The VIEWS Award in Berlin

Since 2003, the most important prize for recent Polish art has been awarded by Zachęta -  National Gallery of Art in Warsaw with the support of Deutsche Bank and its foundation – the VIEWS Award. Now the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle and the Polish institute are jointly presenting a selection of works by winners and nominees. The artists selected not only refer to the current political situation in their home country, but also deal with the instrumentalization of art, be it through ideologies or companies.
August 2002: The artists’ collective Azorro looks for the best gallery in Berlin to exhibit its work. The four Polish video artists ask passers-by on the Kurfürstendamm, punks at the Gedächtniskirche, and hipsters in Mitte. The quartet is directed to the Tacheles artists’ house, to Eigen + Art, and to the Deutsche Guggenheim, where they would like to present their works. But to no avail. Their video The Best Gallery documents this absurd and comic odyssey through the German capital. Fourteen years later, however they finally make it to the “best gallery.” In the context of the COMMON AFFAIRS exhibition, their video is on view at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, the former rooms of the Deutsche Guggenheim. As a commentary on this video, Azorro also contributed a sculpture ironically titled Self-fulfilling Prophecy (2016). The long, golden cord hanging from the ceiling is an allusion to the “thread of life” of the ancient Moirai, who determined the inescapable destiny of people and gods.

An investigation of the production and mediation of art is one of the focal points of the exhibition. While Azorro ironically targets the hierarchies of the art business, Paweł Althamer examines the conditions at cultural institutions. He met with supervisory staff at the KunstHalle to find out how their workday could be made more pleasant. As a result of these workshops, two sofas were provided on which they can rest now and then, a vase with the respective staff members’ favorite flowers was put on the counter, and they were given colored T-shirts that they can wear at work instead of blouses and shirts. Karolina Breguła’s film Office for Monument Construction thematicizes the ideological messages of museum collections. The latter not only create a kind of group identity, but are also an instrument of state and institutional power. Tymek Borowski is interested in the visual appearance of the actual exhibition. The painter, filmmaker, and author of infographics, posters, and online works views his creations as instruments that enable people to understand complex issues – as a cultural experiment encompassing art, design, and science. He conceived the visual identity, the logo, and the catalog for COMMON AFFAIRS.

Additionally, the artists featured in the exhibition repeatedly address the country’s current political situation. One such artist is Janek Simon with his sculpture series Real Poles. The series is a reaction to recent political discourse in Poland and the discussion about what it means to be a Pole. Anna Okrasko also poses this question with her ongoing project Patriots in which she investigates the relationships between a group of young Polish emigrants who divide their time between Rotterdam and Silesia. In his multimedia sculpture The Cross, Piotr Wysocki incorporates footage of mourning rallies following the crash of the Polish presidential airplane in 2010. The work conveys an impression of how worldviews in Poland have become estranged from one another. It shows how joint national mourning can be used by different sides to serve a specific concept of the nation’s identity. Wysocki doesn’t give simple answers but analyzes both his own detachment from such events and how they are experienced by their participants.

In COMMON AFFAIRS one can see what young contemporary Polish artists are occupied with. Unfortunately, people in the German capital rarely have this opportunity although the neighboring country is only 80 kilometers away. “Except for 'Tür an Tür' (Door to Door) in 2011 – a very unorthodox political show – no regular group exhibition has been mounted in Berlin showing the important and exciting movements of contemporary Polish art,” says Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska, the director of the Polish Institute Berlin, the second venue of COMMON AFFAIRS.

In trying political times, the title of the exhibition raises questions. The word “common” can mean “ordinary” but also “joint” in the sense of shared. But is art really so commonplace? Is it really a joint matter? In any case, the exhibition is a joint project between the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, the Polish Institute Berlin, and the Zachęta – Naltional Gallery of Art in Warsaw. It shows a selection of artists who have been nominated from 2003 to the present for the VIEWS Award, a prize initiated by Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Bank Foundation and the Zachęta which today is the most important award for contemporary Polish art. The curator team is also a Polish-German affair: Julia Kurz from Leipzig and Stanisław Welbel from Warsaw. It is therefore very fitting that the exhibition is taking place within the framework of the festivities commemorating the 25th anniversary of the German-Polish Treaty on Good Neighborliness and the twinning arrangement between Berlin and Warsaw.

The Polish alternative scene is also present at the KunstHalle, for example in Karol Radziszewski’s installation Kisieland. Among other things, it is based on an artistic photo series of the activist Ryszard Kisiel which had been a reaction to an anti-gay action of the Polish secret service during the communist era. Supplemented by further materials, Radziszewski collects this unknown part of queer Polish history in the framework of his the Queer Archives Institute he founded. Alternative history is also the theme of Agnieszka Polska und Witek Orski’s video Guns. It addresses the (unconfirmed) history during the student protests in Poland in 1968, when the rulers ordered the army museum to render all of the weapons in the collection unserviceable, fearing that demonstrators might seize them.

The history of Poland in the context of Europe from industrialization through the World Wars, the Holocaust, as well as the transformation and entry into the European Union is a focal point of COMMON AFFAIRS. The grappling with modernism is a key theme, ranging from Anna Molska’s version of Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers to Rafał Jakubowicz’s work Bauhaus, whose typography was used by Franz Ehrlich, a graduate of the Bauhaus in Dessau. The Nazis charged Ehrlich with “preparations of high treason” and incarcerated him in Buchenwald concentration camp. At Buchenwald, he was forced to work for the SS construction office. In an unusual form of resistance, he designed the gate sign “Jedem das Seine,” which means “To Each his Own,” or “everyone gets what he deserves,” in the typography of Bauhaus modernism which the Nazis defamed as “degenerate.”

Monika Sosnowska’s sculptures explore the failure of modern social ideas. Inspired by nineteen thirties Polish Deconstructivism, former Easter Bloc Social Realism, Minimalism and Conceptualism, she draws on examples of modernist architecture in the Polish People’s Republic. Elżbieta Jabłońska’s ready-made Nowe Życie (New Life) is on view at the Polish Institute Berlin. It is a ten-meter-long neon sign from the 1970s that the artist found at a farming cooperative. For COMMON AFFAIRS, the giant illuminated sculpture took a trip on the water. It was loaded onto a ship where it made its way from Poland to Germany on rivers and canals. New life – this optimistic promise of a new beginning takes an ambivalent, ironic, yet hopeful turn 40 years later in the exhibition context.

Revisiting the VIEWS Award - Contemporary Art from Poland

7/21/2016 – 10/30/2016

Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Unter den Linden 13 / 15
10117 Berlin

Polish Institute Berlin
Burgstraße 27
10178 Berlin