Warsaw

Ludmiła Popiel at Fundacja Arton

Curators of contemporary Polish art have a somewhat paradoxical responsibility: to present the most up-to-the-moment work that is in the process of developing a history, while attempting to also excavate and frame the history of artworks produced during the last seventy years. As Poland expands its participation in the global contemporary art scene, it must also find a way to present the critical art-historical lineage that has lead to current developments. Now on view at Fundacja Arton in Warsaw, Ludmiła Popiel is an example of a practice that continues to have an impact on generations of artists.

Ludmiła Popiel, 2015; installation view, Fundacje Arton, warsaw. Courtesy of Fundacja Arton. Photo: Jagna Lewandowska.

Ludmiła Popiel; installation view, Fundacje Arton, Warsaw, 2015. Courtesy of Fundacja Arton. Photo: Jagna Lewandowska.

Popiel first explored movement in flat space, and later took her ideas off of the canvas and into the world. A facile, first-glance categorization of the work presented here is Op Art, and the larger pieces in this exhibition do take their cues from that genre. Six paintings, including diptychs and triptychs, are hung salon-style in the space. Mainly executed in black and off-white, the bold strokes swirl toward the center of each rectangle, defying the eye where the lines meet. Space and flux were especially important to the artist, and she soon began making works that pushed the conceptual boundaries beyond optical illusions. The deceptively simple six-paneled Wykres Linii Horyzontu­ – Pejzaz Obiektywny [Graph Lines Horizon  Objective Landscape] (1973), which unexpectedly provides a pop of color in the gallery, can be seen as the link between Popiel’s two-dimensional considerations of space and her later conceptual works. Created in response to the horizon of a physical landscape, the artist composed it using a string to gauge and then mark the line at which land meets air, filling in the lower segments with bright blue oil paint.

Ludmiła Popiel and Jerzy Fedorowicz. IN, 1979; emulsion on canvas; dimensions unknown. Courtesy of the Museum in Koszalin and the archive of Ludmiła Popiel and Jerzy Fedorowicz.

Ludmiła Popiel and Jerzy Fedorowicz. IN, 1979; emulsion on canvas; dimensions unknown. Courtesy of the Museum in Koszalin and the archive of Ludmiła Popiel and Jerzy Fedorowicz.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Popiel migrated from visual abstraction to more theoretical expressions. On one side of the gallery are two glass-fronted assemblages of preparatory sketches, notes, and black-and-white photographs documenting her conceptual explorations of space. Many of these investigations were created in collaboration with her husband, Jerzy Fedorowicz, including the “topographical situation” IN (1980), a project that included an installation in a gallery and an international meeting of artists, scientists, and theorists. For the project Nić [Thread] (1971), the artists connected the sides of the Turów mine with cotton thread, drawing a line above the pit. Curator Łukasz Mojsak explains, “The tension between physically existing space and the mental potential it generates is manifest… the work marks an attempt to embrace space with the mind and to capture it by means of art.”[1]

Ludmiła Popiel. Art, n.d.; manuscript. Courtesy the archive of Ludmiła Popiel and Jerzy Fedorowicz.

Ludmiła Popiel. Art Beyond Art (model), 1980; tusche on bristol; dimensions unknown. Courtesy of the Museum in Koszalin.

Popiel defined a work of art as a “flash of isolated awareness,”[2] and yet the notional space that she traversed requires that the historical consideration of her practice yield to an unbounded, integrated view; the through-line of her perceptual analysis connects her earlier paintings with later conceptual works and shows an artist who intensively explored the phenomenological properties of the world. Popiel died in 1988 at the relatively young age of 59, but while alive she developed a practice both incisive and ethereal, one that contributed markedly to the advancement of conceptual art in Poland. The intellectual challenge that her work presents continues to have a considerable influence over art and praxis in Poland.

Ludmiła Popiel is on view at Fundacja Arton in Warsaw, Poland, through March 26, 2016.

 

[1] From the gallery materials.

[2] Ludmiła Popiel, “Definition of Art,” quoted by Izabella Marczak in Dzialalnosc Spoleczna i Tworczosc Artystyczna Ludmily Popiel i Jerzego Rosolowicza, Nicolai Copernicus University, Torun 1982, p. 32; included in curator Pawel Polit’s preface to Experiences Of Discourse: Polish Conceptual Art 1965 – 1975, excerpted at http://www.artmargins.com/index.php/featured-articles-sp-829273831/416-experiences-of-discourse-polish-conceptual-art-1965-1975, accessed on February 1, 2016.

 

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