Exuberance: the Atlas of Infinite Possibilities.
State Gallery of Art,
Until January 8.
When it comes to business sponsorship of the arts, Poland is under the impression it has “some catching up to do” compared with other parts of Europe and the United States, says the catalogue to the latest exhibition to open in the Baltic spa town of Sopot.
If that is true, Sopot, sandwiched between Gdansk and Gdynia in the metropolitan area known as Tricity, punches above its weight.
Since 2002, Sopot insurance company ERGO Hestia has sponsored the Hestia Artistic Journey to launch young Polish artists into the world.
In celebration of its two decades of promoting Polish talent, a selection of winning works and of the art later produced by some of the laureates is on display in the State Gallery of Art just off the sea front.
The broad heading is Bujnosc, translated as exuberance, an apt description of the span of work from the brazenly kitsch to the earnest and disturbing.
As the collective mood has become progressively more anxious, the emerging trends are nature, our relationship with it and with ourselves and questions of identity, sexual or otherwise. The significance ranges from the apparently autobiographical to ironic commentary on the art that has gone before.
One of the relatively early works is Natalia Bazowska’s The Meeting (2011). It depicts an edgy if not shattering encounter in ice-cold shades of blue among jagged rocks. Qualified in art and psychiatry, Bazowska’s work is informed by her research into depression and her belief that growing up in the mountains left her with an exceptionally strong bond with nature.
Olga Kowalska also conveys profound discomfort in her 1916 video Home – something of a misnomer for the dwelling whose naked female inhabitant is filmed hiding behind the furniture in room after room.
We may have the feeling Kowalska is baring her soul as well as her body.
Krzysztof Nowicki by contrast conceals. His 2018 self-portrait comprises a flower being held by a hand and the merest suggestion of the rest of the person. It’s displayed in close proximity with Cyryl Polaczek’s (2012) self-portrait, which has a recognisable face but parts are obscured by smudges of paint.
Jozef Galazka’s Grandfather Portrait (2016) is closer to the conventionally figurative, complete with the tenderness, bordering on reverence grandparents can attract, but it is modern in its multi-media approach that includes a model of the grandfather as a worker, a bust and in a video.
Kamil Lisek’s Persistence (2016) builds on the established traditions of skillfully-executed oil on canvas with an intriguing subject as a man crouching looks out of the frame, patiently, wearily, perhaps indulgently, holding a cup to catch a bubble blown, or even thrown, by a girl, also crouching.
If you’re after something more abstract Zuzanna Dolega’s Pyrowords (2017-21) are inscrutable. Born in Gdynia and trained in Gdansk, Dolega burns words out of pages of text leaving mostly only charred outlines in a burning of the words rather than the books as if by a censor.
Aleksander Sovtysik is also interested in outlines, but his chosen medium is carpets. Hydra2 (2022) is a hydra-like shape cut out from a Middle Eastern rug.
Marcin Janusz similarly prefers substances not necessarily associated with art for his exploration of the border territory between fairy tales and dreams.
His study of imaginary figures Bathing in a Dream Puddle (2022) hangs on a nearby wall, while we step over Dream Puddles (2022) created from what appears to be resin and sugar on the floor.
They imply humankind’s pollution of nature, surely one of the most overwhelming themes of our time.
Norbert Delman’s The Wounds of a Long Dead Tree (2022) haunts us with a blood-red sculpture that looks mechanical rather than natural, while Marek Wodzislawski’s Sky Burial (2018) is a video showing a blue tit ferociously pecking the hand of a dead man.
The state gallery, which dates back – like Britain’s Edinburgh Festival – to efforts to rebuild culture after World War Two, looks both forwards and backwards and has hosted established as well as more modern art.
It’s hard not to emerge from the exuberant abundance of contemporary work without wondering how much of it will resonate for future generations. Already it has value as an untrammeled record of the concerns of those coming of age in the early 21st-century.
Barbara Lewis © 2022.