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Subversive Strategies
The 2007 Prize for Young Polish Art

Since 2003, a biennial prize for young Polish art has been awarded as a joint project between Deutsche Bank and the Zacheta National Gallery. Poland's Culture Ministry has honored the Bank's efforts by naming it an official "Patron of Culture". Achim Drucks presents the artists competing for this year's prize, worth €10,000.

Michal Stachyra, Mission: Defence, 2006,
courtesy Galeria Biala, Lublin

These days, it seems every biennial features Polish artists. Monika Sosnowska, who created the Polish pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale, is a hot tip to win the Golden Lion. And names such as Wilhelm Sasnal, Pavel Althamer and Paulina Olowska represent a boom in a country that continues to be in flux. It seems precisely the juxtaposition of the country’s socialist past and capitalist present that most inspires Poland's young, lively art scene. But despite the international success of Polish artists, the country still lacks collectors, sponsors and stipends. So Deutsche Bank has supported Polish art since the 1990s, buying works by young Polish artists for its collection. Along with the Zacheta National Gallery, Poland's most famous exhibition space for contemporary art, it increased that support in 2003 by launching Views, a biennial exhibition at the Warsaw museum presenting the most interesting of Poland's up-and-coming artists. A jury then chooses one artist to receive the prize for young Polish art, which includes €10,000. One other artist is given the opportunity to work in Berlin for six months.

Michal Stachyra, Mission: Defence, 2006,
courtesy Galeria Biala, Lublin

A glance at the work of the nominated artists makes clear just how controversial the statements currently coming from Poland are. The seven positions chosen employ absurdist humor, criticize institutions and deal with controversial topics such as terrorism. One example is Michal Stachyra from Lublin, who plays different roles in his performances. For Mission Defence, his final project for the Lublin arts academy from early 2007, he turned himself into a kind of civilian anti-terrorism fighter. He learned to fire weapons, studied self-defense and first aid, practiced an excessive physical fitness program and suggested that the academy's facade be painted with camouflage colors to protect it against possible attacks. In Views, Stachyra presents Saddam Hussein lying in state. But visitors have to go through a security check before they can view the reproduction of the executed dictator.

Rafal Jakubowicz, Plywalnia/Swimming Pool, 2006,
courtesy Rafal Jakubowicz

A fondness for provocation appears typical of contemporary Polish art. One only has to think of Katarzyna Kozyra's Midget Gallery, a group of dwarves who wreak havoc at international art fairs. Or, perhaps the most famous example, Piotr Uklanski's controversial photo series The Nazis. During its showing at the Zacheta in 2000, Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski used a saber to attack the series of portraits of famous actors in German SS and WWII army uniforms, causing the biggest art-world scandal in Poland's post-war history. Rafal Jakubowicz also takes a controversial approach to Germany and Poland's shared history: in 2002, his piece Arbeitsdisziplin caused heated debate. The photographs show the Volkswagen factory in Poznan, the artist's hometown, which lies close to the Poland's border with Germany. A tower with the carmaker's logo rises up behind barbed wire, against an evening sky. Below the photo is the German word "Arbeitsdisziplin", or "discipline at work". This reference to VW's involvement with the Third Reich caused quite a stir – and not just among the automobile manufacturer’s management.

Janek Simon, Chleb krakowski/Cracow Bread, 2006,
courtesy Galeria Raster

For Jakubowicz, the context in which he creates his projects is of vital importance. He projected the word "swimming pool" in Hebrew on the facade of a former synagogue that had been turned into a public pool by the Nazis, allowing the past to return like a ghost. At the Zacheta, he addresses the role of Deutsche Bank as the sponsor of Views. He carved the Bank's logo into the wall of the gallery, then plastered and painted over it. The wall is now as smooth and white as ever. Only the plaster on the floor hints at his activity, documented in a folder designed to look as if it came from Deutsche Bank.

Sedzia Glówny, Rozdzial XX/Chapter XX, 2004, Performance,
Photo Marek Swiech

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