Warsaw

Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980–1993 at Galeria Monopol

Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980–1993 at Monopol provides a rare glimpse into the history of an influential apartment gallery that operated in Warsaw for thirteen years. From the imposition of Martial Law through the collapse of the Berlin Wall and beyond, the Dłużniewskis exhibited artworks by Polish and international post-conceptual artists. The retrospective exhibition at Monopol resonates with an uneasy timeliness: Given the prevailing political conditions in Poland, this sort of clandestine space could become a necessity once again.

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Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980-1993, 2015; installation view, Galeria Monopol, Warsaw. Courtesy of Galeria Monopol.

Last October’s election placed the PiS party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or Law and Justice) into power in the Sejm (lower house) and Senate (upper house) of the Polish parliament. Their 235 seats allow them to bypass a coalition government and form a supermajority that can amend the country’s constitution; with President Andrzej Duda—also from PiS—as the head of state, they are effectively unstoppable. In the last two months alone, the new government has neutered the Constitutional Court (the only authority able to declare laws unconstitutional), and enacted a purge of public media, dismissing the executives of all public radio and televisions stations. The new culture minister attempted to ban the production of a play, and foreign minster Witold Waszczykowski said, “…a new mix of cultures and races […] has nothing to do with traditional Polish values.”

These recent developments sit in the shadow of Martial Law, which banned non-religious meetings, authorized the “preventative detention” of “suspicious persons,” and placed the media under military management from 1981 to 1983—a history that supplies a chilling perspective on Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980–1993.[1] The exhibition at Monopol takes the form of both original works in Piwna’s collection as well as ephemera accumulated over the course of its lifespan. Galeria Piwna 20/26 conducted its operations through a network of friends and word of mouth, though the public was always welcome. Like many apartment galleries, it did not keep regular hours; often shows were up only for a few days, which meant that the openings (which frequently included performances) were the central event, a way to not only show art that might not be otherwise seen, but to bring people together. Most importantly, the gallery created a non-institutional space in which to oppose the circulation of propaganda and the kinds of culture associated with and sanctioned by the Communist authorities.

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Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980-1993, 2015; installation view, Galeria Monopol, Warsaw. Courtesy of Galeria Monopol.

The art exhibited at Galeria Piwna 20/26 was mainly post-conceptual and often experimental. In the current exhibition, photographs of openings and performances, and letters to Andrzej and Emilia Dłużniewski, fill a low vitrine, attesting to the intimacy of the space and the relationships between the artists and the curators. Creations by Henry Stazewski, Andrew Dłużniewski, and Grzegorz Kowalski, as well as Emmett Williams, Allison Knowles, Lawrence Weiner, and Shelagh Wakely, demonstrate the breadth of work that was on view during the gallery’s thirteen-year era. Preparatory sketches and paper-based original works line the walls; materials were scarce for Polish artists in the ’80s, and artists from other countries rarely had the means to travel to Poland—often, like Lawrence Weiner, they simply sent sets of instructions. Henryk Stazewski’s Project Wystawy na Piwnej (1982) shows five pieces of written and photographic ephemera that regard the ideation, creation, and reception for a series of wall drawings. For Some Small Drawings (1981), Jarosław Kozłowski took a pencil and circled the marks on the walls of the gallery, presenting along with these a magnifying glass for ease of viewing and a card disclosing that the drawings had been created “after, on, from, to…” etc. in a repetitive manner that recalls the process-driven strategy of Richard Serra’s Verb List (1967–68).

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Jarosław Kozłowski. Some Small Drawings, 1981; mixed media; dimensions variable. Courtesy of Galeria Monopol.

It is exactly this kind of public-facing experimentation that non-institutional spaces can facilitate, by handing control over to artists and inviting them to produce artworks in any manner possible. Drawing on the walls may seem like a slight gesture, but bringing people together from all over the world to discuss art was, for a time, an exercise that had high personal stakes. The legacy of Galeria Piwna 20/26 lies both in the artistic acts that it fostered and in the community it organized. In a country that is once again moving toward illiberality and perhaps even the restriction of artistic expression, it stands as a precedent for how a society might assemble.

Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980-1993 is on view at Galeria Monopol through January 19, 2016.

[1] http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/dec-13-1981-poland-cracks-down-on-solidarity-movement/ accessed Friday, January 8, 2016.

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