of Gender: Contemporary Women's Art in Poland"
Installation view of the main space
The World As War and Adornment
Still from Men's Bathhouse
Passions and Other Cases
Through the Stomach to the Heart
Omnipotence. Gender: Male
Body Building "Architectures of Gender: Contemporary
Woman's Art in Poland"
April 11 - June 8, 2003
by Carolee Thea
"Architectures of Gender: Contemporary Woman's Art
in Poland," Apr. 11-June 8, 2003, at the SculptureCenter, Long
Island City, New York.
of Gender," curator Aneta Szylak has combined a survey of contemporary
art by 16 Polish women artists with a thoroughgoing exploration
of the muscularly raw space of the new Sculpture Center facility
in Long Island City, across the East River from Manhattan.
The works involve ideas and metaphors of space, place and the
body. The site itself is contradictory: outside and on the
ground floor, its scale and height diminish the viewer, while
inside, beneath ground, the body seems to grow, not quite fitting
the narrow corridors. Placed
in the main arena, Zofia Kulick's The World as War and Adornment is
a pair of full-sized replicas of Michelangelo's Moses --
except that one is attired in camouflage, the other in flowery
patterns. The work refers not only to gender, but also to cross-dressing
and family roles, as well as obligatory art-school studies
of art by Old Masters.
in the center of the gallery, installed in an octagonal
viewing arena, is Katarzyna Kozyra's video, Men's Bathhouse. Originally
shown in the Polish pavilion at the 1999 Venice Biennial,
the multichannel projection work follows the artist, who
is disguised as a man, wandering through a male bathhouse.
To the side is an adjacent single-channel video showing
Kozyra being prostheticized with chest hair and penis.
For Passions and Other Cases, Izabella Gustowska's work placed translucent
shell-like shapes on spindly iron legs, like three giant insects. Radiating
with a green light and operating on heat sensors, the shells slowly open and
close when approached. Three projections onto the mollusks reveal kissing couples
-- a pair of men, a pair of women and heterosexual couple. The work purports
to conjure your attitudes towards gender. . . but the discussion is modified
by the technical drama.
During the opening celebration, the performance artist Elzbieta Jablonska prepared
a feast. And another performance artist is also in the show, less visible but
still quite significant -- namely, Charlotte Perriand, the wife of Le Corbusier.
Perriand contributed to the design of the famous deck chair attributed to her
husband, and is in the show via a constructed room built in homage to her by
artist Paulina Olowska. Decorated with beautiful modernist furniture and hung
with posters from Olowska's performances, the work encourages lounging and
work in the pebbled courtyard is Jadwiga Sawicka's Numbers. Set
along the exterior 25-meter gray concrete wall, a four-centimeter-wide
strip of pink paper printed with front-page headlines
from all parts of the world to recall a geography of
Sosnowska's white cube is like a house within a house
within a house, a Kafkaesque place of exclusion. Anna
Potnicka's wall installation at the front desk contains
notes of sentences extracted from women's narratives,
forming "gathered" stories. Julita Wojcik's public work
is a small private garden in Courthouse Square.
descended the stairs into the once damp and odiferous
cellar, a catacomb-like maze of alleys, niches, arches
-- a multitude of birth canals, I thought. Dominika Skutnik
turned what is usually hidden in buildings into a large
minimalist presence -- a beehive of balled cable, called The
Field, whose energy could be literal as well as apparent.
Niched within a long passageway, the work referred to
the narrow hallway and seemed to contain the metaphoric
energy of a cooking womb.
Jozefowicz constructed Habitat, a corner space
of miniature dressers, drawers like hiding places that
reek of thousands of secrets. Another installation is Omnipotence,
Gender Male by Dorota Nieznalska. Set in a room lit
by red fluorescent lamps, the piece has sounds made by
men lifting weights that can be confused with moans of
sexual climax. And in its suggestion of a fitness club
interior, the work sits between cultural patterns of
masculinity, sexuality and violence, and can be read
as the new pop culture of consumer values.
LL, the first Polish artist to join the international
feminist art movement, installed her work in one of the
basement's blind alleys. Transforming this narrow space,
her long, scroll-like wallpaper makes the hallway impassable,
and its pattern references a contemporary Vanitas.
Nowicka-Grochal's The Pleasure Out of Reach, also
sited in a blind alley, fills the space with several
human-sized rubber hammocks stretched from wall to wall.
Filled loosely with air, as forms they seem both body
and object. The hammock is a suspension we associate
with intimacy, relaxation, sleep and dreaming, and in
their repetition and materiality they refer to the works
of Eva Hesse.
Kalinowska's work, Just a Little Bit More, is
a dense installation of woven paper streamers filling
a narrow corridor and taking the shape of a fallen figure.
With the streamers, the reference is to the human body
as "tired of enjoyment and consumption, becoming impotent
Wysocka creates a long aisle roped off by two long parallel
rows of velvet ropes on stanchions -- but all made of
glass. What's more, the poles are topped with glass vulvas
on one side and penises on the other. (Wysocka did her
own research for the male member, and her [male] glass
fabricator informed the shapes of the vulvas.) Recalling
the sacred or secular separation of men and women (in
religion, folk dancing, etc.), Cautiously, 2002
is well made, poignant, funny and one of the best works
in the show.
communist Poland in the 1960s and '70s, women's experiences
understandably differed from those of American women
during the same period. Where Westerners struggled with
exclusivity quotas for women, in communist countries,
women were simply educated. While trained as doctors,
lawyers or engineers, their entry into politics was limited.
the fall of the communist regime, the Catholic Church
regained power, with its restraints on women. Today,
women in Poland maintain a limited access to the power
structure, and the result is the interesting gender investigations
of these artists.
the best of worlds, the exhibition itself should be a
place for discussion, as is the case with "Architectures
of Gender: Contemporary Women's Art in Poland." Twentieth-century
structures that have become obsolete are transformed
to house contemporary and experimental art, as with the
former trolley repair shops that is now the SculptureCenter.
expanding the Museum's space, the practice also refers
to the elitism of the museum and to the metaphoric clash
or embrace of modernity. Typically employed simply as
envelope, it is rare, as it is here, to see architecture
so successfully involved as foil and partner for the
Carolee Thea is a New York art critic.