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//At the Periphery of Art// – Maria Wierzchoś

At the Periphery of Art – Maria Wierzchoś

In the last few years, the Polish art market has gone through many changes, with the emergence of a new, highly controversial participant with a ‘fresh’ formula, and the introduction and dissemination of young art auctions and numerous educational courses. All to attract the attention of our society and encourage people to buy fine arts. Result? Deep divisions in art circles and lack of trust towards the market, auctions selling works of less capable students (who would risk selling a good work at only PLN 500?) and increasing disappointment with course attendance rates.

Even worse, every so often the press publishes texts that criticise the shape of today’s art. In September 2012, ‘Dwutygodnik’ ran Jakub Banasiak’s article, analysing the lethargy that ruled in the area of art criticism.[1] Two months later, when justifying the nominations to Polityka Passports 2012 in the category of visual arts, Piotr Sarzyński quotes the words of Professor Izabela Kowalczyk: ‘It seems that Polish art has been put on hold this year’. Sarzyński adds: ‘For the past couple of years, fine arts have been in a state of near-hibernation. There are no spectacular exhibitions of the latest art, we lack any distinct generational or at least group manifests’.[2] The organisers of one of the oldest and the most prestigious painting competitions, Bielska Autumn, tried to break this reigning stillness. In 2013, they changed the rules: for the first time in history, they allowed painters without an art school diploma to enter the competition.

All this information paints a rather daunting picture of contemporary Polish art. Is it relevant for all domains of creative activity? Absolutely not. I have never seen such a huge interest in art than today, although this dynamic growth in visual arts pertains rather to their so-called peripheral domains, which are not included in art market analyses: design, comic books, street art, photography, architecture, graphic design or fashion. New initiatives and events pop up like mushrooms; they attract so much audience that you sometimes need to struggle to get inside the building. Let us just mention the Urzeczenie fairs, the sale at the Institute of Industrial Design, Przetwory Festival or Mustache Warsaw at the Soho Factory. Every year, the number of events and exhibitors increase. New designers set up their own web stores or sell their products in various show rooms and concept stores. Our domestic stars have to wear clothes of young, Polish designers, that’s the trend. Most girls from the capital wear designer jewellery and carry their trinkets in unique canvas bags, mostly sown from recycled fabrics. The festivals in Łódź, both in design and photography, have been developing at an astonishing rate, and each opening causes an invasion of guests from the capital. Every year, there are more and more visitors, with numbers reaching several dozen thousands.

Polish designers are appreciated both in the country and by international, professional circles. In 2012, the Code Design studio won the most important design distinction in the world, namely the Red Dot Best of the Best (for the Zen oven manufactured by Amica). Previous winners include brands such as Apple, BMW or Porsche. Zen is the first Polish product to have received this award!

The boom for the 50s and 60s design attracts crowds to every exhibition devoted to this period. Photography is the ruling medium in this category, with the recent exhibitions at Asymetria and the National Museum in Warsaw. Incidentally, there were quite a few important events in the photographic world – apart from many fantastic shows held in the Czułość Gallery or at the Leica Gallery (Rafał Milach!), the two FOZZ collection photography auctions organised by Desa Unicum attracted immense attention, also on the part of the media. Both the number of guests and the turnover were impressive, at least for Poland.

Architecture has also been popular recently, with special focus on buildings and structures from the period of communist rule and modernism. The Centre for Architecture is very active in the field of educating the public, releasing various texts and brochures. The Centre may be either the cause or effect of this fashion, however, the positive feedback has far-reaching consequences, such as for instance the immensely popular auction of Central Railway Station memorabilia.

Old buildings are not the only ones that can be beautiful. One of the most popular websites in the sector, ArchDaily, organised a poll for the best structures of 2012. The list of winners included two buildings from Poland. The first place in the category of culture was taken by the Małopolska Garden of Arts from Krakow, designed by Ingarden & Ewý, while the Katowice Scientific Information Centre and Academic Library, designed by HS99, a studio from Koszalin, won in the section of museums and libraries. Moreover, the Chamber of Architect of the Republic of Poland has just launched an educational programme for schools, teaching about architecture and urbanism.

The art market is not only about paintings and auctions. There are hundreds of galleries and studios, as well as thousands of artists whose work has finally been appreciated. Purchasing designer items is a proof of social status and a certain intellectual declaration. Obviously, this is snobbism, but it does foster the aesthetic awareness of our society. And nothing stimulates development better than a demanding audience.

[1] Cf. J. Banasiak, Archipelag, link, troll. Krytyka dzisiaj, ‘Dwutygodnik’, no. 92/2012.

[2] http://www.polityka.pl/paszportypolityki/1532733,1,paszporty-2012-nominacje-w-kategorii-sztuki-izualne.read [retrieved: 10.4.2013].


Maria Wierzchoś (b. 1982) – art historian, interior designer, architecture and design critic. For many years, she has been an editor of ‘Art&Business’, where she set up the industrial design and architecture sections. Author of several dozen articles, some of which were purchased to join the collection of the library at the Institute of Industrial Design. Co-author of the Art Experts Academy programme and member of the editorial team at ‘Art Experts Magazine’. Co-operates with Desigitpoland.pl. She currently works at the real estate market.