The Young Polish Scene Emerges:
The Views Prize 2011
Every two years the exhibition of the nominees for the
Views Prize shows the latest trends in the Polish art
scene. The Prize for Young Polish Art was initiated in
2003 as a joint project by the Deutsche Bank Foundation,
Deutsche Bank Polska, and the Zacheta National Gallery
in Warsaw. Today the award, which is endowed with
15,000 Euros, is considered to be the most prestigious art prize in Poland. Hanna Wróblewska, director of the Zacheta, explains why this award is so important.
This year, seven very different artists have been nominated for the Views Prize, each of whom were born between the mid-seventies and the early eighties. Are there specific themes or tendencies that connect them all?
Hanna Wróblewska: It seems to me that the critics nominating for Views and creating the final "short list" try to avoid too much similarity and common themes or tendencies, opting instead for diversity. All the Views nominees are established artists and have been present on the Polish scene for at least several years, but I don’t remember them ever appearing in this configuration in a joint project or group exhibition. What they all certainly share is a kind of "multimediality". None of them concentrates exclusively on a single medium or tool. They gladly use the new media (even those with a solid painting background, like Anna Okrasko), but also sound, music, and composition. They explore the graphic arts and design, but they also pursue curatorial projects. They are no longer simply the producers of works or projects for curators, but rather participants in a discussion, co-curators of themselves and of their project.
What were the criteria for choosing this year’s artists?
It’s hard for me to say exactly what criteria the ten nominating critics took into account. These always become evident during the final discussion. Each of the nominating critics (we try to make sure all significant artistic communities and regions are represented) had submitted two candidatures of the most interesting Polish artists of the last two years, complete with a justification for their choice and a recommendation, but the final seven were selected only during the final meeting, in the curator’s presence and following a very lively discussion. Many of the artists nominated work across boundaries, such as Konrad Smolenski, who plays in a number of bands, and Anna Okrasko, who explores the reclaiming of public space and the creation of community.
Is this typical for the extended idea of art on the young Polish scene?
Indeed, artists, particularly young ones, no longer allow the medium to define or limit them—this is reserved for reality, the one "around" them and the one "in" them. Even those most firmly focused on painting (like Jakub Julian Ziólkowski) sometimes, without ceasing to be painters, venture into three-dimensional forms (sculpture) or design. But that is probably a common trait among contemporary artists in general, not only Polish ones, since they are deeply rooted in the contemporary world, in culture, and society, where they derive not only their inspiration but also their working tools.
The Views Prize was initiated in 2003 by the Zacheta National Gallery of Art and the Deutsche Bank Foundation. How has the collaboration between the two developed since that time?
It’s been perfect. We share a sense of mission and common cause while, at the same time, remaining aware that the two institutions have learned a lot from each other, each being a "top-level expert" in their respective fields. We also have a sense that we learn a lot from the curators and artists we work with. Sometimes this is difficult, but it’s always incredibly interesting. And it certainly prevents us from falling into routine.
What are the ways in which Views supports the young scene in Poland?
Through a constant and regular presence of young talented artists in the Zacheta. By creating the best possible context for showing their works (a carefully selected curator, a catalogue, a decent promotion, the exhibition itself). By producing or co-producing new projects. By way of prestige and by showing to other sponsors that contemporary art and young artists are something worth investing in. The list could go on and on.
What has the public reaction been to Views and the accompanying exhibition of the nominated artists at the Zacheta?
Our viewers always actively participate in all the projects and events accompanying Views. And it’s probably one of our (the Zacheta’s and the Foundation’s) major achievements that the competition is not just an "art world" affair, but something of interest to the general public as well. This is in fact how we’ve been trying to make it work since the very beginning. That’s why we decided to go for a two-tier process, first an exhibition of all the nominees and only then the announcement of the winner. This way the public can actively participate in the discussion of the candidates and the actual winner. We also pair up with our media sponsors to organize opinion polls for the public, extra meetings with artists, film screenings and so on.
How have the artists’ careers developed after winning the Views Prize?
There is no single "career model". So far, all the winners and most of the nominated artists have remained active in the international art world, many of them working outside Poland. They are at the most creative and interesting stage in the process of "constructing" themselves and their art (or career, though that is not necessarily the same). The works of many of them have been acquired for some of the most eminent Polish collections (e.g. the Muzeum Sztuki in Lódz). I think showing the laureates and the nominated artists together would be a very interesting curatorial project, one that would tell us a lot about the world we live in. I will be trying to win over our international partners’ support for such a project. The Polish art scene seems to be experiencing a resurgence. Paulina Olowska and Wilhelm Sasnal are already established names in the international art circuit, while projects such as the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw are attracting considerable attention.
How would you characterize the current state of affairs in contemporary Polish art?
I think the Polish art scene continues to have great potential. We still have major deficiencies in infrastructure, a poorly developed art market, insufficient financing and so on, but there is a desire and a will to change that. We try to be flexible, open to changes and debates, to different points of view, and those who keep us in this constant state of "readiness" are the artists themselves. And the ever more active Polish public. Borrowing a quote from the Yael Bartana film shown in the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennale, "we shall be strong in our weakness". This strength of the Polish scene is noticed not only by those artists, curators, or gallery managers who only drop in for a short visit, but also by those who have decided to develop a more lasting relationship with Poland and the Polish art scene (e.g. Fabio Cavalucci, director of the CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw; Dobrilla de Negri, artistic director of the CCA Znaki Czasu in Torun; Yael Bartana, an Israeli artist whose "Polish" trilogy is currently on display in the Polonia pavilion in Venice; and many others).
Interview: Achim Drucks
Views 2011 – Deutsche Bank Foundation Award
20.09 - 13.11.2011
Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
On October 20 the winners of the Views Prize will be announced during a festive awards ceremony.