Summary of the year 2020 at Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź
When planning, one can never be sure that everything will be finalized successfully, however, the past year witnessed uncertainty accompanying our actions being extremely overwhelming. Restrictions imposed by the pandemic, including the necessity to completely close the museum, led at best to rescheduling the exhibitions, and at worst to cancelling them. This fate befell two of the largest undertakings planned by Muzeum Sztuki for 2020: the CIMAM (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art) Annual Conference and an international project entitled “The Avant-garde Museum”. Both events are planned to hopefully take place in autumn 2021.
There have been fewer exhibitions than usual, but the ones that have successfully materialized attracted the attention of both the audience, slowly returning to museums, and the media. Undoubtedly, the exhibition "Teresa Tyszkiewicz: Day After Day", the first retrospective presentation of the works of this recently deceased, still insufficiently recognized, artist was a big event. It showcased, among others, her famous monumental ‘pin-paintings’ that she had been creating since the 1980s. They were accompanied by the artist’s works from earlier days and experimental films, some of which were presented to the public for the first time. The exhibition allowed to see Tyszkiewicz’s work in a new light, proving that she is one of the most original representatives of the Polish neo-avant-garde.
Another exhibition also devoted to neo-avant-garde was called "THE EXCHANGE GALLERY. Organica (Mechanical and Biological Records), 1958-2020". Its centre was the work of the co-creator of this legendary gallery, a pioneer of new media art, Józef Robakowski. Organized in cooperation with the independent W Y Gallery in Łódź, this cross-sectional exhibition presented, apart from the classic ones, also the latest works by the artist, testifying to the timelessness and extraordinary vitality of his art. The exhibition was accompanied by a festival of various performances and events inspired by the achievements of the Exchange Gallery.
Among the exhibitions organized at this difficult time, there has also been "Riga Notebook. Following the Lines of Wacław Szpakowski", which presented the artist who had independently come to abstract art already in the first decade of the 20th century. At that time, Szpakowski lived in Riga, which became a pretext for a project based on a dialogue between his original works and the works of Latvian and Polish artists of younger generations. This project revealed the connections and parallels that unexpectedly cut across geographic and spatial divisions at the same time showing the freshness and attractiveness of Szpakowski’s ideas.
The year 2020 was not conducive to travelling. Despite these difficulties, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź managed to organize – in cooperation with Fundação de Serralves, Museu de Arte Contemporânea – another edition of the project "R. H. Quaytman. The Sun Does Not Move. Chapter 35". This exhibition, holding a specific dialogue with the works of Kobro and Strzemiński, had been prepared in 2019 by an outstanding American painter R. H. Quaytman especially for ms¹, and was presented in its new version at the headquarters of Serralves Museu in Porto, one of the most important museums of contemporary art in Europe.
In addition to exhibitions devoted to extraordinary personalities of modern and contemporary art, the program also included an exhibition that is ‘a story’ written for many artistic voices and dealing with the horrors of the modern world. Co-organized with Fotofestiwal and based on the collection of the famous French art collector Antoine de Galbert, the "Burning House" exhibition was a kind of memento for a civilization destroyed by catastrophes, human egoism, and cruel conflicts. Although the works on display originated from different decades of the 20th and 21st centuries, their message refers to the most contemporary reality plagued by the pandemic, climate crisis, or the tragedy of refugees and political tensions.
All the activities aimed at supporting the local artistic community, strongly affected by the consequences of the pandemic, have been as important as the projects circling around the great and famous names of Polish and international art. Together with the Open Gallery in Łódź, the Muzeum initiated a series of short-term presentations prepared by the youngest generation of artists. For this purpose, we designated the spaces of the entrance hall overlooking the street with large glass doors and windows, which made it possible to view the exhibitions also during the lockdown. As part of the series entitled "Travelling to Places with a View over the Ends of the Worlds. Open Gallery at Muzeum Sztuki" the audience and random passers-by had a chance to see the projects of Kuba Stępień, Alek Sarna, Wiktoria Walendzik, and Jan Baszak. The works placed in the windows of ms2 were also accessible directly from the street. These spaces, usually serving as advertising shop windows turned into mini-galleries during the pandemic, which with time started to present art projects especially prepared and designed for this purpose. Works presented in this way included the ones by: Paweł Kowzan, Ola Kozioł, and from December also Witek Gretzyngier and Anna Bąk.
Due to the recurring waves of lockdown, the museum – forced to obey the prohibitions on moving and meeting or communicating face to face – has had to redirect its activities to a greater extent than before to the open space of the Internet. The most important of these activities has been the project called "Work = Documentation of Imagination" carried out on the Tumblr platform. This presentation referred to an artistic activity, and one act especially, of a Hungarian art historian László Beke. In 1971 Beke sent letters to a group of artist friends inviting them to respond to the slogan "Work = Documentation of Imagination". The responses made up a collection that is important for Central European conceptual art, proving how vital informal artistic relations can be. Repeating this very idea, we contacted via email female and male artists collaborating with Muzeum Sztuki and asked them to respond to the same slogan. Their responses have formed a visual commentary on the times of isolation that crosses the closed borders between the countries.
The pandemic effectively prevented artists from participating in artist residency programs. That is why we have created a new form of them, i.e., ‘insta-residencies’. Young creators participating in the project "Save as draft", using tools available on the Instagram platform, such as: posts, tags, live reports, augmented reality (AR) filters, gifs or short films, have tested the special ‘database’ comprising the ms collection. They treated Instagram as a digital laboratory, the museum’s collection as the ‘drafts’ (as in the title) of their practices, and the Muzeum’s Instagram profile as an unusual location for such residencies.
Another project which involved artists put by the pandemic in a difficult situation and responded to the limitations experienced by all of us was the "Readings" series. These broadcasts available on the social media interpreted excerpts from the texts previously published by Muzeum Sztuki. The idea behind the "Readings", originally simple recordings that were to make the time of ‘house arrest’ more enjoyable, over time evolved into sophisticated forms as people invited to cooperate in the project offered video collages, ‘trips’ round the world of virtual reality or films experimenting with conventions, which would surprise the audience and ourselves.
The annual workshop and exhibition organized in collaboration with the Strzemiński Academy of Art in Łódź has also been moved to the Internet. Mentors and students, unable to meet in the real world, had to move their workshops to the Zoom platform. The result of these meetings was the “Eene.meene” project, which took the form of a website open to interactions with art recipients.
Looking for contact with the public, the Muzeum has transferred to the Internet not only the discussions and meetings accompanying the exhibitions, but also concerts, vernissages and even digitized fragments of our exhibitions. In this space we spent a nationwide Night of Museums, inviting guests to participate in a virtual walk around the Neoplastic Room. We have also conducted educational activities online. During the spring wave of the pandemic, they were hosted on our Facebook profile, and then – as part of the "Museum for One Click" project – were moved to the Zoom platform. In order to extend the access to our resources as much as possible, we have also launched a three-year digitization program implemented within the framework of Digital Poland project, which will prepare us for possible new crises (which we would hate to see) and help to respond to the daily needs of recipients who we missed a lot in 2020.
The year 2020 has left us with the exhibition "Prototypes 04: Agata Siniarska. (Land)Slip", which is awaiting in the pandemic ‘purgatory’. During the pandemic it ‘slipped’ into oblivion although it had been fully prepared and waiting for visitors, it has never been inaugurated because its opening was planned for the second part of the lockdown. The exhibition tracks the material aspects of creating works of art and their existence. Its subject and circumstances surrounding it are also a paradoxical sign of this specific time: the exhibition conceived as an archive of the processes of memory and forgetfulness has become in a way its own subject.
Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, like other cultural institutions, remained closed in 2020. However, we hope that 2021 will allow those interested for direct and real contact with art, as well as with visitors, researchers, and artists.