“I’m A Kind Of Host, Giving A Home To The Art Works…” Dr. Osman Djajadisastra Is Talking About His Collection, Art From The 80s And Polish Art Market

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the most important and certainly one of the most interesting collectors of Polish art abroad. He did more for the popularization of Polish art than many Polish institutions. Dr. Osman Djajadisastra, living in Germany, is a lover of art from the 80s, which he not only collects, but also supports through exhibitions, different initiatives and publications associated with it.

Dr. Osman Djajadisastra in front of the “Sportowcy”- painting “Misery” from 1972, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

D.B.: At the beginning I would like to ask you about something what the most probably also other people have been asking you for. 

How did your interest in Polish art begin? Why the Polish art scene?

O. D.: I visited Poland during the last year of my school time. Our history teacher choose Poland as the country to visit for my graduating class. It was in 1980.

Later I went to study in Bonn. Then it was the capital of Germany. During my studies I met a guy from Silesia – former German area, which belongs now to Poland.  He took me to Poland again around 1985. I think, then it was the first time when, thanks to him, my interest in the Polish art started. He was already familiar with the Polish art and he just took me and showed me this art and it was my start. He was my guide at the beginning.

D.B.: And did your interest start from the current at that time art or classical one? Because I know, that now you are interested in the Polish art mainly from the period of 80s.

O. D.: Exactly, when I started in 1985-1986 there was no art market in Poland. Actually, in the beginning, I was collecting the art from the turn of 19th and 20th centuries and from the interwar period. At that time you couldn’t buy the new art. There was no art market and there was no auction house. You had to buy the art which was available.

D.B.: There was no art market and no galleries. So how did you acquire the works at that time? Did you buy them directly from the artists?

O. D.: Sometimes yes, but mainly from the galleries, which were called “Desa”. Later in the 90s ,  when the auction houses and the private galleries  appeared on the market, I acquired the works mainly from them.

I think, that in the beginning you are a little bit in a fog. You don’t know what is good and what is not good. You just start to buy things because you like them.  With time, when you get to be more confident, you start to see, that probably some special part of the art in Poland is the art you like more than other parts. For me it was  the period of the 80s, because it was the first time when I was in Poland in 1980 and I was less than 20 years old  and it was the time, when my first feelings to things such intangible as art arose.

D.B.: Now the art from the 80s occupies a main position in your collection?

O. D.: Yes, but at the beginning the collection was a set of works from 1900 till 2000. It was covering many artists. But already at that time I had a feeling, that this collection is too scattered, covering a period, which is too big.

Also an additional advantage of collecting the art from the 80s is, that you can still meet the artists like Teresa Murak or the artists from the Luxus Group. They still remember how it was to be an artist in that period. It was very difficult because there  was no art market. The art itself, as for example the art of Luxus Group,  was sometimes very critical of society. So that is why I am now focusing  on the 80s. Now and during the last few years I have been trying  to rearrange my collection by selling some of the art from before the war and I have been trying to get the new very important works from the 80s by meeting the artist straight for example.

“Stoja rzedem” by Marek Sobczyk, done in 1979/80, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

“The process of an average baby cutting its teeth” by Włodzimierz Pawlak from 1985, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

D.B.: Is the contact with the artists very important for you?

O. D.: Absolutely important! I think it’s necessary. If you have a chance, if they still live and if you are able to meet them, it is very important to do it in order to get a personal view, to get a personal history of the art made by them. It is still possible for example to meet such artists as Teresa Murak or Ewa Partum.

D.B.: Now a significant part of the artists from your collection are the artists who co-created the Polish neo-avant-garde and conceptual art. Which aspects of this Polish art development stage do intrigue and attract you so much?

O. D.: I think, that this is a very good point in art to have some reference to politics or like Teresa Murak to ecology, taking care for nature.…

D.B.: … the carnality, and the women’s body…

O. D.: Yes, and the artists like Łódź Kaliska or Luxus Group were very critical of the society, the reality in which they lived. It is very interesting for me. Especially because it was done in very difficult circumstances.

"With a rose in teeth" from Maria Pinińska-Bereś from 1970, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

“With a rose in teeth” from Maria Pinińska-Bereś from 1970, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

D.B.: Do you also collect the works of young artists? I know, that you have a painting of Radek Szlaga in your collection.

O. D.: Yes, I have Radek Szlaga and Zbigniew Rogalski. I used to buy especially works done by members from  Grupa Ładnie in Cracow: Rafał Bujnowski, Marcin Maciejowski in the last years.

I used to buy the young art because I knew the galleries like Leto Gallery from Warsaw and the owner of this gallery showed me  very good artists so I decided to buy their works.

I think, that especially now there is a lot of new art in Poland,  which is very interesting, for example Konrad Smoleński  – the artist who will be shown at the Polish Pavilion in Venice soon. But if I try to buy too much new art I will mix it up. It’s very important to focus.  If you do not focus on a special period, you get lost.  So now I really would like to focus on the art from the 80s and 70s.

Part of Installation by Radek Szlaga shown in The Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle in 2012, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

D.B.: How do you select the works to your collection? Is it an impulse or the result of long term research and preparation?

O. D.: Mainly based on my knowledge, which has been growing over the years by  reading a lot of books and art magazines, talking to the artists  who I met, people from the art scene, who were advising me and other people worth to meet and talk to. I try to see art as much as I can. So it is a result of many books read by me and personal contacts.

Nowadays there are very good books about the 80s available. So you can have a very good overview of the artists described there,  but still you have to discover some of not so well known artists. This is what I am doing now.

D.B.: Is it not a problem for you that most of the books about Polish art are in Polish language?

O. D.: Yes, it’s a problem but I try to translate them or if I am not able, the images are also important. Sometimes I try to talk to people, who read the same books and we exchange our opinions about the artists. The language is a problem but after so many years of contact with Poland and Polish language I think, that I understand it at basic level. Some artists are also not so good in English, therefore sometimes it is difficult to contact them without a translator.

D.B.: Do you have a favorite artist or an art work in your collection?

O. D.: Sure! I like Edward Dwurnik’s “Sportowcy”. I think, that he is a great artist. But also I like the works form the 70s. Edward Krasiński also was a great artist, who lived a little bit earlier but still he is a great artist. Teresa Murak for sure, Ewa Partum I like very much and The Luxus Group as well – especially their magazines.

D.B.: Have you ever been forced to sell some works from your collection?

O. D.: Yes, I did this last year. It was one item which I bought 10-15 years ago. I wasn’t exactly forced to but I wanted to sell it to focus on the art from the 80s. It was a prewar work.

D.B.: Many collectors show their “acquisition” on the exhibitions. Are you still against organizing the exhibition of your own collection?

O. D.: I’m not strictly against showing some of my works, but I don’t think that I, as a collector, has such importance. I think, that I have a lot of very good artists in my collection, who deserve to be shown and should be in the centerpiece. So I am focused on the artists. I think, that I am a kind of host, giving a home to the art works and then giving them to Museums for some shows, like tomorrow for the Luxus’ exhibition [10.5.13–2.9.13 Contemporary Art Museum in Wrocław ] or Teresa Murak’s show [12.04.2013 – 28.06.2013 Polnisches Institut Düsseldorf ]. I think, that I have a privilege and financial resources to buy good art, but as a collector I am not so much important. It is very easy to buy art, but this is not a creative process. For me it is more important to promote these artists and let them be more famous in a wide range of public and artistic circles.  If I can do this through the exhibitions for example or a book or through another project, I will love to do this. I think, that the majority of the artists from the 80s or 70s do not have as much acknowledgement as they deserve. My collection is a big one and I like to show the works from my collection, but as I said before, I think,  that as a collector I am not so important. The focus should be on the artists.

D.B.: Your involvement in the Polish art does not only concentrate on the collecting of works in which you are interested in. Very often you support a variety of initiatives. For example the exhibition of Teresa Murak took place in Düsseldorf last month and then, thanks to your support, the Book about The Luxus Group, accompanying The Luxus Group exhibition, which will be opened at the Contemporary Museum in Wroclaw on May 10th, will be published in the next weeks. This action is very important, but to be honest, quite unusual, requiring great courage and commitment. What is pushing you to such initiatives? What is the purpose of such activity?

O. D.: I think, that I started with the “Sportowcy” [“Athletes”] book five or six years ago. At that time the books about the 80s were hardly available . Now it is changing a bit. In the case of Edward Dwurnik for example, there were only very small catalogues from the Museums.   If you saw the “Sportowcy” [“Athlets”] paintings, you would think: such a great series but nobody had ever thought about showing the whole series! I think, that it is the same problem  with The Luxus Group. There was no book about them. I’m just trying to change this.  It should be done for the younger  or future generations to give them a possibility to see what magnificent, great art was done in the 80s. If it’s not done – by means of books for example, we will have nothing what could preserve this time and show this to the people in the future. I think, that this is absolutely necessary to be done and it is much more important than my collection. The important thing is to give to these artists a medium like books,  films or catalogues from the exhibitions, in which their works could be presented and secured for the future generations.

Teresa Murak, three "Hand-sculptures" by Teresa Murak, done in 1975 from the series "Objects I -III", courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

D.B.: When you published the album dedicated to the cycle of works “Athletes” by Edward Dwurnik, you mentioned on this occasion, that this wasn’t the last such your initiative. Are you planning to have another publication? If so, could you unveil any details?

O. D.: I hope yes! Now we are preparing a film about Teresa Murak. Because it is very hard to present Teresa’s art in a book,  we decided to make a film. I hope it will be completed this year – the most probably in Autumn. We will see how we will distribute it, we would like, for example, to show it on TV. But in the future … the problem is, that if you want to work out something like “Sportowcy” [“Athletes”],  a high standard of presentation  is required and I think, that a magnificent book is the best medium for this purpose.  Now it is very difficult for us to do something in this category, because such a project is  absolutely exceptional.  The film about Teresa Murak’s works will be the next,  which should be done.

The Luxus Group exhibition in Wroclaw will be opened  tomorrow and the curators of the exhibition (Anna Mitus and Piotr Stasiowski) have also prepared a book about them. I am a co-publisher.  The exhibition will last till September. It is organized very well  and the works will be presented for a very long period, therefore a lot of people can see them.

The Luxus Group is probably regarded as not as spectacular as for example Łódź Kaliska, which was very creative and better known. The Luxus  Group worked in their own field in Wroclaw. I collected their very good graphic works. In the period of 1982-1985 they published six magazines  being a very good example of Polish graphic art.  When I show  the issues to French or Germans, who usually are not familiar with the Polish art, they are really astonished how good these graphical stencils are!

Installation of The LUXUS Group (Boxes with their portrets), done for an exhibition in the early 90s, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

D.B.: So graphic art is something which attract you very much. I heard that you started collecting the Polish poster art. Is it correct?

O. D.: Yes, and I still do this! I still collect the posters in parallel with the art from 80s. But now it is very difficult to get good posters from the 50s or 60s or even from the 40s, because many Polish collectors also buy posters from this period now. They are the very good examples of great design and this is another big issue. But now it is a well-known art field and very popular in Poland.

D.B.: But I think not exclusively in Poland. I think that the Polish poster from mid XX century is also well known and valued abroad.

O. D.: I remember that fifteen years ago  Centre Pompidou in Paris had already books about Jan Lenica and other Polish poster artists, like for example Henryk Tomaszewski , who already had there exhibitions. This is a very creative field and very good art.

D.B.: You come to Poland many times. What are your impressions regarding the Polish current artistic scene after those visits?

O. D.: It starts to be more professional than it was four-five years ago, because a lot of new galleries are being opened now. Especially the young Polish art is growing very much. Last year the “Gallery weekend” in Warsaw was perfectly organized. They presented very interesting art not only from Poland but also from abroad. The gallery scene develops and goes in the right direction. I have a very good impression now. It seems however, that there are not so many Polish collectors buying younger art. The Polish collectors are focused on the art from XIX century and the classics from the XX century. Probably they learned about it in the school. Most of them would have the money to buy younger art, however during their education they were acquainted mainly with the classic art. I hope, that this will change in the future when new generations  mature  with a different art education.

"Chleb, maslo, mleko i marmelada to molekuly naszego czlowieczenstwa" by Ryszard Grzyb, from 1988, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

“Chleb, maslo, mleko i marmelada to molekuly naszego czlowieczenstwa” by Ryszard Grzyb, from 1988, courtesy Dr. Osman Djajadisastra

D.B.: How would you evaluate the interest in Polish art from your perspective, but also the perspective of Germany?

O. D.: I must say, that there is a big interest in the work of young Polish artists like Monika Sosnowska, Alicja Kwade or Konrad Smoleński in Germany now.  But I think, that there is absolutely no knowledge about art of  Julian Fałat or Stanisław Wyspiański.  There are only few people in Germany  who know the classical Polish art. Also there are only few Polish artists from the 80s, who are known here, like Tadeusz Kantor, Edward Krasiński or Ewa Partum, who is especially known in France,  or Alina Szapocznikow, because of her exhibitions of last year. But generally there is small knowledge in Germany about the Polish art from 70s and 80s.

And I fear, that if some Polish artist wants to be known in Germany, he must decide to move from Poland to Berlin or London like for example Alicja Kwade or Goshka Macuga.  In my opinion  it is very difficult to stay in Poland and become known outside the country. The Polish galleries attract international collectors very seldom. I think, that at the present, there are three galleries in Poland which are more international: Foundation of Foksal Gallery, Starmach Gallery and Raster. Probably it will change. For example the participants of the Warsaw Gallery Weekend and the Gallery Weekend itself will become more known and more foreign people will visit it. I think that to start with the Gallery Weekend was a good move. Maybe it will change to a Biennial in a few years.

D.B.: You live in North Rhine-Westphalia – the region developing very strongly. Besides the industry and business there are also many vibrant institutions in this area related to art (Museum in Cologne, Morsbroich Museum in Leverkusen) but also these related to the Polish art like Polish Institute in Düsseldorf. Have the artistic programs of these institutions had an impact on your choices and activities as the collector and the person who supports artistic initiatives?

O. D.: Yes, they have an influence on me. Many initiatives take place in industrial spaces and they are known not only locally but also in all of Germany or even abroad.  Especially in Cologne. The first exhibition, which had an influence on me was called “West Kunst”. It was  in the 80s, I was 18 and it had a great impact on me. It was a very huge exhibition with a lot of American artists. Also in Düsseldorf there are two or three museums which are very important. There is a big Museum Folkwang in Essen. There are several places which do have a great impact on me and other people, who collect, because they give a possibility to see good art. But they are mainly focused on the international art. And maybe  more in Düsseldorf than in Cologne they try to open themselves for the Polish art. But this is probably  thanks to the work of the Polish Institute in Düsseldorf, which provides a lot of information and has a lot of connections with the local museums and gives a chance to the younger artists to show their works at museums or at the Kunsthalle.

D.B.: Thank you!

Edited by Daniel Blaszczyk

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About The Author


Founder and director of London-based arts organisation Contemporary Lynx, since 2013. Editor-in-chief and founder of the print magazine Contemporary Lynx with a global reach and international distribution, listed as one of the best art magazines in London by Sotheby’s Institute of Art and recommended by Tate Modern bookshop.

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