On ViewBroadway 1602 Gallery
January 15 – February 19, 2011
In one of the photographic collaborations between the late Polish artist, Edward Krasiński, and his friend, the photo-journalist Eustachy Kossakowski, the artist is pictured increasingly entangled in loops of cable, unable to find the end that would enable him to free himself. Performed and photographed in 1969, this absurdist series begins with coils of tubing on the floor and quickly gets out of hand.
The series originally bore the title “J’ai Perdu La Fin!!!” (“I lost the end!!!”), which also became the moniker for Krasiński’s 1969 exhibition at Warsaw’s Foksal Gallery. Broadway 1602 Gallery follows suit, even making the effort to recreate the eponymous exhibition brochure, in its careful revival of Krasiński’s installation and photo works. His collaboration with Kossakowski is a vital yet lesser-known precursor to today’s terrain of performance-sculpture-installation-photo hybrids. The duo’s stagings attest to the supra-documentary role of the photograph in keeping situational art buoyant, a relationship recently explored at the Museum of Modern Art’s recent show The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today.
Broadway 1602 Gallery Director Anke Kempkes aptly regards “J’ai Perdu La Fin!!!” as an expression of formal restraint reckoning with the spirit of “existential grotesque.” The exclamatory humor of the title applies to the impossibility of fully capturing the artist’s sense of play through a historical or academic unspooling alone. In fact, it was revelatory, Kempkes says, to reenact the artist’s vision from out of the shipping box. This vision is broadly conceived as assemblage, a continuous space of various sculptural elements tacked together by a length of blue tape. The tape, which became his signature obsession, risks becoming posthumous one-liner if taken as the summation of such an eclectic oeuvre. Luckily, through loans, Broadway 1602 garnered one of Krasiński’s “Interventions,” which includes two wall sculptures installed with blue tape passing over them, and two objects, “Bobbin,” and “Tubes” (both 1969). Both of these sculptures also make a cameo in some of the nearly 100 photographs on display.
The blue line represented something of a holy grail to the artist in his theatrical manipulation of readymades, industrial materials, and graphic devices. It is at once playful and precise, unifying and disruptive, and ascribed with near-metaphysical powers. In pastoral works, Krasiński pulls the tape across a tree and over the bodies of people he posed in a grassy field; he wraps it around a house and over the round belly of his toddler-age daughter. For all of its simplicity, it is startlingly out of place. On the wall at 1602, the blue line begins about 5 feet from the floor at the corner of a bisecting wall, passes over two sculptural “Interventions,” and ends in the following corner. Its effect on the first “intervention”—a white box with a detached rectangular box beside it—is unremarkable if taken individually; on the second it is more humorous. Here, the line is deployed over a self-referential, ’70s-style object consisting of a blowup of a newspaper listing for one of Krasiński’s shows. To a contemporary viewer, the tape’s standard-issue materiality suggests a touch of wry self-awareness, as if the line will continue to roll across time, art movements, and styles with indifference. Yet the real power of the tape is as conceptual adhesive holding together disparate elements in space. It directs the viewer’s body to plow from one end of the room to the other, a graphic force that, like crosswalk stripes, prompts a quicker pace.
Before Kossakowski’s lens, Krasinski became the actor and his sculptures props (or, maybe, vice versa). The first series of 12 photos taken by Kossakowski, “Spear, Zalesie” (1964), far less mannered than “J’ai Perdu,” depicts one of Krasiński’s earliest works: a spear about 7 feet long floating in a rural horizon. In several close-ups the obviousness of its fabrication is evident—a piece of wood dangling from a wire. The blunt edge of the spear has been segmented into tiny pieces, each hanging from their own wire; from far away it wants to dematerialize. Unlike the Minimalists or the Bauhaus experimenters, hard-edged precision is usually absent with Krasiński, unless it is supplied by prefabricated materials like the tape, spools of industrial cable, or wire. Often the prefab is used to draw contrasts with rougher, more naturalistic elements, although his work is noticeably different even from that of his Arte Povera contemporaries. Since he orchestrated objects, actions, and places with a formally varied, casual, and situational approach, Krasiński’s work is often described in terms of mise-en-scène. His desire to create an energetic unity of disparate things could be seen as akin to Hélio Oiticica’s geometric drawings, participatory sculptures, and films; in its opposing drive to delineate contradictions and cleave space, it calls to mind Matta-Clark’s “Splitting” (1974).
Kossakowski’s collaboration with Krasiński is also a window into the Postwar Polish Happenings (or “Cricotages”) of theater director and visual artist Tadeusz Kantor. An image in the exhibition has Krasiński at the seashore (“Panoramic Sea Happening,” 1967) wearing tails and conducting the waves from a submerged podium, while friends watch from beach chairs. Another two depict a 1965 event in a crowded Warsaw café, where two men submit to the public shaving of their entire heads. Krasiński was one of them and the other was Wieslaw Borowski, both members of the Foksal Gallery. These photos transmit the cultural atmosphere around Krasiński’s work, as vital to our experience of it as those that show works in situ, inside the apartment, a frequent destination of the artistic intelligentsia, where he produced his objects and lived among them for 18 years alongside fellow artist Henryk Stazewski. The collaboration between Kossakowski and Krasiński, and Krasiński’s work in general, sheds light on a cultural time and place of unique conceptual sincerity, though one not above a healthy sense of self-parody in the face of the sublime.