Calendars \ Calendar 2014 \ The moment of Warsaw


There are eras and seasons of the nations and the cities. Sometimes some nations outshine others thanks to the quality and quantity of their cultural products. There was Rome’s age, Constantinople’s age, there was Paris’ age, New York’s age, recently Berlin’s age. Now it is Warsaw’s turn.
In the years to come, Warsaw might become Europe’s cultural guide and stand out as a place of attraction of artists and creative forces, as a thruster of new investigation forms and directions.
I am exaggerating, but just a little bit. Because today Warsaw really has the possibility to replace Berlin as it was a decade ago, the city of artists, musicians, writers.
At least three factors contribute to this. The first one is the high quality of its artistic and cultural offers. In the last twenty or thirty years Poland has generated some of the peaks of the European contemporary art. I am speaking about the movement defined as “critical art” which at the beginning of the Nineties, after the downfall of Communism and the recovery of freedom of expression, began to handle essential subjects such as life, death, illness, sex and religion. It produced sensational works of art which aroused controversy and debates in the media and opened the doors of contemporary art to a large audience. In Europe, something similar happened only in Great Britain with the Young British Artists. Since then, the energy has not faded away and the very young generations keep on working, despite their different directions, in other European countries with uncommon determination and quality.
I am referring to visual arts, which I know better, but also theatre and music are top- level.
The second reason for the rosy prospect of Poland’s cultural future is the audience. Polish audience is interested, attentive, critical. Young people still regularly go to museums and theatres. They ask questions, they love discussions. Moreover, the number of visitors to contemporary art museums is comparable to the number of visitors to the great Mecca of art, such as the Tate Modern and the Guggenheim.
The third reason, obviously connected to the previous ones, is a political class which still bets on culture precisely because of Poland’s high level of cultural production and large audience. The “culture pact” signed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk with the citizens’ association Obywatele Kultury dates back to 2011 and it aimed at bringing the sector national budget from 0,45 to 1 % over four years. We will see what the first signs of crisis will actually allow the Polish government to do, but yet the engagements have been gradually fulfilled so far.
This applies to whole Poland, but Warsaw, of course, is the main attractor and the magnet city. A lot of young artists are moving from Poznan or Cracow to the capital city by now, as well as some galleries, so as to make the city an increasingly big creation and divulgation centre. Along with the historical institutions such as Zacheta National Gallery and Castle Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art which I am in charge of, that since decades have been the venues of the most up-to-date contemporary art initiatives, some years ago the Museum of Modern Art emerged, in a temporary space for the moment, but ready to start a competition in order to carry out a new building. However, there are a lot of smaller institutions and autonomous foundations, from the old and glorious Galeria Foksal, which during Communism was on the cutting edge and honoured international collaboration, to Bec Zmiana foundation, which helps to reconsider the relationship between art and the city. One may also mention the private galleries: Foksal Foundation, Raster, Profile, and now Leto and Pyktogram galleries in the new Soho Factory area in Prague’s district. All this gives an idea of the city effervescence.
Nevertheless, there is something one may not yet understand if one does not really enter the hidden labyrinths of its creative spaces. Allow me to explain and make an example. A friend tells me an interesting theatrical performance is on at 30/32, Lubelska street. I take a taxi, the taxi gets lost (I then found out that it is always happening because the street is twisted and its numbers are not quite regular). In the end I arrive and find an old, insignificant, Communist-era, grey building. No signboard, No signal. I try to go upstairs and finally I find a room where five or six actors, half of whom naked, are acting in semidarkness. An audience of about eighty watchful young people nailing their eyes on the actors is sitting opposite. Such a density of energy that you may cut it with a knife. At the end of the play, a two-hour discussion goes on. Well, this is culture in Warsaw: you must very often work hard to find it, hidden behind the grey buildings. Not interested in promotion, in the show which ends in itself, but still paying attention to contents, to true research. This attitude is the value Warsaw might contribute to reintroduce in the world.

Fabio Cavallucci
Fabio Cavallucci

Fabio Cavallucci

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