The title of the exhibition Art on Art refers to one of the most important cycles in the output of Marcin Osiowski, continued by the artist for almost four decades – from student times to paintings created this year.
Although the criticism of certain aspects of the present day is an integral part of Osiowski’s work, thinking in purely formal, artistic terms has always been his point of departure. Subject matters which today would be qualified as critical art developed in Osiowski’s work concurrently with his fascination with the achievements of generations of artists since ancient times and their choice of form, ingenuity, or the revolutionary character of their works. For Osiowski, confrontation with them never shows signs of rivalry. Instead, it is a continuous pursuit of what may have been left unsaid, whether intentionally or purposefully; of what calls for being taken apart into bits and pieces in order to be understood better, and have new light shed on it.
The title of the exposition Art on Art after one of Osiowski’s series, expresses the reflection on the very medium of painting, as well as it raises questions on the status of the artist and the work; on the role of art in society and its responsibility to the surrounding reality. Since his student years, Osiowski already experimented with combining masterpieces, political symbols and clippings from pornographic magazines with his reflections on history and philosophy books as well as tropes from popular culture, film and music. His works constructed through play on associations, are characterized by complex iconography. In the spirit of pop art, Osiowski juxtaposes images of celebrities, writers, poets, philosophers (particularly Wittgenstein), and characters from films which span from Daisuke Itō’s, through Ingmar Bergman’s, to O Lucky Man! by Lindsay Anderson as well as motifs from paintings by other artists, quotations from reality in the form of labels, newspaper clippings and leaflets glued to the canvas.
Undoubtedly, the final visual effect that could be disparaged as “oh, that’s pretty” is not the objective of Osiowski’s work. However, it certainly cannot be said that a purposeful anti-aestheticism characterises his work. Only few works are created “in the heat of the moment”, without preceding contemplation. Osiowski seems to proceed on the assumption that you should only get involved in art if you have something to say. This is because, on the one hand, art is always “preoccupied with itself”, and on the other hand, an artist is often forced to speak by the circumstances around him or her. Communist propaganda, contempt for the individual, and fear-inducing bans and orders constituted such circumstances in 1980s Poland. When making art in Poland in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the artist is faced with problems of the violation of freedoms seemingly guaranteed by democracy, as well as the task of broadening the very definition of freedom of speech within visual arts.
Paintings for Civilians, as well as Portrait of Poles and Flags discuss the subject of Osiowski’s commentary on political issues which is present throughout his oeuvre. In his belief that the artist has the right, and even a duty, to interfere in current and important affairs, Osiowski criticised the so-called real-socialist system as early as in his university years. Reflection on the workings of society, the influence of the media and the systems of creating information holds an important place in his work. The painter poses questions which fear ultimate answers more than they fear being left unanswered. He does not shy away from politics if it interferes with the areas of reality that are reserved for unrestrained thought, creativity, and emotion. He says that as a painter, he is allowed to do certain things; allowed to read, allowed to observe, allowed to visit galleries and museums, and then allowed to comment on what he saw through painting or literary text. Both art forms used by Osiowski are attempts at reaching an understanding of the world in times when the rules which govern it are becoming elusive, or even murky.
Curator: Katarzyna Piskorz
Cooperation: HOS Gallery, Warsaw
Vernissage: 29.10.2019 r., 19.00
Exhibition: 29.10 – 11.11.2019 r.
5/7 Młocińska str.
A one-day art show by #grupawolno with a happening and concert of music composed to accompany a painting.
28 September 2019, 17.00
Galeria Kuratorium, Sienna 43A, 00-001 Warszawa
curator: Katarzyna Piskorz
collaboration: HOS Gallery
If [the citizens] studied their paper money for clues as to what their country was all about, they found, among a lot of other baroque trash, a picture of a truncated pyramid with a radiant eye on top of it, like this: … Not even the President of the United States knew what that was all about. It was as though the country were saying to its citizens, “In nonsense is strength.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday
During the happening at the opening of the first exhibition by #grupawolno in December 2018, among texts on art and philosophy, Marcin Osiowski’s proposal on the fifty-złoty per diem for artists was quoted:
Art is a subject of consideration for philosophy. The Kantian question is: should it be? What makes it a philosophical matter, a subject for philosophy? Here, we are facing a much deeper question on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s legacy for aesthetics. For Wittgenstein, philosophy’s main task is to free our mind from confusion, puzzlement and illusion caused by language. We have mentioned old Immanuel Kant – called so at the Patriarshiye Ponds by he whose one eye was green for no apparent reason – so it is only fitting to mention Kant’s apriorism; the notion of the mind’s primacy in cognitive processes and thus in evaluating art as well. And since we are supposed to talk about value, let’s say a word about money perhaps. Politicians can obviously earn a living; the artist, too, can survive for five tenners a day, that’ll do; he’ll buy a few beers, a pack of rubbers, he can afford a bottle, too, and he’ll have some left over for chow.”
This was the inspiration for a work of art devoted to the fifty-złoty banknote: its shades of blue and the characteristic profile of a Polish king. Osiowski and Słonecka created a number of serigraphs with King Kasimir the Great’s image, and one large collage painting 2.30 m x 10 m, entitled You Know Nothing, You Understand Nothing (acrylic, oil, serigraph, drawing, paper on canvas). Between streaks of blue, glued to the canvas were photographs of the artists themselves, their friends and mundane objects, and drawings of inspiring figures such as Rembrandt or Wittgenstein.
Many artists before them have tackled the subject of currency design, images on money or returning motifs; others have used imitations or genuine banknotes. While most of these works have referred to the imagery of wealth and capitalism, #grupawolno does not take the banknote at its face value, approaching it rather in a playful and seemingly absurdist way as the minimum per diem necessary for an artist’s survival.
During their performance, which lasted several hours, Osiowski and Słonecka cut the canvas into pieces, and sold them for a price, dependent on the number of fifty-złoty notes depicted in the fragment selected by visitors. Any visitor could pick a fragment of the painting which would then be professionally cut out and stretched over a frame. For print enthusiasts, the artists had prepared small serigraphs with the multiplied likeness of King Kasimir the Great. The show was accompanied by the non-painting member of #grupawolno, Antoni Gustowski, who had prepared a musical illustration for this unusual happening/exhibition. His repertoire comprised of pieces composed for this occasion with elements of improvisation and aleatoricism as well as songs “intercepted” as ready-mades that he calls chansons trouvées.
The action was ironic and constituted a sort of commentary on the patterns which govern the art market. Moreover, #grupawolno reflected on the status of the contemporary artist. The action referred to discussions on the artistic profession and its modern conditions. In 2012, the first Polish artists’ strike was organized by the Citizens’ Modern Art Forum. A photograph of Zbigniew Libera with the sign “I am an artist, but this does not mean I work for free” became a symbol of that event. The discussion continues, and artistic work is sometimes treated as a profession now. The actions of #grupawolno have so far undermined the myth of art’s elitism, its unavailability and prestige which are rarely reflected in the economic situation of its creators.
The title of the exhibition is one of the opening sentences of Bohumil Hrabal’s novel Too Loud a Solitude. When the author published his book in 1976, he was the same age as Grzyb and Osiowski are today. The similarities between these artists manifest themselves as a distinctive sense of humour, a sensibility which combines wit with melancholy, and the experience of creative work in the shadow of Communist regimes. The connection between Hrabal and Grzyb and Osiowski can also be seen in their love for books – undiscovered worlds created through literature and philosophy. In the works of each painter, the written word plays a significant role: it inspires them to paint, stimulates their imagination, and provokes them into philosophical contemplation or a more careful observation of the use of language in the everyday life. Because these interests are reflected in the duo’s most recent 2019 works and their individual achievements shown at this exhibition, the paintings feature many direct references to mythology as well as the works and lives of such creators as Georg Trakl, Ludwig Wittgenstein or Plato.
Grzyb has been writing poetry since secondary school, and he believes it to be a form of expression equivalent to painting. In the 2000s, he created images for which he invented the working term “written paintings” as they are based on connecting the visual form with textual quotations drawn from diverse sources. Meanwhile, Osiowski has been recording his thoughts on culture, art, social relations and personal experiences in the form of loose notes, which became the foundation of the artistic action The Milking of Van Gogh last year. Both their individual paintings and the ones created as OBA are inspired by Grzyb’s and Osiowski’s readings. They use the written word as an element of composition. Words appear in various constellations, they blend and intersect, changing fonts and sizes. The linguistic message behind the painted words, and their typographic shape are equally important vehicles of content and emotion. In terms of their formal characteristics and their meaning, the paintings are made from equal parts of words and paint. The words which appear on the surface of the canvas escape literality. Instead, enriched with colour and texture, they are enmeshed in new contexts and messages.
The relationship between the signs’ graphic form and the network of meanings sometimes becomes evident through the titles of the paintings, which are often quotations from other literary works or song lyrics. They perform the significant role of connecting the artists and the audience. Although hidden on the other side of the canvas, the titles are components of the paintings which help the viewer to unveil new meanings of the visual level. They are catalysts for ambiguity, association, and unrestricted excursions of imagination. Both Hrabal’s novel and the paintings presented at the exhibition combine jest with gravity, and realism with magic and surrealism. Hrabal’s book is said to be poetry written in prose. Grzyb and Osiowski’s works are poetry written in image.
The exhibition, organized by HOS Gallery, opened on 14 December 2018.
The joking and surprising title for the cycle of paintings by the duo Osiowski/Słonecka, which served as the title of their first joint exhibition in December 2018, can also be treated as a sort of manifesto for #grupawolno. The word “milking”, which is often used colloquially as a synonym of “extorting” or “exploiting,” was chosen as a result of the group members’ reflection on the fluid boundary between representation and abstraction as well as the role of art and renowned artists in the twenty-first-century. The focus around a seemingly trivial matter that is a painter’s portrait reproduced by the paint company on their labels has led Osiowski and Słonecka to considerations on the consequences of bringing that image to the canvas. Does a cutout of a logo which promotes a product by using Van Gogh’s face become a work of art due to the artists’ gesture, or does it remain a fragment of packaging? In one of his texts, Osiowski has mentioned a lecture on the role of aesthetics, given once in London by Timothy Binkley. Particularly, Osiowski recalled one poignant sentence. “The cows in Turner’s paintings can be seen, but not milked” – said Binkley. #grupawolno’s series is an expression of their belief that a separate order of art exists, one that is a commentary rather than a reflection of reality. The illusion created by it cannot be considered in terms of interest and usefulness, which are an indispensable aspect of everyday life.
At the exhibition, the artists presented over one hundred joint works and over a dozen of individual works each.
The opening night was accompanied by a happening by Antoni Gustowski with his band and the vocalist Zuzanna Iłenda. Gustowski had composed his music to Marcin Osiowski’s texts.