The Hestia Artistic Journey is a competition for art students. Contestants compete for a month-long trip and art residency in the world’s top modern art centres – New York and Valencia. The prestige of the competition also derives from the support of long-standing partners of the Hestia Artistic Journey Foundation, including art schools from across Poland, the Polytechnic University of Valencia, New York’s Residency Unlimited and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, which hosts the finalists’ exhibitions.
The jubilee 16th edition of the Hestia Artistic Journey competition was an excellent opportunity to take a closer look and to speak with jury members: Nathalie Anglès (curator and art critic, director of Residency Unlimited in New York), Sebastian Cichocki (sociologist, curator and art critic, currently works at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw), and Magdalena Kąkolewska (President of the Hestia Artistic Journey Foundation).
Dobromila Blaszczyk: Your institutions have been collaborating together for a few years now, but you’ve decided to strengthen that collaboration this year. Is this a step towards a specific goal?
MK: I think that it is a natural course of development and a continuation of the relationship we have been forging for several years now. In the next editions of our competition, together with our partners, we would like to focus more on cooperation with higher education institutions and their art departments. We are all counting on young people, because their outlook of the world is an inspiration to us to go on our own new searches and find new solutions.
SC: I agree, the cooperation has developed naturally, just as the Museum of Modern Art is constantly changing and evolving. This year, we began by conducting activities in the Pavilion by the Vistula River. The building, designed by an Austrian architect, Adolf Krischanitz, gives us a taste of what our museum will become in the future. Our joint exhibition of works created by young artists looks great in this location.
NA: RU and Hestia have been collaborating together for nearly two years now. Through this award, both Krzysztof Maniak and Piotr Urbaniec were offered a fully funded opportunity to spend spent one month in residency at Residency Unlimited (RU). At this year’s panel in June at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, the president of Hestia announced that it would be appropriate for Józef Gałązka and Kasia Szymkiewicz , both finalists, to go to New York since they have very distinct practices that can resonate in a city like New York.
DB: What value does a competition addressed to young people have? Why has the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw decided to lend their main space, Residency Unlimited in New York to an unknown artist from Central Europe at the beginning of their artistic career, and the Sopot-based insurance company Hestia and its foundation decided to be their patron for their next step to artistic maturity?
SC: We have decided to lend the main exhibition space of the Museum due to our faith in the quality and energy of up and coming Polish art scene. We have been observing its development and feel responsible for a number of phenomena which we are analysing and are bringing closer to the viewers. The phenomenon of professional realism may serve as an example here; it is a situation in which artists get involved in non-artistic activities as part of their creative work. One of the artists whose works we are showcasing, Katka Blajchert, runs a hairdressing salon as a natural extension of her degree work at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk.
NA: In terms of RU, we recognize the value of this award because of its recognition to young artists who are still studying. As far as I know, it is very unusual for a graduate student artist to be considered for a selective residency such as Residency Unlimited. Generally, internationally recognized residencies select artists who already have a few years of professional experience. And sponsors are more willing to support more mature artists. However, based on the testimonies of previous Hestia artists in residence such as Piotr Urbański and Krzysztof Maniak, both noted how valuable this month long experience in New York was for them in terms of the advancement of their practice.
MK: All the institutions involved in the competition see a deep meaning in the ERGO Hestia initiative. It is a win-win situation. The Museum has noticed the potential of ERGO Hestia’s activities, which, through cooperation with the APH Foundation, has reached a wide circle of viewers from seemingly completely distant worlds: both art circles and business circles, but also people who do not deal with art on a daily basis. It is interesting to RU that the APH Foundation invites students and not well-known artists to take part in the competition — it is truly unique compared to other art competitions. Our dialogue platform is open to all institutions. We appreciate it and we are glad that other institutions which are crucial to the art scene are willing to cooperate with us. Not only in Poland, and not only in places where we send our prize-winners to artistic residencies.
We want to be close to artists. We draw from their energy, their discoveries and journeys. It is our common journey.
DB: This year’s graduates and students of Fine Arts Academies may submit their works in the competition. They are still searching for their artistic road, and they often lack experience in the world of galleries and museums. So, such competitions seem to be vital lessons and a test of not only the language they use and what they want to express, but also of their cooperation with curators and institutions. It seems that the strengthening of cooperation and coordination between your institutions is aimed at making this lesson in accelerated artistic maturity more intense and real…
MK: The competition requires an open mind in terms of creativity and organisation at various levels, while also providing many more benefits than just residency for prize-winners. For young artists, it is often their first confrontation with reviews of their works outside the university, it is also an attempt to meet the usual requirements of an artist’s professional career — e.g. self-presentation, complying with the terms and conditions, confronting the artist’s self with the perspective of viewers, curators, foundations or institutions.
SC: We hope that it is a valuable lesson to young artists. Not only must they go through the stressful procedure of presenting their works to a jury, but also negotiate the way their work is showcased with the curators and the technical staff of the Museum. I must admit that the involvement of our curatorial team in preparing the exhibition, including the selection of participants, is an important source of knowledge on new intriguing artists, their interests and motivations. Each time, several hundred proposals are submitted to the competition, so it can provide an accurate picture of the most recent art scene. We believe that contacts with the Museum will result in joint projects with selected artists in the future. It is often the case that some students have already taken part in exhibitions organised by our institution, as in the case of Krzysztof Maniak, a very original artist often working far away from cities, in his home village of Tuchów.
NA: In terms of professional development, the younger artists who participate in our program generally recognize that a residency experience gives them more confidence about their artistic practice. This is because they meet many art professionals who review their work on a weekly basis. By having to explain their practice regularly to so many curators, gallerists and art critics, all of whom have difference perspectives, forces the artists to clearly articulate what they are trying to do. This is an important exercise for young artists that will serve them in their careers. You learn how not to be shy about your work, and you have to defend what you are doing to someone you have never met before. In addition to the networking opportunities we provide, the Hestia awarded artists are integrated with the other RU residents (local and international artists and curators) at different levels of their career. The RU staff organizes many field trips and group activities for the residents — sometimes even a day long trip outside the city to discover other museums etc.
DB: You, or the representatives of your institutions, were jury members. The question of criteria you used both during the initial selection of works — on the basis of electronic portfolios — and during the process of reaching the final decision is very interesting to me. What were you looking for in the submitted works? Perhaps you paid attention to the artistic stance? Were you looking for the most mature and consistent personality or a personality that is still developing creatively and for which the resources you offer, by which I mean the museum exhibition and a residency in a foreign country, would contribute the most to their development, their way of thinking and the shaping of a young artist?
SC: The selection process is laborious and requires a great deal of engagement from the jury members. Looking through all the applications takes several days. We look for brilliant concepts, attractive form, convincing programmes, manifestos, new ideas. We appreciate references to the past, a knowledge of art history and the works of other contemporary artists. This year the jury chose the painter Katarzyna Szymkiewicz who introduced principles referring to the heritage of conceptual art, into the way we look at paintings, moving from the flat surface of paintings into the third dimension, inviting us to a world full of references to architecture or abstract sculpture. The text is a vital part of the application. It can take the application higher, but may also cause harm, sometimes showing, for example, gaps in the author’s knowledge. We definitely favour people who have made a decision to continue their artistic career, to be artists. This determination is apparent in the applications. They are people for whom art work is not an accidental occupation.
MK: During the first stage of voting, the jury takes into consideration the authentic stance of an artist, which we later verify in the next step during interviews with the finalists. Of course, we base our decisions on the information the artists provide in their applications, and I do not mean quantity, but quality. What is interesting is that each of the jury members has their own outlook on art, and this can sometimes provoke heated discussions. The jury’s decision is the outcome of the discussion, not the average grade.
NA: That is a tricky question because of course each of us have our subjective opinion about what constitutes “good” work. Personally, I don’t have to “like” anything to find it interesting, particularly in the framework of a residency. I felt that the jury this year underwent a very healthy process. Some of us had “our” candidates in mind when we sat down to meet the finalists… but our ideas evolved, sometimes quite radically, and at the end we unanimously agreed on the choice of the finalists. Józef Gałązka and Kasia Szymkiewicz have solid artistic practices, very different from each other. They are both highly motivated individuals with an interesting background that led them to become artists. What I do know is that besides the relevance of a practice and “quality” of work, there are all kinds of criteria that are necessary for me as the founder of a residency program, to examine for a residency in New York. For one, has the artist already had a residency in New York? If so I would opt to select an artist who has not yet been offered this opportunity. Motivation is another element I consider closely. If the artist is only interested in finding a gallery that will represent them, then that would be a red flag for me. The more open to opportunities an artist is, the more likely it is for the residency to be successful. A lot of things happen in our program, the staff is really focused on each artist and their goals, and we work together to make things happen.
DB: On the basis of this year’s applications, can you point to any common features of the artists you considered? Do they show one particular sphere the artists explore? You had a chance to talk to all the finalists before the prize-winner was selected, so perhaps it is their way of thinking or their outlook on reality and not only their work that displays something which would define young-generation artists?
MK: It is difficult to talk about specific, generational features in a situation when so many artistic stances were submitted. Surely the context of family home is still crucial to young artists, just like social issues. What is worth noting is that painting returned to the competition after many years of absence.
NA: The jury invited to review the Hestia finalists this year was very impressed by the overall quality of the finalists. Their practices were diverse and strong, the artists spoke confidently about their work and as I mentioned before, our judgement as panellists evolved when the presentations took place.
SC: The contemporary art scene does not speak in one consistent voice. It is difficult to think about it in the category of “trends” or “tendencies.” The influence of previous generations of artists is visible, for example in post-internet aesthetics or references to socially engaged art. A lot of them are focused on the issues of privacy, family relations, private spheres, and immediate surroundings — the intimate ones, there are also many escapist attitudes in young art. But there are also more defined stances, related to political situations, disputes over remembrance, ideology and history, which is visible in some excellent works by Marta Wódz or Agnieszka Mastalerz. It is worth noting that there are only seven men in a group of 25 finalists. Young art is a woman!