By Ivo van Werkhoven
Waking up early in Krakow after arriving late at night from Whoodzj we are picked up at the hotel by Joanna Zielinska, curator at Cricoteka. The Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor was founded by Tadeusz Kantor in 1980 as a home and follow up to cricot 2, an avant-garde theatre ensemble he formed in 1955 with a group of visual artists. Besides theatre director Kantor was a painter, stage designer, poet and an actor. The Dead Class (1975) is widely considered his best work. In the play, Kantor himself plays a teacher who leads a class of apparently dead characters who are confronted by mannequins that represent their younger selves. Future Days by Agnieszka Polska we’ve seen at Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw seems to be inspired by Kantor’s work.
Kantor was very much dedicated to collecting everything that was related to cricot 2, thereby creating a kind of “Living Archives” of his theatre creation. The collection of Cricoteka consists of a several hundred objects and costumes, Kantor’s theoretical papers, drawings and design works, video records, and photographic documentation as well as thousands of reviews, journals and books. Today Cricoteka functions simultaneously as an archive, a “museum”, a gallery and a scientific institution.
We are guided through the former rehearsal studios by one of Kantor’s actors, Bogdan Renczyński. He speaks passionately and emotionally about his old master. He explains Kantor demanded complete openness from his actors, expressing also the vulnerable and dark sides of their minds.
Renczyński describes a suggestive space in which the living and the dead are confronted. “The objects are animated by the actors and the actors are reduced to objects”.
Kantor always joined his actors on the stage while directing. For this reason his plays are no longer performed since his death in 1990. Only once a year the actors commemorate their director in a joint performance in front of the institution. Cricoteka therefor searches other ways to keep his legacy alive and to open up new ways of interpreting and presenting Kantor’s objects and ideas. One way is to incorporate them in a contemporary art discourse. So does Radical Languages, a programme created together with independent Dutch curator Maaike Gouwenberg including an exhibition, a publication and various performative activities.
“Contemporary art in Poland wouldn’t have looked the same without our activities”, Marta Tarabula puts it confidently. She shows us Wilhelm Sasnal’s first ever catalog. Which she has made. It is nice to see Sasnal in the context of the older generations of artists like Andrzej Wroblewski and Jarosław Modzelewski who clearly inspired him.
As founder of Galeria Zderzak Marta Tarabula took part in the underground movement in the early eighties. Since the martial law prohibited gatherings of more than 7 people, even running a gallery was considered illegal. Despite being a commercial gallery for years her activist nature is still reflected in the galleries program today. Currently Zderzak is showing THE MINISTER DISAPPROVES OF SUCH STATEMENTS or METAPOLITICS, a selection of works from late sixties till 2000 that relate to politics though only by implication.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) is situated in the post-industrial district of Zabłocie in the complex of Oskar Schindler’s factory. The original Schindler factory which covers only one third of the museum has a distinctive roof construction which was used as a leitmotif for the new architecture (by Italian architect Claudio Nardi) and for the whole identity of the new museum.
Director of the three year old museum is Maria Anna Potocka who tells us she started the first Polish private gallery in her bedroom in 1972. The museum collection was born in 2011 with the donation of a few hundred of Potocka’s collected contemporary art works. One year later it had grown to be 2000 works of which an approximate 50 percent from Polish artists. The museum’s main focus seems to be answering the question: What is art for? MOCAK aims at presenting the art of the last two decades in the context of the post-war avant-garde. By relating this to general issues in society such as history, sport, religion or economics MOCAK strives to stress (or perhaps in some cases impose) the arts relationship with everyday reality.
Currently on show at MOCAK: Erwin Wurm, Josef Dabernig and a wonderful exhibition comprising mainly video works from the past 50 years. The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe Since 1945 includes many Eastern European artists, some of whom we’ve met during the trip.
Hey, we’ve seen this work before! Another Krasiński! However Starmach Gallery deals much differently with Krasiński’s blue tape. At his former apartment in Warsaw we saw that the tape was left untouched, coming off the walls and objects over time. But at the gallery of private collectors Teresa and Andrzej Starmach the tape is neatly fixed to the walls all across the gallery space. This is one of the largest galleries in Poland. It focuses on paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations of Polish avant-garde. Starmach is so generous to sometimes lend their collection to the nearby National Museum in Krakow.