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Cracow: Maciej Jerzmanowski, Janusz Kaczorowski

March 25, 2017 - June 18, 2017




Janusz Kaczorowski – eminent creator, poet, forgotten mentor of Kraków’s artistic circles – wrote in the early 1970s that “Almost every artistic activity has a concealment phase. Some non-artistic activities have that phase as well. It seems that art abandons it only when it needs to validate itself. When one is sufficiently confident in art, there is no threat of treachery.”[1] These words first appeared in the Private Manifesto of Concealed Art, known among friends of the artist. Within, Kaczorowski laid out the intuitive rules that determined his creative activity. The text was not published during his lifetime; its creation date is also unknown, as it was only circulated privately. Its only reprint from 1988 seems incomplete; to put it bluntly, it seems to be a sloppy rewrite by the artist. The manifesto never had a wider impact, but it remains the best-known clue for apprehending the artist’s course towards intimate art. While dreaming of the increase of autonomy of art, Kaczorowski proclaimed the negation of its customary circulation. He hoped for the decline of artistic life and criticism as we know it; he also hoped for a radical renouncement of everything that accompanies art and exists outside of art itself.

Kaczorowski, a lecturer at the Graphics Faculty of the Fine Arts Academy in Kraków and a participant of numerous debates, taught humility in reflection, inspired with his erudition, and encouraged the need of gaining awareness. His attitude showed that the manifestation of art and its public presentation is secondary to the benefits (also spiritual) that stem from artistic work, and sometimes is entirely superfluous.

Only a small fraction of Kaczorowski’s work can be reconstructed today. Only a few graphics and prints modelled after communist propaganda materials survived; they negotiate the rules of public communication and the contents of the authoritarian iconosphere, surrounding the artist. A very unusual work – a peculiar self-portrait – survived in the Woodcut Workshop of the Fine Arts Academy in Kraków. It depicts Kaczorowski as a dysfunctional toy. This item is the result of reflection on the position of an artist (clown dressed in a corduroy suit) and his duties to the audience, or even the society at large. The string one can pull does not cause any motion of the doll. Its paper limbs do move on its hinges, but they do so to the sides, in a direction opposite to what is expected, and independently from the pulling of the string. Clown is funny, because it moves in a bizarre fashion, differently from what the viewer might expect.

Maciej Jerzmanowski, a student and friend of Kaczorowski, informed the audience during the 1976 6/17 exhibition at the gallery of the International Press and Book Club that “on March 3rd, he suspends his artistic activity until further notice.”[2] He did not keep his promise, but a few years later, in 1984 to be exact, he did actually remove himself from artistic life. During his short, but consistent and surprising artistic career he bcame known as an intriguing and original negotiator of the language of expression. His works, installations, and performances conducted in public space revealed the potential of literality and simple contrariness. They often were a literal translation of linguistic structures to visual forms (this is the case with works such as Peryskop, Prezentacja czystej wody, and Kawa na ławę). Thus he also widened the notion of art presentation space and the format of a contemporary institution. Okupacja przestrzeni, sometimes called Papierowe ogrody, is a reconstruction of a work exhibited in Kraków and Paris in the 1970s and early 1980s. A structure comprised of a few thousand white cones placed on the ground prevents the audience from entering the exhibition space, making it simply unavailable. Papierowe ogrody migrate around different spaces of Bunkier Sztuki – they can appear wherever they can hinder the everyday functioning of the institution.

Recalling the works of these two largely unknown artists aims to reveal the bygone intimate dialogue of art with the reality of fully developed communist Poland. It featured mores, systems, and practices that were completely different from those functioning today and prevented an artist to be entirely free. Their exceptional creations, characterised by an intense conviction that it is necessary to make efforts widely considered as absurd, introducing a new perspective into a debate on domestic neo-avant-garde.


MACIEJ JERZMANOWSKI (1950) is a graduate of the Graphics Faculty at the Fine Arts Academy in Kraków (1975). He’s the author of several performances in non-institutional spaces, carried out in the 1970s and early 1980s. He negotiated the field of impact of ephemeral art. During his 1981 performance Spacer, he was dressed in a white suit, walking through the streets of Kraków while holding a five-meter long pole. The photographic documentation of this event presents a dreamlike confrontation of anonymous performer with baffled random audience within the context of municipal buildings and institutions, such as the Jagiellonian Library or Palace of Fine Arts, or public authority, such as the Polish United Workers’ Party. Jerzmanowski’s other performances and installations (Ping-Pong, Działka na niebie, Zrywanie kwiatu lotosu, or Peryskop) are examples of actions characterized by the absurd spirit of the period, exceptional in the context of art from that period.

JANUSZ KACZOROWSKI (1941-1987) was an artist, poet, art theoretician, eminent thinker, animator of the artistic environment, and friend of artists. Graduate of the Graphics Faculty at the Fine Arts Academy in Kraków, where he also performed the role of assistant at the Woodcut Workshop. Member of the 848 poet group. Close colleague of the critic and curator Stanisław Urbański. His works and performances (e.g. 1975’s Grafika on the processual character of artistic activity or his Sztandary [Banners], Rękawice [Gloves] or Krawaty [Ties], modelled after the attribute of labour leaders, utilized the language of slipshod production of communist propaganda materials and the design of the cover of 1974’s Świat nie przedstawiony by Julian Kornhauser and Adam Zagajewski) are singular and – in the context of Polish art – pioneering examples of subversive use of motifs from the iconosphere and official language of visual communication.


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[1] From the catalogue of the artist’s exhibition in Teatr Stu Gallery entitled Janusz Kaczorowski 1941-1987, prepared and edited by W. W. Jaworski, Kraków, 1988, unnumbered
[2] Maciej Jerzmanowski, 6/17, exhibition catalogue, Kraków, 1976, unnumbered