Krakow

Impossible Objects at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow

Cultural reproduction is at the center of Impossible Objects, an exhibition that returns to Poland after much lauded recognition at the Venice Biennale. On central display is a 1:1 replica of the baldachin designed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz at the beginning of the 20th century to honor the revolutionary Polish leader Marshal Józef Piłsudski. The reproduction is accompanied by artist and artistic director Jakub Woynarowski’s large-scale diagrams that point to the dichotomies present in the replica: body/soul, tradition/modernity, monument/modernism, and death/life.

Impossible Objects, 2014; installation view, Impossible Objects, 2015. Courtesy of Instytut Architektury, Krakow. Photo: Jakub Woynarowski

Impossible Objects, 2014; installation view, Impossible Objects, 2015. Courtesy of Instytut Architektury, Krakow. Photo: Jakub Woynarowski.

The decision to exhibit the work in Krakow is motivated by the replica’s proximity to the original, which sits just two miles away. In one long afternoon stroll, it is possible to see both the 1937 original baldachin by Szyszko-Bohusz on Wawel Hill and its contemporary reproduction at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK). For a number of viewers in Poland, the MOCAK show is in itself an apparent duplicate; it is first and foremost a replica of the Venice Biennale exhibition, which creates an additional and welcomed dichotomy within the work.

Szyszko-Bohusz’s baldachin is concerned with representing tradition, an aspect that is stressed in Woynarowski’s diagrams. While working on the baldachin, Szyszko-Bohusz was also involved in the restoration of the Wawel Castle. The restoration project sought care for its national soothsayers by bringing the ashes of Poland’s romantic poets—Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, and Cyrpian Norwid—and burying them at the Wawel Cathedral. The gesture was taken in an attempt to construct a national cultural reliquary that would unite a fractured Polish identity, which desperately needed an allegorical presence at the helm of its political office. The baldachin was a conscious part of this restoration project. It too serves as a reliquary, laying bare the romantic symbols in the crypt, which are also present in Woynarowski’s diagrams. The only words that appear on the structure are “Corpora dormiunt; vigilant animae” (The body rests; the soul is vigilant), which echoes the Polish-romantic sentiment of combining both power and spirit. Likewise, the Corinthian columns stand like a silent procession, bringing to mind Vitruvius, who in his drawings measured the columns in the proportions of the human body.

Impossible Objects, 2014; installation view, Impossible Objects, 2015. Courtesy of the Author.

Impossible Objects, 2014; installation view, Impossible Objects, 2015. Courtesy of the Author.

The most marked feature of the baldachin, as noted by critics, is the flat roof that hovers above the six Corinthian columns like a shadow. It is a feature that Woynarowski, along with the curators—Dorota Jędruch, Dorota Leśniak-Rychlak, Marta Karpińska, and Wiśniewski of the Institute of Architecture—intended to highlight by making a slight alteration in the replica. When looked at from below, the heavy modern top (seventeen by thirteen feet) appears to be floating above the columns, as if the roof had materially reduced itself to a haunting halo. The effect is startling and shows the impossibility of unity within this single object, between the aspirations of its modern “head” and the body of columns that attempt to support it.

The replica at MOCAK is made of Styrofoam and photographic prints. Removed from its original surroundings and its function as a relic, the piece is no longer tied to the allegorical materiality of its past and instead aspires to hold a pure form as an art object. Woynarowski’s charts on the wall at MOCAK are instructional, but they are also an attempt and a struggle to place the object within and outside of its context to destabilize its position as a Polish relic and a monument. Woynarowski has a history of attempting to destabilize our idea of what is modern and contemporary. In Saturnia Regna (2014), he locates Malevich’s iconic Black Square in its premodern versions, where it takes on a different spiritual dimension. Bringing the exhibition to Krakow—to face Szyszko-Bohusz’s original baldachin—forces us to ask what the reproduction of the form retains from its original.

Jakub Woynarowski. Impossibilia, 2014. Courtesy of Instytut Architektury, Krakow. Photo: Jakub Woynarowski

Jakub Woynarowski. Impossibilia, 2014. Courtesy of Instytut Architektury, Krakow. Photo: Jakub Woynarowski

The night before the opening, I overheard one of Krakow’s most prominent artists say, “It is an exhibition for the poor,” by which he meant those who didn’t have money to travel and see the piece at the Biennale. Although seemingly pessimistic, the comment was telling: It completely omitted the fact that the original structure has been at Wawel for years. The exhibition makes apparent that the language of modernity that Szyszko-Bohusz was operating in has become invisible to most. As if placing the original in front of a mirror, the replica reveals what the original cannot. It helps the ideas of the original return to Krakow in a new currency and language of the art world.

Impossible Objects is on view at Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, Poland, through January 17, 2016.

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