Warsaw

Cezary Poniatowski: No Center No Edges at Piktogram

Cezary Poniatowski’s recent work at Piktogram Gallery compels viewers to navigate a veritable maze of pop-culture references and anthropological allusions. The exhibition is composed of more than twenty black-and-white acrylic paintings completed in 2015 and 2016, each depicting highly abstract, hybrid figures cavorting in confined, flat spaces reminiscent of comic-book panels. The recurrence of specific forms and motifs in the images creates the strong impression of a discontinuous narrative.

Cesary Poniatowski. No Center No Edges, 2016; installation view at Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

Cezary Poniatowski. No Center No Edges, 2016; installation view, Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

In the largest room, five sizable canvases are hung from chains high on the wall, evoking castle-hall portraits of the aristocracy—but their subject matter is not so exalted. On the far right, a horned figure assumes the stance of a champion, athletically mounting an Olympian plinth; in the middle of the grouping, another muscular figure triumphantly raises his own severed head. These victorious figures counter the impression made by the canvas on the far left, which depicts a minotaur-like character hunched, horns drooping. Inside this being’s rough outline, ten miniature black paintings are portrayed in a salon-style grouping.

The repetition of this bullish hybrid across many of the canvases might tempt viewers to believe that the minotaur is Poniatowski’s proxy, and that the character’s oscillation between elation and misery depicts the state of the artist himself, who must waver between engagement and withdrawal. There’s also a sense that the figure’s machismo is a comedic feint, as in Warner Brothers’ classic cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” in which the silhouette of a gargantuan horned monstrosity turns out to be the shadow cast by a diminutive Elmer Fudd in an oversize Viking helmet.

Cesary Poniatowski. Casablanca, 2015; acrylic on canvas, 125 x 100 cm. Image courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

Cezary Poniatowski. Casablanca, 2015; acrylic on canvas; 125 x 100 cm. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

In the other rooms of the exhibition, various canvases extend the artist’s range of cultural references and allusions. Casablanca (2015) introduces visual and temporal discontinuity to a restaging of the most famous scene from the middle of the 1942 classic film: Blobby, anthropomorphous figures convene around an upright piano, but the overlaid quote,“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” is, in fact, the last line of the film. The mismatch between the scene and quote creates a layer of friction that points to the way in which supposedly remarkable cultural moments are misremembered.

Pingelap (2015) spells out a source of inspiration for the limited palette of the show—the famous color blindness of the Pingelap people, who live on an island of the same name off the coast of Papua New Guinea—but the letters swirl in a vortex with random, abstract motifs. Other paintings contain hints, innuendo, and allusions that vary in their specificity and universality, from ancient Minoan amphora decoration to hip-hop fashion. Context often determines the reading of semi-abstract motifs; the arched rack of horns in one painting becomes the curve of a smile in another, and a crescent moon in yet another.

Cesary Poniatowski. Untitled, 2016; acrylic on canvas, 180 x 145 cm. Image courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

Cezary Poniatowski. Untitled, 2016; acrylic on canvas; 180 x 145 cm. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

The flat comic-style heroes are often placed awkwardly into their panels, lending an air of both hubris and pathos to their energetic and mysterious proceedings. The dry-brushed black paint reveals the gestural energy of Poniatowski’s mark-making, and in some of the works the inclusion of glitter provides another layer of haptic texture. Such gestures, along with the exuberance to the compositions, contrasts with the austere lack of color, suggesting a self-conscious struggle to make chaos into a stable whole. This darkness unites all the works in the exhibition, making it read more like an installation rather than a collection of discrete works.

Cesary Poniatowski. No Center No Edges, 2016; installation view at Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

Cezary Poniatowski. No Center No Edges, 2016; installation view, Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

The title of the exhibition is taken from a moment in Jim Jarmusch’s 2009 film The Limits of Control: “The universe has no center and no edges; reality is arbitrary.” Poniatowski’s echoes and quotations are a complex synthesis that seems de rigeur for the information age: a series of quasi-narrative, mythical, discontinuous scenes that feature a pantheon of frail titans and cheerful malcontents. In these images, viewers may perceive an artist who contends with a cultural onslaught and tries to interpret or represent the sense of its assailment. Like the minotaur, both he and his viewers are doomed to wander a labyrinth of recognition and misperception—or as Jarmusch wrote in his script, “Everything is subjective.”

Share