Mirosław Bałka, Stefan Ficner, Costas Fotopoulos, Leszek Knaflewski, Grzegorz Klaman, Piotr C. Kowalski, Mariusz Kruk, Piotr Kurka, Danuta Mączak, Tassos Pavlopoulos, Zbigniew Taszycki, Ewa Twarowska, Nikos Tranos, Stan Wiezniak
A book by Justyna Kowalska about Wielka 19 gallery supplements the exhibition.
Wielka 19 – The Big 19 – was one of the most intriguing independent Polish galleries of the 1980s, where the artistic underground of Poznan would come together. The gallery provided a space for new artistic movements, and during its most dynamic period its directors – Joanna & Stefan Ficner – would open a new show every week, undaunted by experimentation or government censure. It was a moment of enthusiasm, euphoria even, as the young artistic milieu of the Poznan school began to form itself, cultivated by the young dean of Poznan’s PWSSP School of the Arts - Jarosław Kozłowski.
Not many works remain from that time as they were typically produced of makeshift materials and were easily damaged. Even so, would it be possible to replicate that scene, which Anda Rottenberg once called “an incubator of talents that brought to Polish art of the ‘80s refreshing values both visual and conceptual”? The exhibition features a handful of works salvaged from the period.
Koło Klipsa is known for shows that are reminiscent of the surrealist, poetic works of Leszek Knaflewski (1960–2014) and Mariusz Kruk (b. 1952). Kruk’s 1984 collages comprise the oldest pieces in the Wielka 19 show. These are compositions in plastic made of thorny hearts and packing paper from the iconic Moda Polska clothing brand, covered in swallows flying outside of the frame. Another ornithological ornament rises out of a wall collage. A house-road on wheels was created by Knaflewski as part of the group’s fifth show in 1986. At the time, their works weren’t signed individually, rather they collectively represented the entire group.
The piece by Mirosław Bałka (b. 1958) is a bunny made out of black silk, whose belly button is connected to a plant via a blue cord, which transfers energy in either direction between the two living things. The work comes from the second show of works by the Neue Bieriemiennost group at Wielka 19, titled “From the Bottom of the Heart. Neue Bieriemiennost’s gifts to Piotr Kurka’s show” (1987). The first show by the Warsaw-based group, titled “For All Saints”, can be seen in a documentary video, which also features a performance put on by the artists at the opening.
The painting by Piotr Kurka (b. 1958) comes from the “Flogiston” show (1985). It refers to the hypothesis that was widely believed before the chemical process of oxidation was understood. Flogiston is said to be a substance released by all living and dead matter. The expansion of this theory refers to the spirit and a spiritual energy within inanimate objects. Kurka sought out to gather up the energy sourced from many ordinary objects at once. The illustration of this transformation is a very simple gesture indicating the edge of the horizon, which turns a basic piece of wallpaper into a landscape.
Zbigniew Taszycki’s (b. 1955) large-scale work of acrylic paint on paper represents the strong expressionist style of the period, as does a studded chair by Piotr C. Kowalski (b. 1951). It was an element of the performance put on as part of the exhibition “Me and My Studio” in 1986, during which Kowalski recreated the space he worked in, complete with an easel and a mannequin stand-in. The raw, expressionist head carved out of wood was the smallest of nine monumental heads presented as part of Grzegorz Klaman’s (b. 1959) sculpture exhibition in 1989.
Ewa Twarowska’s (b. 1953) ceramic sculpture in the form of ropes interplayed with the brick walls of the Wielka 19 space. The “Line, Plane, Space” show of 1985 was one of six presentations dedicated to Twarowska’s work in the gallery, with each sculptural form interacting in some way with the exhibition space. Each one was made of natural materials, such as a tree cut into minute strips. References to nature were common at the gallery, with such works as Stefan Ficner’s (b. 1952) replica of a forest as part of the “Spatial Drawing” show in 1989.
The “Out of Limits” show of Greek artists in 1990 presented works made of figs, raisins, tobacco leaves and beeswax, along with a birdhouse by Nikos Tranos (b.1957). One of the most recognised Greek artists of today, Tassos Pavlopoulos’ (b. 1955), was also in the show, with his shovels marked with the Greek alphabet – representing the language of ideas and philosophy that makes up the foundation of western thought, alongside the reference to cultivation, construction, the search and excavation of past ideas. Of 24 shovels, only four remain today. Costas Fotopoulos (b. 1957) was represented by a blue object that came to be called a “romantic trap”.
A highly conceptual approach is manifested in the work of French artist Stan Wiezniak (1934–2013). A celebrity photographer, he gave up a commercial career for art with an anarchic bend. In the 1960s he was already putting up poetic stencil prints and stickers on the bus stops of Paris. He rarely left the capital, but when he agreed to accept an invitation to Poznan, he brought a jar of Parisian air along with him. The label “L’automathétique” on the jar is his signature, and his style he referred to as autometics. He was also known for leaving behind fingerprints as a provocation against surveillance tactics. The label on the jar posits: “How can one tell that an idea is a true, righteous one? By the fact that it becomes the sun for all”.
One of the most interesting site-specific works at Wielka 19 was Danuta Mączak’s (b. 1953) “Object” – an upside-down pyramid made of the fluttering pages of the “People’s Tribune” (Trybuna Ludu) as a symbol of a “pyramid of stupidity”. It’s the only outrightly political work out of the Wielka 19 gallery. The object made perfect use of the rawness of the exhibition space.
Wielka 19 was the scene for various forms of expressionism, surrealism, with odes to nature and metaphysics woven throughout. Any attempts to seek out a common denominator for them all would end up at a modern form of romanticism.
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