Ljubljana: Andrzej Wróblewski
October 15, 2020 - January 10, 2021
“ANDRZEJ WRÓBLEWSKI. WAITING ROOM”
“Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room”—the first foreign exhibition of Andrzej Wróblewski’s work dedicated to his visit to Yugoslavia and the late work of the artist
On October 15, 2020, in Ljubljana (Slovenia) a unique event promoting the work of Andrzej Wróblewski will take place—the opening of the exhibition “Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room.” This is the first foreign show that focuses on the final years of the artist’s work. The exhibition at Moderna galerija, one of the most prestigious museums of modern art in Europe, consists of over 120 works created between 1955 and 1957. A large number of these paintings have never been exhibited or haven’t been displayed for over sixty years. The exhibition is the largest undertaking in the eight-year activity of the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation, which carries out the mission of promoting the artist’s work in Poland and around the world. The co-organizer of the show is the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.
Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room” at Moderna galerija
Moderna galerija is one of the oldest and most prestigious museums in Central Europe. For several decades, it has initiated daring exhibition and academic projects devoted to the heritage of postwar Yugoslavia, and Central and Eastern Europe. The exhibition “Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room” will be on show in Slovenia’s capital for three months—until January 10, 2021.
Across six rooms with a total area of over 800 m2, over 120 works by Andrzej Wróblewski from the final period of his life [i.e., 1955–1957] will be presented. They will include three well-known paintings “Waiting Room I, The Queue Continues,” “Waiting Room II, (Chairing I),” and “Tombstone, (Tombstone of a Womanizer),” as well as numerous gouaches, monotypes, and a dozen or so large-format works created on brown packaging paper. Among them, a great majority are works that have never been exhibited before or were last shown to a wider audience in 1958.
This is the first exhibition of Wróblewski’s work outside of Poland in which the curatorial team—Magdalena Ziółkowska and Wojciech Grzybała from the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation, and Marko Jenko from Moderna galerija—has focused on the final years of the artist’s work. This period symbolically begins on May 10, 1954, with the birth of Andrzej’s firstborn son, known to his family
as Kitek, and ends with Wróblewski’s death on March 23, 1957, in the Tatra Mountains.
“Waiting room mentality”
The metaphorical through line of the exhibition rests upon two symbolic figures—people pinned to chairs in anticipation, reflection, and timelessness; degraded, anonymous, and undifferentiated. This “waiting-room mentality,” as the German playwright Heiner Müller once called it, is characteristic of the experience of Communist Central and Eastern Europe. Magdalena Ziółkowska explains: “The exhibition can be treated as an attempt to answer the question of why, after more than seventy years, it is worth returning to the artist’s 1956 trip to Yugoslavia. For some, this will be an analysis of government documents, a careful look at the collected facts, or reading daily entries in the artist’s diary. For others, this will be a journey full of questions and hypotheses, a journey shrouded in mystery.” And although everyday life in Yugoslavia during Tito’s rule differed so much from the economic conditions and the socio-artistic situation of the Polish People’s Republic and other countries behind the Iron Curtain, such perspective allows one to take on more universal matters related to moral existence, bodily regimes, as well as affective labor and mourning.
The exhibition focuses on six themes. The first, the protagonists of which are the delegates, is the reconstruction of Wróblewski and art critic Barbara Majewska’s trip to Yugoslavia between October 30 and November 21, 1956. The delegates are, of course, Andrzej Wróblewski and Barbara Majewska. “It is apparent that this journey was undertaken at a time when Wróblewski was suffering a complex personal crisis that forced him to reconsider his own artistic stance. In this sense, as Barbara Majewska has explained, the trip ‘was not only a trip in the atmosphere of the Polish October, but also a trip south.’ In other words this was primarily a sensual journey to experience ‘other hill forms, other smells, flora, other kinds of light, other buildings, and other people.’”
The curators present numerous archival materials, photographs, documents, and artworks, in which one can find direct inspirations from Yugoslav contemporary art, figures such as Lazar Vujaklija, but also landscape, folklore, local architecture, and “stećci”—carved stone tombstones found in this part of Europe. “Many of his works painted after this visit in late 1956 and early 1957 display a striking anticipation—or rather a frightening intuition—of death, in their focus on the motifs of tombstones and funerals, just as other works of that period converged on the motifs of the petrifaction or reification of the human body.”
Their complete form is the monumental canvas “Tombstone, (Tombstone of a Womanizer),” whose protagonist, the womanizer, is full of contradictions. The theme of the womanizer is the second part of the exhibition. This figure constitutes a roadmap to a collection of eighty-six monotypes, probably created at the turn of 1956/1957. At the exhibition, we will see thirty-three from the thirty-five so far recovered artist’s monotypes. It is in this technique that Wróblewski evokes themes present in his early work—fish, horses, violins, vehicles, and the chauffeur; but one subject firmly occupying the artist’s attention is the female body, transformed in countless ways and depicted with numerous attributes. Because these works reference all of the most important themes raised by Wróblewski throughout his lifetime, this series is considered to be his “artistic last will.”
The third question taken up in the exhibition, on which the viewers are led by the chaired man—more a specter than a hero/protagonist—is the theme of waiting, the mesmerizing inventory of waiting rooms, queues, and chairings. Here are works exhibited during Wróblewski’s lifetime at the 3rd Exhibition of the “Po Prostu” Salon at Warsaw’s Jewish Theater in August 1956, as well as various depictions of women and portraits of a young model.
Another part of the exhibition, whose protagonists are mothers and daughters, nurturers, carers, lovers, and wives, is dedicated to the day-to-day of Wróblewski’s home life, and motherhood. Numerous portraits of Wróblewski’s wife, female nudes, interiors of the artist’s Kraków apartment and studio are engaged in a dialogue with the famous “Mothers, Anti-Fascists” painting, submitted by the artist to the Polish Exhibition of Young Art under the slogan “Against War, Against Fascism,” organized as part of the 5th World Festival of Youth and Students in the summer of 1955.
A separate space has been devoted to works organized around the theme of the boy—a very important and widely unknown topic in the artist’s late work, led by the famous canvas, “Boy against a Yellow Background, Model, (A Boy).”
The last part of the exhibition consists of the artist’s works from which emerges the figure of the protagonist—a hero with a twofold nature, heading for the unknown, beyond the horizon, somewhere straight ahead, in a timeless vehicle. Sometimes, he is the chauffeur, other times—the passenger. As Branislav Dimitrijević writes in his essay, “Wróblewski’s Rückenfigur,” this double figure is also the literary protagonist of Różewicz, Apollinaire, and Lorca’s poetry—visually untranslatable, but filled with a suggestive mood.
The exhibition was preceded by a three-year conservation project led by the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation and Professor Marzenna Ciechańska from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. As part of the effort, the team carried out conservation of seventy privately owned objects on paper, constituting the majority of works on show in Ljubljana.
In addition to paintings, gouaches, monotypes, pencil and ink drawings by Wróblewski, the exhibition will feature artworks by artists from the former Yugoslavia, including some whom Wróblewski met personally, that build a common context and often establish direct dialogue with Wróblewski.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with the same title, published in English, with seven critical essays by Ivana Bago, Branislav Dimitrijević, Wojciech Grzybała, Marko Jenko, Ljiljana Kolešnik, Ewa Majewska, and Magdalena Ziółkowska. The publication also includes the presentation of archival materials, photographs from Wróblewski and Majewska’s trip, and reproductions of 220 works by the artist. The catalogue is co-published and distributed by the prestigious German publisher Hatje Cantz in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.
Andrzej Wróblewski—painter, historian, and art critic; one of the key figures of post-1945 Central and Eastern European art. Born in 1927 in Vilnius, he graduated in art history from the Jagiellonian University and the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, where he became an assistant in the Faculty of Painting. He received a special mention at the Bucharest Festival (1953), took part in numerous nationwide art exhibitions, including the famous show at the Arsenał in 1955 “Against War, Against Fascism,” and a solo exhibition of works on paper at the Club of the Polish Writers’ Union, Warsaw in February 1956, organized with the help of friends, including Andrzej Wajda.
In the same year, from October 30 to November 21, he traveled to Yugoslavia with art critic Barbara Majewska. Their three-week stay in Belgrade, Ljubljana, Skopje, Zagreb, and in smaller towns such as Portoroż, Piran, Ohrid, included not only participation in the artistic life of the then Yugoslavia, but also walks through picturesque streets, visiting ethnographic collections, and learning about architectural monuments. These experiences were reflected in the work created during the last months before Wróblewski’s unexpected death in 1957, during his last walk in the Tatra Mountains.
The Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation was founded in 2012 by Magdalena Ziółkowska, Wojciech Grzybała, and Andrzej Wróblewski’s heirs, led by Marta Wróblewska, the artist’s daughter. The institution is the culmination of the latter’s twenty years of support given to organizations and curators of numerous exhibitions and publications devoted to her father. Magdalena Ziółkowska and Wojciech Grzybała have been promoting the work of Wróblewski in Poland and around the world since 2010. Before the formal establishment of the Foundation in 2012, they worked on the first individual foreign exhibition dedicated to the artist: “Andrzej Wróblewski. To the Margin and Back,” organized at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven.
The goal of the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation is to develop, disseminate, and contextualize knowledge about the life and work of Andrzej Wróblewski. The Foundation provides academic and organizational support to cultural institutions, scholars, curators, artists, and anyone interested in researching the subject of the artist’s life and work. In addition, it initiates and organizes exhibitions, academic conferences, seminars, symposia, workshops, and other artistic events, including primarily national and international research projects.
Its most interesting and largest projects in Poland and globally include: “Constantly Looking Ahead” at the National Museum in Kraków, “Wróblewski According to Wajda” at the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, “Perspective of Adolescence. Szapocznikow—Wróblewski—Wajda” at the Silesian Museum, “Andrzej Wróblewski: Recto / Verso 1948–1949, 1956–1957” at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, “Andrzej Wróblewski. Verso / Reverso” at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, “DE.FI.CIEN.CY” at Art Stations Gallery in Poznań and Drawing Room in London, “Andrzej Wróblewski” at the David Zwirner Gallery in London.
The Foundation also conducts publishing activities devoted to the life and work of Andrzej Wróblewski, and Polish and English-language publications accompany most exhibitions of the artist’s work. In 2014, with the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the Foundation published a bilingual monograph entitled “Avoiding Intermediary States. Andrzej Wróblewski (1927–1957).” The publication was the culmination of the Foundation’s two-year research project dedicated to the artist’s work and its new understanding. The material is directed to a wide audience—from academic and artistic circles in Poland and abroad, to anyone interested in contemporary art and visual culture of the postwar period.
A bilingual Polish-English online database dedicated to the artist and his work is also run by the Foundation.
The Adam Mickiewicz Institute is a national institution responsible for the promotion of Polish culture and heritage internationally, including via the Culture.pl website with daily news about the most interesting events related to Polish culture. As part of its global activities, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute has presented over eight thousand events seen by almost sixty million viewers. The Visual Poland programme supports international dialogue within the field of visual culture, so crucial in the times when the presence and recognition of an artist in the world determines not only the value of their art, but also its direct impact. The Institute’s activities include organizing exhibitions, promoting artistic events, instigating and conducting research projects, as well as initiating and supporting publications released in cooperation with international publishers. The programme also involves permanent and active collaboration with foreign institutions, curators, critics, and galleries, ensuring the presence of Polish artists at renowned artistic events, as well as offering them the opportunity to take part in residency programmes abroad.