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//Time for the Young// – Katarzyna Wąs

Time for the Young – Katarzyna Wąs

Collecting Kossaks, Kapists and authors of the ‘Charaktery’ magazine cover art is no longer as fashionable as before. People are finally starting to pay attention to young, promising artists. All thanks to the gallerists that ‘still care’.


Selling art may seem like a very serious job, but fortunately art market can also involve enjoyable work and great fun. Until recently, it was associated mostly with buying and selling old art. As a daughter of an antiques dealer, I had numerous occasions to visit fairs or galleries that resembled depots full of dust-covered objects, hardly reminiscent of the exclusive Western European markets. However, with time also the Polish market started to open up towards contemporary art. At the turn of the 20th and 21st century, the first institutions devoted to the latest developments in art sprang up. The great success of Raster and FGF sparked a true boom. Numerous galleries were opened, and, more importantly, these numbers were supported by quality and financial gains. This is a huge achievement not only for the market itself but first of all for young art.

Most contemporary art galleries in Poland are run by young people, who present their peers’ work. They understand that if they want to achieve anything, they need to act as a team, not individually. This is why they decided to step outside the four walls of their galleries and organise additional events. Marika Zamojska is one of the initiators of this movement. She owns one of the most outstanding galleries in Poland, Starter, which represents artists such as Bownik, Lena Szczęsna, Janusz Łukowicz, Michał Grochowiak. The gallery was founded in Poznań and moved to Warsaw in 2007.

The Winter Salon, i.e. young art fairs, was the first hugely successful event of this type. Organised before Christmas, this opportunity to buy works of art attracted a broad audience. Fairs offer special prices adapted to the ‘young’ purchase power. Most of works did not cost more than 500 zlotys, so buyers could acquire ‘famous names’ at a small price. ‘The fairs are not only marketing, it’s also education. Through the Winter Salon, we want to get one message across to potential collectors: you don’t need to put aside tens of thousands of zlotys to go shopping at a gallery. The Salon is a sort of a bait’, says Michał Suchora of BWA Warszawa. ‘For some, it’s the first step towards visiting a gallery. The atmosphere is less intimidating. A lot of people are still afraid of private galleries, of starting a conversation, of asking questions’. He adds that exhibitors first met a number of their now regular patrons at the Salon, which is also a meeting place for gallerists. This is their own holiday, while visitors get the annual chance to browse through some new acquisitions. The only drawback is that the Salon does not feature any galleries from outside Warsaw.

The Winter Salon is organised in abandoned offices or warehouses. Exhibitors are hardly drawn to the prestigious Kubicki Arcades, for several years now the home of the grand-scale Rempex Warsaw Art Fair. Marriages between auction houses and primary market galleries are eyed with caution. Young art auctions, where works worth several thousand zlotys are sold for PLN 400 or 500 are horrible price indicators and blur the actual image of the market. Not to mention that such practices disturb the usual order of things, where auction houses conduct their secret investments but guarantee an increase in prices of purchased works by several hundred percent, while galleries work only at the primary market.

The second event that offers a great opportunity to present the youngest art at a broader forum is the Warsaw Gallery Weekend, held since 2012. In three days, a dozen galleries open their new exhibitions. Public institutions that support young artists also participate in this event, including the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle and Zachęta National Gallery of Art. Incidentally, the last edition also received the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which indicates that even state authorities have finally started to notice the great potential of their citizens of culture. The WGW programme includes concerts, performances and numerous other events. You can go out on the Friday night and come home on Sunday, without being bored for a single second. It is a joint achievement of seventeen Warsaw galleries and foundations. ‘The success of the WGW stems from the combination of galleries working together and some wholesome competition. Only through the team work were we able to achieve such a spectacular outcome. Of course the milieu is not free of animosities; gallerists form coalitions, factions, etc. The Polish art market is so small that galleries have to compete for the same customers. However, if you don’t play fair, sooner or later you will lose out’, concludes Michał Suchora.

There were also attempts to organise a similar event in Krakow. The first edition of Krakers took place during the 4th Art Boom Grolsch Festival, attracting galleries from the whole city. Many gallerists finally had the opportunity to actually meet each other; even I was surprised to see that the city had so many galleries. However, the event was markedly different from Warsaw fairs, probably because of the different nature of Krakow’s gallery scene, or, let’s not be afraid to admit that, its meagre size. ‘Krakow only has a handful of galleries that actually sell something. Other establishments don’t do too well on the art market. I think that it’s mostly due to the fact that the latest art is bought by young people, those that want to be fashionable and thus engage in a sort of noble snobbism. There are more people like that in Warsaw, where the whole showbizz concentrates’, explains Piotr Sikora, co-ordinator of Krakers. He adds: ‘Krakow is too conservative, it opens up to fashions too slowly, and collecting is mostly associated with old art’.

Krakow is a much better place for non-commercial actions, like the still surprisingly vibrant Zbiornik Kultury, a summer cultural event organised by a group of young people that wish to devote their free time to do something constructive. This undertaking is headed by a true cultural activist, Mateusz Okoński, whose enthusiasm is contagious. This initiative proves that good energy and team effort can move mountains. It is a pity that such endeavours are not supported by city authorities, which seem to turn a blind eye on initiatives that are already appreciated by citizens. This holiday burst organised by Zbiornik has as many enthusiasts as it has opponents, but nobody can deny the fact that a dozen exhibitions, events, concerts and film screening are organised over three or four weeks, and all of that with virtually no budget.

Another interesting initiative that has become very popular in a short time and still attracts more and more audiences, is the Artvolver portal that presents the offer of galleries. The Huncwot Studio, creators of the website, say: ‘Artvolver is a platform for presenting the most interesting works and movements in contemporary Polish art and short bios of artists represented by the best galleries in Poland. It makes the works available to a broad spectrum of addressees, which are not necessarily connected with the world of art’. Apart from purchase offers, the portal also provides the option of fast transaction and even delivery. It is the perfect solution for people who rarely go on a gallery tour but would still like to purchase some works for their collection. Website owners add that this is only the beginning. They are working to add international galleries to their offer. Recently, they have started co-operating with the Laboratorio Gallery in Prague. Let us hope that before reaching further abroad, they will take note of what is interesting here in Poland, for instance the AS gallery in Krakow, which present the essence of young art ‘made in the city’. The portal also runs a blog with accounts of openings and sessions. Unfortunately, the editorial board hail from the capital, so if you want to attend any of the events described, you need to hop on the Warsaw underground. This centralisation of activity is clearly visible. Warsaw is like a black hole, sucking all the energy out of the country. Young people flee big cities, such as Wrocław, Gdańsk or Poznań, to settle in the capital. The best example is a fresh émigré from Poznań, Dawid Radziszewski, who several months ago started his own gallery in Krochmalna Street. Should this migration continue to be directed only towards the capital, Poland will become a country of one city. Even now most journalists don’t want to come to Krakow to actually see the exhibitions they are writing about. On the other hand, events organised in smaller cities, such as Białystok, Nowy Sącz or Bytom, hardly attract any attention even among local audiences.

Numerous problems aside, the diversity and professionalism of many initiatives concerning young Polish art are a reason for optimism. The joint undertakings pursued by art circles are valuable and have a large educational potential. They generate the increasing fashion for art. Who knows, maybe in the future, snobbism will require not only wearing designer clothing and buying the latest tablet model but also purchasing young, promising art? Lately, it has been good form to attend exhibition openings, grabbing a coffee near ‘the’ gallery, and, better yet, having your own gallerist. Does this evolution come with better knowledge and understanding of contemporary art? Not necessarily. However, this is only the first generation that buys new art. It has the money and the opportunity to do so. And if it manages to transfer this fashion to its children, all dressed up in designer rompers bought at the last Yard Sale, things can only be better.

Katarzyna Wąs (b. 1985) – graduate of history of art at the Jagiellonian University and post-diploma courses in gender studies and cultural diplomacy, curator. Co-operated with numerous galleries and festivals of visual arts, organising exhibitions. At MOCAK, she works as a curator, project co-ordinator and editor of the ‘MOCAK Forum’.