Curators: Wojciech Grzybała, Marko Jenko, Magdalena Ziółkowska
Duration: 15 October 2020 – 10 January 2021
Opening: Thursday, 15 October 2020, 8 p.m.
Moderna galerija, Ljubljana
Special acknowledgement: Wojciech Grzybała
Edited by Magdalena Ziółkowska, Wojciech Grzybała
Texts by Zdenka Badovinac, Ivana Bago, Branislav Dimitrijević, Wojciech Grzybała, Marko Jenko, Ljiljana Kolešnik, Barbara Majewska, Ewa Majewska, Andrzej Wróblewski, Magdalena Ziółkowska
Designed by Łukasz Paluch
Publisher & Distributor: Hatje Cantz
Supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute
With the title of the famous Italian film Once Upon a Time in the West in mind, we could say Once Upon a Time in the East. And in Yugoslavia, we could add. But what was there in the East, once upon a time? It might be better to say: once upon a time there was the East – or still such a thing as the East. It existed, and so did Yugoslavia. Why return to this past today? And not only in terms of researching postwar modernism in the once socialist East, and certainly not driven by the currently fashionable need to rewrite the past from the standpoint of our present, also the (post-)pandemic one? Why not actualize the present first? Where are we now, compared to those times? The issues that stand out most prominently are of an Idea and its reduction to its past consequences, which were, rather than not, a sign of its betrayal, and of the future that we are now already creating and into which we will eventually wake up, even unbeknownst to ourselves. What kind of future? And what is our present, anyway? It is from this perspective that this exhibition project emphasizes the theme of the waiting room as a special characteristic of the East, evident as pars pro toto in the work of Andrzej Wróblewski, who visited Yugoslavia in 1956. At the time, Yugoslavia was already undergoing general modernization after the fateful year 1948. This was also the time of the Khrushchev Thaw after Stalin’s death in 1953, and just after the Polish October of 1956.
About the artist
Andrzej Wróblewski was a painter, art historian and critic, one of the leading representatives of postwar Central and Eastern European art. Born in Vilnius in 1927, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, where he became Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Painting, and graduated in art history from the Jagiellonian University. In 1953, he received a special mention at the Bucharest Festival. He also took part in numerous exhibitions of Polish art, including the famous Against War – Against Fascism show at the Arsenal in 1955. His 1956 solo show at the Club of the Polish Writers’ Union in Warsaw is also notable; he exhibited works on paper and organized the exhibition with the help of his friends, including the famous film director Andrzej Wajda (1926–2016). Between 30 October and 21 November that year he traveled across Yugoslavia with the art critic Barbara Majewska. Their three-week trip through Belgrade, Ljubljana, Skopje, Zagreb, and smaller towns such as Portorož, Piran, and Ohrid gave them an opportunity to become acquainted with the art and museum scene in Yugoslavia as well as its achievements in architecture. This can be seen reflected in the work Wróblewski produced in the final months of his life before his fatal heart attack in the Tatra Mountains in 1957.
About the exhibition
This is the first international exhibition of Wróblewski's work that is dedicated solely to his travels across Yugoslavia and his late work. It showcases more than 120 of his works from the period between 1955 and 1957. The curators decided to choose as the milestones the birth of Wróblewski's son on 10 May 1954, and the artist’s premature death on 23 March 1957. Most of the selected works have never been exhibited before, and some were last publicly shown in 1958. Included in the exhibition are such famous works as the Waiting Room I, The Queue Continues; Waiting Room II, (Chairing I); and Tombstone, (Tombstone of a Womanizer), together with numerous gouaches, monotypes, and a few dozen large-format works on brown packaging paper.
The concept of the exhibition has several points of departure: first and foremost there are figures that seem bound to their chairs, even turning into them as in some sort of anticipation, reflection and timelessness; they appear somehow “decomposed,” anonymous and de-individualized. This “waiting-room mentality,” as Heiner Müller described it in the documenta IX catalogue, can be seen as typical of the onetime socialist Central and Eastern Europe experience. Even if everyday life in former socialist Yugoslavia differed considerably from the social and artistic circumstances in Poland and other countries behind the Iron Curtain at the time, the waiting-room point of view enables the connection with the universal which touches upon ethical, moral and bodily existence, but also affective labor and the work of mourning. In this respect, the exhibition brings the topos of waiting in Wróblewski's work (including the draft of a screenplay for a short film called Waiting Room) in dialogue with a selection of waiting rooms from a 1950s series by the Slovene painter Marjan Dovjak (1928–1971). Together with a small selection of Slovene and ex-Yugoslav artists, the exhibition establishes a link with Moderna galerija's permanent exhibition of 20th century art. How did Wróblewski and Majewska see the work of Slovene artists such as Gabrijel Stupica, Marij Pregelj, Riko Debenjak, Stane Kregar, and Marko Šuštaršič? Moreover, the topic of waiting is also the initial viewpoint through which Moderna galerija intends to research Slovene and Yugoslav art of the 1950s, especially abstract art between 1948 and 1963 (an international exhibition is planned for 2022).
Wróblewski’s exhibition is structured around six themes. The first is a reconstruction of Andrzej Wróblewski and Barbara Majewska’s travels in Yugoslavia between 30 October and 21 November 1956. The exhibition thus includes numerous archival materials and photographs in addition to artworks that were directly inspired by Yugoslav art as well as Yugoslavia’s landscapes, folklore, architecture, and stećci. The second theme is Wróblewski’s everyday life and the notion of parenthood, especially motherhood. Numerous portraits of his wife, nudes, interiors of his apartment and studio in Krakow are in dialogue with famous depiction Mothers, Anti-Fascists that the artist exhibited at the Exhibition of Young Art under the slogan “Against War – Against Fascism”. The subsequent and central theme is waiting: an incredible inventory of waiting rooms, queues, and metamorphoses of figures into chairs. Wróblewski exhibited these works at the 3rd exhibition of the Salon Po Prostu at the Jewish Theater in Warsaw in August 1956. In our exhibition they are shown together with different images of female figures and portraits of a young model. A special room is dedicated to the motif of a boy, which is especially important in Wróblewski’s final period. The concluding theme of the exhibition brings together 33 (out of 35) surviving monotypes. Wróblewski made 81 of them, in all probability during the final weeks of his life. Given that these monotypes refer to all the important themes that preoccupied the artist throughout his career, we can take them to be his “artistic testament”.
We would like to thank all the lenders of public and private works of art, abroad and in Slovenia, as well as all who have, even in the slightest measure, helped us to make this exhibition project a reality.
The exhibition was supported by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.