Edward Krasiński: Two Retrospectives

László Beke’s essay in a 1999 exhibition catalog, Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s, synthesizes broad Eastern and Central European conceptualist practices. Within the text, the Polish artist Edward Krasiński is mentioned only briefly in parenthesis as a “peculiar” artist.[1] This alone indicates Krasiński’s outlier status and exceptionality with regard to Eastern Bloc conceptualism. While Krasiński’s practice is clearly influenced by Minimalism’s phenomenological attention to space and simultaneously approaches the proverbially Conceptual “dematerialization” of the work of art, the idiosyncrasies and distinctive approaches found in his work have often been compartmentalized to fit within Western contexts.

Edward Krasiński. Intervention, Zalesie, 1969. ©Anka Ptaszkowska and archive of Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Courtesy of Paulina Krasinska and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Photo: Eustachy Kossakowski.

Edward Krasiński. Intervention, Zalesie, 1969. © Anka Ptaszkowska and archive of Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Courtesy of Paulina Krasinska and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Photo: Eustachy Kossakowski.

Krasiński’s large and multifaceted oeuvre, spanning five decades, encompasses painting, sculpture, installation, and performance. However, his use of blue Scotch tape remains his most identifying strategy in the West, perhaps because it most resonates with the dominant practices connoted by Conceptualism. Kasia Redzisz, Senior Curator at Tate Liverpool, amply took this point into consideration in curating Krasiński’s first UK retrospective at the institution, which will move to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam this June. Redzisz did well to situate the diverse strategies that comprise his career, presenting a wide selection of the artist’s polyvalent work chronologically, and installed, where possible, as re-created installations—though clearly divorced from the historical and political context of their production.

Krasiński never ceased interrogating the artwork’s spatio-temporal positioning and how the viewer navigates through space, which inform his earlier paintings, quasi-Minimal sculptures, and later, his quite Conceptualist installations. Krasiński’s practice of site-specific installation, while firmly rooted in his Polish postwar context, was not produced in a vacuum; it was in dialogue with Conceptual art during the process of its theorization in the West.[2] While Krasiński co-founded and regularly exhibited at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw—a pivotal alternative art space in state-socialist Poland—he also exhibited his work in the West. Given Poland’s somewhat mitigated artistic freedom—relatively expansive compared with other countries in the Eastern Bloc, such as Hungary—during the postwar period, Krasiński exhibited in New York, for example, as early as 1967. His sculpture, No. 7 (1966), was selected by curator Edward Fry as one of two Polish contributions to the Guggenheim International Exhibition 1967: Sculpture from Twenty Nations, and was likely received as an implicitly Minimalist work given the developing polemics within the New York art world at the time. The sculpture, however, gives the impression of vertical motion that contrasts with Minimal sculpture’s then-prominent convictions for “static” objects.

Edward Krasiński, installation view, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw, 1966. (No. 7 on the left; no longer extant) Edward Krasiński. No. 7, 1966; metal, string and ping pong balls. ©Hanna Ptaszkowska and archive of Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Courtesy of Paulina Krasińska and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Photo: Eustachy Kossakowski.

Edward Krasiński, installation view, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw, 1966. (No. 7 on the left; no longer extant.) Edward Krasiński. No. 7, 1966; metal, string, and ping-pong balls. © Hanna Ptaszkowska and archive of Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Courtesy of Paulina Krasińska and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Photo: Eustachy Kossakowski.

Krasiński first began to employ blue Scotch tape in 1969. He would later say that the tape, as it passes through or along paintings, objects, people or purely space, does so to “sanctify the place as a place of art.”[3] As such, the tape is used as a medium to inscribe physical space and everything within it as a spatial installation, which points to his material considerations as opposed to canonically “dematerialized” Conceptual strategies. In 1970, he affixed tape throughout the yard of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and then to the windows of the Rive Guache galleries. Afterward, he stuck the tape on a work by Daniel Buren, which the two artists “decided was their joint work.”[4] The utilization of the tape comes close to abandoning the material object, adheres to a process (for example, always affixed 130 centimeters from the ground), and in this case, also interrogates institutional systems of power—i.e., the modern art museum. The dialogue between Krasiński and Buren is perhaps a welcome representation of the artistic conversations prevalent through the permeable Iron Curtain.[5] Four years later, Buren would go to Warsaw and install his vertical stripes—definitive in the development of institutional critique—in Krasiński’s studio.

Edward Krasiński’s studio, Warsaw. Courtesy of Paulina Krasinska and Foksal Gallery Foundation. Photo: Konrad Pustola.

Edward Krasiński’s studio, Warsaw. Courtesy of Paulina Krasinska and Foksal Gallery Foundation. Photo: Konrad Pustola.

In his aforementioned essay, Beke describes that in comparison to Western-brand conceptualism, the “Eastern European variant was never so rigorous. Rather, it was flexible and elastic, ironic, humorous and ambiguous, nonprofessional, communicable, always ready to become a social activity of a group of young people or even an alternative movement.”[6] When Krasiński’s sculptural installation for the 1970 Tokyo Biennial was stopped en route by customs, for example, he sent the word “BLUE” 5,000 times by telex and exhibited the correspondence. The group of sculptural works was re-exhibited in the Liverpool retrospective, along with Krasiński’s strict installation instructions stipulating that the series of long blue collapsible sculptures are meant to pour into the exhibition space; in Liverpool, they were contained to their pedestal. The instructional drawings, however, clearly demonstrate Krasiński’s interest in disrupting the spatial implications of display/installation, as viewers would have been required to navigate between the extended blue rods, stepping through a sculptural intervention that enters the traditionally neutral site of spectatorship.

Edward Krasiński. Edward Krasiński, through March 5, 2017; installation view, Tate Liverpool. © Tate Liverpool. Photo: Roger Sinek.

Edward Krasiński. Edward Krasiński, through March 5, 2017; installation view, Tate Liverpool. © Tate Liverpool. Photo: Roger Sinek.

Even though his work adheres to a phenomenological consideration of spectatorship and approaches non-object-based production, it is problematic to unconditionally designate Krasiński either a Minimalist or Conceptualist. In the Liverpool catalog, Stephanie Straine astutely remarks: “In Krasiński’s work, there is a dual stress on spatial and temporal sequencing that offers a path if not to ‘dematerialization’ in its strictest sense, then to a proto-conceptual unfixing of the object as a static point in time and space.”[7] The retrospectives are a welcome reminder that artistic projects east and west of the Iron Curtain were involved in similar artistic investigations, but we should be wary of falling into the trap of equating diverse practices; otherwise, we would fail to recognize Krasiński’s early and singular contributions to the development of Conceptualist strategies.

Edward Krasiński. Edward Krasiński, through March 5, 2017; installation view, Tate Liverpool. © Tate Liverpool. Photo: Roger Sinek.

Edward Krasiński. Edward Krasiński, through March 5, 2017; installation view, Tate Liverpool. © Tate Liverpool. Photo: Roger Sinek.

 

 


[1] Lázló Beke, “Conceptual Tendencies in Eastern European Art,” Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s, ex. cat. (New York: Queens Museum of Art, 1999).

[2] Perhaps most important for beginning to understand the diverse sociopolitical contexts prevalent in Poland at the time is: Piotr Piotrowski, In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-Garde in Eastern Europe, 1945–1989, trans. by Anna Brzyski (London: Reaction Books LTD, 2011). Also important is the notion of an “anti-political” oppositional strategy, which Krasiński tacitly performed through his unofficial art production; for this, see: Klara Kemp-Welch, Antipolitics in Central European Art: Reticence as Dissidence Under Post-Totalitarian Rule, 19561989, (London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2013), and David Ost, Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition in Poland since 1968 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).

[3] Edward Krasiński in “Drôle d’Interview: Edward Krasiński in Conversation with Eulalia Domanowska, Stanisław Cichowicz, and Andrzej Mitan,” in Edward Krasiński: Les Mises en Scène, ed. by Sabine Breitwieser, ex. cat. (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2006), 32.

[4] Anka Ptaskowska, in conversation with Joanna Mytkowska and Andrzej Przywara, “Farewell to Spring,” in Edward Krasiński: Les Mises en Scène (see note 3), 106.

[5] Many have noted in recent years that the dialogue between individual countries in the Eastern Bloc and the West was much stronger than those between the Soviet satellite states themselves.

[6] Lázló Beke, “Conceptual Tendencies in Eastern European Art,” in Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s1980s (see note 1), 44.

[7] Stephanie Straine, “A Kind of Circuit: Edward Krasiński and Minimalism,” in Edward Krasiński, ed. by Kasia Redzisz and Stephanie Straine, ex. cat. (Liverpool: Tate Liverpool, 2017), 69.

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