Last week I met with director Fabio Cavallucci to talk about Poland’s contemporary artists of the older and younger generation, Poland’s art potential, and the current trends in the contemporary art scene in Poland…
The Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle (CSW) in Warsaw aims to evolve into a new type of cultural institution in which various fields of art co-exist with each other, interact, and transcend their own boundaries in order to create new qualities and phenomena. As opposed to remaining a traditional exhibition space, the institution wants to transform itself into a space for artistic exploration, research, laboratories, workshops, and experiments.
If you were to compare Polish contemporary artists of the first generation (1990s) with those of the current generation, how similar or different would you say they are in terms of their work?
Cavallucci: Certainly the styles have changed in the last 15-20 years. If we look at the young generation of artists, who are between 25 and 35 years of age, they are very different from the previous generation of critical artists. What has remained the same is their energy. Poland is one of the few countries in Europe in which I still feel a lot of energy coming from young artists. In Italy, where I come from, I come across many young artists – of course, some very good ones – but overall I don’t feel so much passion, I feel art doesn’t form an integral part of their lives. Whereas in Poland, art has remained a means through which the artists establish and develop their own identity and their own real expression.
How would you describe Poland’s artistic potential?
Cavallucci: For me, Poland is the only country that has artistic potential, and there’s three reasons. Firstly, there is a very high level of contemporary art. We spoke about the younger generation, but of course the older generation are also very important, and many of them are already recognized around the world. In the European context I only find comparison in young British artists. Secondly, there is huge public interest in art, and the public is interested at a deeper level than just being present at art openings. The public here wants to understand art. Places like Tate or MoMA are meccas of contemporary art, but they are merely meeting places for tourists. Here, in contrast, we have an audience that actively participates in art, and not just in art but in culture overall. And thirdly, since there is a high level of art, and there is a large public interested in culture, there is a high level of support from politicians. Of course, when you speak with a Polish person, they will tell you it is not enough, and sometimes it is true, yet it is undeniable that in comparison to other countries, support from politicians is present and expanding here.
What are the current tendencies in the Polish contemporary art scene?
Cavallucci: When the first generation of the 90s appeared, the trend then was Critical Art. This trend made art become an important and eventually an integral part of society. Critical Art focused on the criticism of politics and opened up discussion of contemporary art in the media. This is why a lot of things started to happen from this point on. For example, the second generation, like Monika Sosnowska or Wilhelm Sasnal, became even more recognized, internationally, because they started when the art market was already working in Poland. The first generation didn’t even know that art could be sold. The second already had support, for example from the Foksal Gallery Foundation, but also from other galleries. With the third generation it is hard to find a very clear line of development. I would say that what artists these days share is that none of them are very close to Critical Art, meaning to the first generation. They are much more independent and not very interested in politics or in moral or ethical themes. There is a trend which we could call New Surrealism, reflected namely in the works of Jan Jakub Ziolkowski or Tomek Kowalski, who take figurative images from reality and mix them with paintings or sculptures that are very strange and in that way surrealistic. Another tendency is the presence of art in public space. There is an increase in architects who cross-over to art and vice-versa.
Which Polish contemporary artists do you see making it big in the next 30 years?
Cavallucci: The first two who come to my mind are Agnieszka Polska and Konrad Smolenski. Their work and work ethic are outstanding. Because one has to remember that to become a recognized and respected artist it is not enough to just produce high quality pieces, one has to be very determined and driven.
Who are your all-time-favorite Polish contemporary artists?
Cavallucci: As I am from the generation of Critical Art, I find Pawel Althamer, Katarzyna Kozyra, and Artur Zmijewski the most interesting artists.
Fabio Cavallucci has been the director of CSW since 2010. Before he was an art critic and the director of the Municipal Gallery of Trento and of the Biennale of Contemporary Sculpture in Carrara. He is the first foreigner to become a head of a Polish art institution.