Błażej Pindor, Modern Interiors, courtesy Studio Gallery

“Loosening the Palace” Collection of the Studio Gallery in Warsaw

The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, sometimes also referred to as the Youth Palace, is an iconic building in the city landscape, towering over the city centre like a gigantic totem. The Palace is an architectural oddity, and it is very symbolic at the same time. The space inside this colossal structure is occupied by numerous cultural institutions, theatres, museums, and galleries. Besides, offices, located in this building, are hidden in the maze of corridors, which are usually not accessible to an average person. The interior decor in the building is quite unique. The sumptuousness of an enormous and vast staircase built in the 1950s, eye-catching corridors, and the theatre foyer are a combination of socialist realism and decorative Art Deco elements. The interiors of the Palace are full of paintings, mosaics, huge white ceramic chandeliers, and coffering. The building was intended as a flagship architectural project in Warsaw, at the time when the city was being rebuilt from ruins after World War II (in 1955).

Błażej Pindor, Modern Interiors, courtesy Studio Gallery

 “Błażej Pindor, The Galeria Studio Collection in Warsaw”, courtesy Galeria Studio in Warsaw

These unique interiors, the mysterious theatre backstage area, and gallery storage rooms were the scenery which the photographer Błażej Pindor chose for his project. Błażej specializes in presenting and evoking memories of forgotten architectural objects from the post-war period. This was not the first time he worked in the Palace of Culture and Science. He compiled a photo book with pictures of this very building, which was published in 2016. On request of the Galeria Studio in Warsaw, he prepared an artistic project presenting pieces from the gallery collection within the Palace. He showed how paintings interact with architectural details in an intriguing way. A nude, provocative painting, in one of the back rooms featuring a figure with legs spread wide apart, hangs right over a red couch. Figures in the painting by Edward Dwurnik look at visitors in the mirror, and a famed blue stripe by Edward Krasiński is a part of a unique arrangement of cables and pipes. Paintings look as if they escaped from a storage room or an archive, but the truth is that they actually came back on their places. In fact, they have been presented in the Palace for years where the general public and theatre workers used to admire them.

Photos by Błażej Pindor were published in “48: Warsaw Studio Gallery Collection” at the end of 2020, so just a few months before the exhibition of the collection opened in 2021. This publication is a presentation of much more than just photographs by this excellent artist. Photographs are, however, what binds all the presented elements together – short texts describing key events in the gallery history and reproductions of works from the collection. This is a captivating combination of a photo book and a classical catalogue so masterfully designed by Deal Design Studio. It is something far beyond a list of works but more of an album, which allows us to browse through and immerse ourselves in the collection. Works chosen by the photographer for the publication were very different from those presented at the exhibition.

When you enter the exhibition in the Galeria Studio in Warsaw, the first thing which attracts your attention is the view from the Palace of Culture and Science, namely a huge building site. A new building is in construction at the Parade Square, which will be the Museum of Modern Art. This project is carried out despite many issues and difficulties surrounding it, which is a blessing for the city of Warsaw that has been waiting for this building for good twenty years, if not longer. If we were to analyse the history of the Studio Gallery closely, we would agree that the waiting time started fifty years ago. Józef Szajna called for such institution to be established as early as in 1972, and the collection that we can see at the current exhibition was supposed to lay foundations for a much more extensive one. Józef Szajna was a visionary and a pragmatist. Right after being appointed director of the Classical Theatre, that was located in the Palace of Culture and Science, he decided to change this institution’s profile. He aimed at transforming the conservative theatre into an open institution ready to resort to various means of artistic expression and assuming a highly interdisciplinary approach. Apart from modern art gallery, he established an experimental film studio, where he used to invite performers and contemporary dance experimentalists. He intended to combine various art forms, expand horizons and educate visitors. One of his courageous endeavours was inviting Oskar Hansen, who redesigned the space at the theatre. Based on his Open Form concept, he gave up on the strict division between audience and actors, thereby moving the typical theatre hierarchy aside.

The first pieces in the collection of modern art gathered by Józef Szajna were works by prominent Polish avant-garde artists: Henryk Stażewski, Jadwiga Maziarska, Edward Krasiński, and Erna Rosenstein. Other directors who held the office later on expanded the collection by adding works by young artists of the 1970s, representatives of conceptual art (e.g., Ewa Partum and Józef Robakowski), academicians, eminent painters (Alfred Lenica, Tomasz Ciecierski, Jan Tarasin) as well as documentation of actionism (Marek Konieczny, Stuart Brisley, and Akademia Ruchu). The collection also contains works by international artists, but this will be mentioned a little later.

The curators of this exhibition are Natalia Andrzejewska, Dorota Jarecka, and Paulina Olszewska. It is clearly divided into two parts, each on the separate gallery floor. At the bottom floor, we can mainly see canvas paintings. There are no partition walls. Instead, the paintings hang on bars, reminding us of the way they are stored. It is a real challenge to find logic, chronology or deeper sense in the works selected to be presented here. Paintings are combined so that they make up visually appealing compositions. Big names hang on the walls right next to the pieces of artists, who have been completely forgotten. Different styles are mixed up and artistic circles and personalities, who otherwise could have never been presented at the same exhibition, are juxtaposed here, right next to each other. Interestingly, the exhibition is not exclusively focused on the highlights of artistic careers of renowned artists. Many unknown artists are represented here as well, although their art still awaits to be discovered. Unfortunately, it is the sign of the times that the exhibition and the collection are almost devoid of works by female artists.

The room at the top floor is where mostly archival materials, documents, works on paper, video materials, and photographs are displayed. Archives, their revival, and digitalization are popular topics around, which numerous recent exhibitions are constructed around, for example the one organized by the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, titled Far Too Many Stories to Fit into so Small a Box. The curators of the Galeria Studio in Warsaw exhibition were more conservative in their approach to the same key motives and decided to present a significant number of archival materials in display cases. All these exhibits are supposed to make the audience aware that many events were actually organized at the gallery during the last fifty years and that they were extremely diverse in character. They also are means to present to what extent the institution was embroiled in the communist state politics, how it managed to balance on the brink of being a venue visited by high-ranking members of the Polish United Workers’ Party on the occasions of important anniversaries, on the one hand, and providing a space for avant-garde artists, on the other. After all, the gallery became the venue of the very first punk rock concerts (e.g., in 1979 the legendary music band Tilt played a concert here) and presentations of photographs of subcultures from London and Amsterdam (ephemeral action by Henryk Gajewski).

read also Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Photo Stefano Sciuto, Courtesy Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

Artists and Collectors: The Pattern of Kinship

Marek Wołyński Oct 01, 2020

What drives collectors to spend large sums of money on contemporary art? Do they treat art as yet another form of investment or is it a lifelong passion? There is a number of reasons why collecting art is becoming more and more popular. Supporting the arts and artists, preserving the history, and experiencing the thrill of looking for a new acquisition are also among the main motives. However, there is another top reason: collecting is all about joining and building a community that boasts a really strong bond.

When familiarizing oneself with presented documents, one can learn many microhistories, for example: about the KwieKulik exhibition which was boycotted by Zofia Kulik or about the presentation of works by the forgotten, extraordinarily talented Emilia Bohdziewicz. Apart from invitations, guest lists, plans, exhibitions, and letters to the censorship board we can find here a lot of works on paper. The most unique one is a huge paper composition made by Ryszard Winiarski for Sao Paulo Biennial in 1969. This piece is a collection of hundreds of tiny rectangular sheets of paper stuck onto a square paper piece. The tiny sheets are arranged in a regular pattern, as if it were an op art piece, utilizing the characteristics of human perception. The artist did not provide any written explanation of the mathematical structure, which served as the basis for this particular work. Therefore, the piece becomes yet another riddle for us to solve.

The collection also includes works by artists from abroad. The most important addition to the collection were donated pieces from the collection of Eva Pape, who is an American collector of Polish descent. Since 1966, Eva Pape has organized and sponsored several dozen exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, and photographs by Polish artists in America. Thanks to her efforts, several dozen paintings by Polish artists became part of collections of the most renowned American museums, such as: the Phillips Collection in Washington, Contemporary Museum in Houston, or museums in: New York, Chicago, Phoenix, and New Orleans. In 1988, she donated nearly 80 contemporary American paintings, sculptures, and prints to the Galeria Studio in Warsaw, among which were works by Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers, and Les Levine. 

The exhibition and the publication are just the beginning of the endeavours planned by the gallery around its collection. In the coming years, the archive is going to be digitalized, storage rooms will be secured and subsequent exhibitions will be organized with a focus on certain key issues. The Galeria Studio in Warsaw collection includes over 800 objects and 120 deposits collected throughout the years. All these make for an extraordinary representation of the neo-avant-garde, post-war art, one of the biggest in Warsaw. Interestingly enough, it found its home in the very centre of the city, at the venue so loved, and at the same time, so hated by the people of Warsaw. Its home is in the building which is so closely connected to the history of the city –  the Palace of Culture and Science. In a book about the collection, Dorota Jarecka wrote that the activities of contemporary art curators in the 1970s and the 1980s were the way of “breaking <<the closed form>> of the Palace of Culture.” It was an attempt to loosen the system, which opened a new chapter in the history of the state, the city, and the gallery itself. Time is yet to come for the narration around this issue to be developed.


5.02 – 18.04.2021

The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw,
pl. Defilad 1, 00-901 Warszawa


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