Poland can do better

Julia Michalska on "Polish Art Now Presented by Abbey House" at the Saatchi Gallery, London, until 9 June


On the face of it, an exhibition of Polish contemporary art hosted by the Saatchi Gallery can only help to bolster the burgeoning art scene in Poland. But “Polish Art Now” (until 9 June) does the country no favours.

Some visitors might be led to believe this is a Saatchi show—like those of contemporary Chinese art in 2008 or Russian art this year—but the space is rented and has virtually nothing to do with the Saatchi team. The organisers are, in fact, Abbey House, an auction house-cum-art fund based in Warsaw. The company, which was established in 2010 and launched on the Warsaw stock exchange a year later, works exclusively with 12 artists who produce work in exchange for a monthly stipend. The works are then largely sold at Abbey House's invitation-only auctions. Since being taken under the company's wing, a number of these artists's works have had rapidly rising prices, including those by Anna Szprynger, Stanislaw Moldozeniec and Agata Kleczkowska who, no doubt, will further profit from the Saatchi connection, even though the show only lasts five days. Abbey House has further upped the ante by securing the services of the internationally famous curator, Sacha Craddock.

Dominating the first room of the exhibition are Marek Niemirski's large-scale canvases of the fingerprints of major artists such as Wilhelm Sasnal and Zbigniew Libera, whose own works would have made better exhibits of contemporary Polish art than the works on show. The rest of the room is populated with pieces from Niemirski's own collection of Modern Polish art by artists such Eugeniusz Markowski (1912-2007), Henryk Stazewski (1894-1988) and Aleksander Kobzdej (1920-1972). According to the catalogue, these historical works are included to provide a context for the more recent works on show, but the result looks haphazard–seemingly whatever was to hand. This private collection will certainly also profit from association with the Saatchi name.

The next room largely features Abbey House artists (there are seven in total on display). Maciej Wieczerzak's cartoonish street art gives us nothing new and Agata Kleczkowska's embroidered cotton wall hangings feel crude. But the polyethylene sculpture by Julia Bistula touches on some of the aspects that have made Polish contemporary artists so popular on the international art scene. The four-meter high piece has a beating blue light at its core that gives the heart-shaped work a soothing organic quality. Anna Sprynger's geometric creations have a minimal beauty that may not be very original but are appealing.

However, the works are of insufficient quality to come anywhere near defining “Polish Art Now”. One visitor at the opening put it best: “Surely Poland can do better than this?” While visitors might experience some “Benjaminian aura” surrounding the works, putting them in the Saatchi Gallery site can only help their price, not their value.

Published Thu, 06 Jun 2013 16:00:00 GMT

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