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Plans of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź for 2021

The pandemic with its economic consequences and the limitations it entails are forcing museums and galleries to rethink the way they operate. The climate crisis - the degradation of the natural environment due to overproduction and mass transport - is also prompting more responsible planning of future projects. All this encourages us to focus more on using what we already have - that is our own collections - instead of getting involved in more wild productions.

In the case of Muzeum Sztuki, an additional factor may contribute to such an approach: the 90th anniversary of the opening for the public of the permanent exhibition of the International Collection of Modern Art of the "a.r." group next year. This event marked the proper beginning of the Łódź Museum as one of the first avant-garde institutions in the world and determined its later fate. The anniversary related to this event will become a pretext for an in-depth exploration - the series of nine projects for nine decades - of the museum collections and their confrontation with issues important for the present day.

The existing travel restrictions will probably not disappear next year, and therefore domestic audiences will still have little opportunity to visit foreign museums and interact with the art in their collections. For this reason, work on our own collections, here at Muzeum Sztuki in Łodź, will be associated with presentations of works by international artists. They will include artworks by such great representatives of the 20th-century art history as Picasso, Mondrian, Malevich, or Kandinsky, as well as by a number of outstanding representatives of the contemporary art scene, among them Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Celine Condorelli, and Jasmina Cibic.

In addition, an interesting, in our opinion, event is planned for 2021, thanks to which Muzeum Sztuki will be able to present its unique collections and their extraordinary history to an international professional audience. We are talking about the CIMAM Annual Conference, the largest and most important gathering of museum directors and curators representing various museums of contemporary and modern art in the world. The Conference, which was held in Poland only once before, in 1972, provides the host museums with a unique opportunity to promote their collections on a global scale and establish new international contacts. Next year, we will be supported by the National Museum in Gdańsk in organizing the CIMAM Congress.

Nine projects for nine decades

The main project connected with the 90th anniversary of the opening of the collection of the "a.r." group will be the exhibition and the monumental publication accompanying it entitled "The Avant-garde Museum". The aim of this undertaking is to show the origins of the Łódź Museum in the context of other revolutionary initiatives aimed at establishing innovative artistic institutions that not only were supposed to collect art and show it, but also to create conditions for experimenting with the very creation of it and the perception of it. "The Avant-garde Museum" will show four such initiatives in which seminal artists such as Malevich, Tatlin, Rodchenko, and Duchamp were involved. The project will also give an opportunity to see the works of other prominent representatives of the world avant-garde as well as unique archival materials borrowed from MoMA in New York, TATE in London, Yale University and many other collections from Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, and even Armenia.

In addition to "The Avant-garde Museum", in 2021 the Museum will hold other exhibitions for which the collections and history of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź will be a starting material or a point of reference. The outstanding London artist Celine Condorelli and Wendelien van Oldenborgh, who represented the Netherlands at the 2017 Venice Biennale, will engage in ‘a dialogue’ with the most important space of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, i.e. the Neoplastic Room, designed in 1948 by Władysław Strzemiński as a place for the exhibition of the a.r. group collection. Using their earlier works as well as a project intended especially for the occasion, Condorelli and van Oldenborgh will face the challenge of reinterpreting the Room as a place where the practices of an architect, designer, artist, theoretician, and activist meet in order to make an attempt at transforming the existing social reality.

The third project from the ‘nine for nine’ initiative will be an exhibition referring to an important political and cultural gesture, namely a gift. One of such gifts was, among others, donated to Muzeum Sztuki by male and female members of the "a.r." group, a collection which, as it appeared later, became the cornerstone of the Łódz institution. The Slovenian artist Jasmina Cibic, who in her artistic activities looks at the “political style” in architecture will refer to the political nature of such gestures, highlighting how the so-called cultural diplomacy is reflected in the public space and what aesthetic forms it takes. Using an allegorical tale, Cibic will recall the symbolism of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, which was "a gift from the Soviet nation to the Polish nation". By introducing an up-to-date reference to the ongoing crisis of the European identity, she will update us with the contemporary understanding of the gift.

Muzeum Sztuki, in its fourth and fifth projects, will also update the meaning of its collection as part of the series already known to the public and called "Prototypes”. All the artists invited to this project will take the museum collections as a starting point in order to answer some questions being posed today. Marek Sobczyk will create an extensive painting and spatial installation, starting from the works donated to Muzeum Sztuki in 1981 by Joseph Beuys, as a gesture of support for the Solidarity movement of that time. Additionally, the artists invited to cooperate in the next edition of the cycle, entitled "The Underground Current", will turn their attention to the subject of a repressed memory of the Łódź rivers. The invisible and covered by concrete streams of Łódź will open up the field for reflection on the degradation of the natural environment, and on possible remedial actions. They will be looking for solutions to contemporary problems through the collection of Muzeum Sztuki.

Strzemiński's concepts of the role of the museum had their origins in revolutionary Russia. This theme will be taken up by the sixth anniversary project represented by the American video artist Anton Vidokle, who in a series of his latest works refers to the theories of Russian cosmism, so significant to the history of the avant-garde. This intellectual trend - known to Strzemiński and important in Russia of that time - examined whether and how new technologies could ensure eternal life for humanity. Vidokle raises a question of the topicality of the idea of cosmism and the possibility of a new utopia and talks about the special role of museum institutions in this undertaking.

Other areas of the collection will be the subject of two further exhibitions - the seventh and eight of the nine anniversary events. The first one, organized together with Fotofestiwal, will concern the history of the institution. It is a monographic presentation of the works of Urszula Czartoryska, who created a pioneering collection of photographs at Muzeum Sztuki. The exhibition will be an opportunity to get to know both this unique collection and Czartoryska's original reflection on the importance of photography for contemporary culture. The other project will be devoted to Leopold Buczkowski - one of the most important experimenters of Polish literature, the author of famous novels, including "Czarny potok” (Black Torrent) and "Kąpiele w Lucca” (Baths in Lucca). Not everyone knows that this prose writer was also an original creator of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs. This exhibition will be the first attempt at extracting the writer's visual activity from oblivion and presenting it in a comprehensive manner based on the concepts derived from his writings. It has been possible thanks to the acquisition of a significant part of Buczkowski's artistic output into the museum's collection.

The museum - as the ninth project – is also planning to publish Władysław Strzemiński's "A Theory of Vision" in English. This first translation will undoubtedly contribute to popularizing the artist's work and the institution's collections. The publication is planned in cooperation with e-flux and the University of Minnesota Press.

The next year's activity of Muzeum Sztuki will not be limited only to those nine projects prepared on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the institution. Another undertaking worth mentioning here is the international exhibition called "The Earth is Flat Again", the title of which becomes a specific motto of the era of globalization defined by information technologies. In the reality built on the belief in endless scientific and technological progress, myths, magical thinking, and spiritual imagination are gaining popularity all the time. The exhibition will juxtapose these two, only seemingly distant orders, providing an insight into the world in which they function side by side and, in fact, interpenetrate and complement each other. The project will concern, among others, methods of information distribution and commodification, and will look at how myths function and circulate when a rational description of reality becomes insufficient. It will also look for new ways of thinking about the world and new metaphors for describing it, opening up the field for discussion between seemingly contradictory models of knowledge.

Apart from these, in the historical interiors of the Herbst Palace Museum, surrounded by old masters’ pieces, we will present an exhibition by Edward Dwurnik, whose works subject cultural clichés and national symbols to critical reflection. The artist, despite the fact that we find in his paintings references to great masters and the nineteenth-century narrative, destroys our habits, breaking away from pathos and textbook illustrativeness. Thus, he proposes the discussion on the Polish collective and cultural memory.

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