynx has asked me to write about Polish art at the fair. It has not been easy, as Poland’s presence was relatively sparse. Only one Polish gallery – Foksal Gallery Foundation – has participated in the art fair this year. It is no surprise given the colossal booth fees of around $20,000 for an average stand. However, I have found Polish artists represented by other galleries – and even the winner of this year’s Frieze Award, Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, is Polish. I did not go to Frieze Masters so I missed Wacław Szpakowski and Roman Opałka at Pace gallery.

 

Here is the list:

Foksal Gallery Foundation

Set up in 1997 by a group of young curators working with the legendary Foksal Gallery, Foksal Gallery Foundation became the most influential Polish commercial gallery. It regularly exhibits at Frieze and Art Basel representing the best Polish artists. This year, the gallery has curated their booth revisiting art history and tradition: still lifes, portraits, small, ceramic sculptures and photographs. Despite its seemingly conservative look, it was an elegant and well-curated booth with a conceptual edge. The most striking work in the gallery was The She-Ornitologist (2018) by Paulina Ołowska. This large canvas, portraying tragically deceased artist and Ołowska’s friend Chiara Fumai (1978-2017) is a beautiful homage to the late artist. It is accompanied by small-scale, shiny, opalescent ceramics with an irregular surface. These sculptures formally resemble rococo figures and are inspired by the work of another artist, Maja Berezowska (1893 -1978). On the wall next to it, you could find two examples of still lifes by Wilhelm Sasnal, inspired by work of 18th-century Spanish painter Luis Meléndez and more abstract looking Bouquet with Falling Petals (2018). Piotr Uklański’s photographs of Polish symbols in small, traditional formats hung in a row in the opposite corner. The choice of medium, size and display suggest that Uklański presents these national symbols with a pinch of irony, emphasising not their importance but emptiness.

Wilhelm Sasnal, Bouquet with Falling Petals, 2018, oil on canvas

Wilhelm Sasnal, Bouquet with Falling Petals, 2018, oil on canvas

Piotr Uklański, Untitled (Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw 1939 - 1945, Warsaw), 2015, gelatin silver print

Piotr Uklański, Untitled (Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw 1939 – 1945, Warsaw), 2015, gelatin silver print


Alex Baczynski-Jenkins: Frieze Artist Award 2018

This prestigious award is a big deal for an emerging artist. This year, it was given for the first time to a performance artist – Alex Baczynski-Jenkins (also represented by Foksal Gallery Foundation). He was born in London but works between London and Warsaw. His performances fit in the recent trend in Polish art called post-performance, post-theatre or post – dance (sic). This trend has been recently scrutinised in a large group show Other Dances at Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. It is characterised by the ability to make work beyond divisions of performative and visual arts. The performance at Frieze took place in a small room within the fair. A neon sign created by the Warsaw-based feminist and queer collective Kem – of which the artist is a co-founder and member – was installed above the room’s entrance and switched on when the performance was happening. After entering the black cube, I became instantly mesmerised by the energetic dance and electronic music. The performed dance draws on the box step, a basic movement used in several social dances, and used to create a choreography that explores collectivity, subjectivity, queer embodiment and desire.

Alex Baczynski-Jenkins Frieze Artist Award 2018

Alex Baczynski-Jenkins Frieze Artist Award 2018

Queuing for Alex Baczynski-Jenkins Frieze Artist Award 2018

Queuing for Alex Baczynski-Jenkins Frieze Artist Award 2018


Joanna Piotrowska at Southard Reid

Another booth fully dedicated to a Polish artist was London based Southard Reid. Located in the Focus area of the fair it exhibited work by up and coming photographer Joanna Piotrowska. Focus section gathers emerging galleries that are less than 12 years old. This is where works are more affordable and where a wise collector would shop for art on the threshold of commercial success. Piotrowska, originally from Warsaw, now lives in London and Southard Reid has been championing her work in this part of Europe. She is also represented by Dawid Radziszewski in Warsaw. Southard Reid exhibited black and white photographs from the Enclosure series, showing empty zoo cages, exploring the dichotomies of control, confinement, oppression, freedom, and protection. Another group of exhibited works came from Piotrowska’s ongoing series Self Defence, where she usually captures people performing complicated dances inspired by self-defence poses.

Joanna Piotrowska at Southard Reid

Joanna Piotrowska at Southard Reid

Joanna Piotrowska at Southard Reid

Joanna Piotrowska at Southard Reid


Monika Sosnowska at Frieze Sculpture Park

Hauser & Wirth exhibited a public work by Monika Sosnowska at Frieze Sculpture Park. Sosnowska, notabene also represented by Foksal Gallery Foundation, is one of the most important contemporary Polish artists. Rebar 12 is a knotted mass of steel rods, that is sort of lost in the trees amongst which it hangs. Sosnowska’s recognisable style combining architectural and sculptural elements in disorienting configurations is still very present here. This work, originally shown in a white cube context, suspended from a beam at ceiling height, takes on new meanings between the branches, related to the chaotic nature of the Universe.

 


Alicja Kwade at 303 Gallery

New York-based 303 Gallery exhibited an installation Hypothetisches Gebilde (2017) by Alicja Kwade. Kwade is a mixed-media artist, making installations exploring time, space and the nature of objects that manipulate the viewers’ mental perceptions. Hypothetisches Gebilde is a beautiful sculpture comprising of metal pipes and funnels entangled together. It is inspired by the appearance of wormholes, hypothetical structures connecting two dimensions in the universe.

 

Written by Roma Piotrowska