Anna Orłowska. Pompier, Muck, Socrococo

Temporary exhibitions

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  • Wednesday, April 24, 2019 - Sunday, June 16, 2019

In the aftermath of World War II, Poland’s castles and palaces were forcibly nationalised. The process of adapting them to new functions was soon underway. The landed owner was replaced by the tenant and the user, but a fascination with la vie de château lingered in awkward contradiction with the ideology that now undermined the raison dêtre of the palaces and contributed to their degradation. The new nation-state additionally appropriated the symbolic dimension of the palace to bolster its prestige. Postwar architectural styles were rife with such contradictions. Modernity and ‘progress’ conflicted with a penchant for historical quotation, and the push to erect monumental buildings projecting ‘the greatness of the era’ hardly served the interests of the proletariat. The creation myth of socialist realism can sound a bit like a fairy tale, as in the case of the construction of Nowa Huta, the model socialist district oriented around the Lenin Steelworks: a utopian ‘happy city for a happy future’, rising along the fertile banks of the Vistula River on the outskirts of Krakow. Train a magnifying glass on Nowa Huta and the complicated myths and ideological fantasies of the era come into full view.

Artist Anna Orłowska, whose most recent project, Futerał [The Case], explored the strange afterlives of postwar Polish palaces, chose the Lenin Steelworks’ fortress-like administrative centre, popularly known as the ‘Doge’s Palace’, as the starting point for her exhibition. The ‘Palace’ epithet, spontaneously given to the complex by locals, evokes visions of ‘once upon a time’; but it also applies to the contemporary renown of this singular district. Nowa Huta has assumed legendary status, becoming a tourist destination and pilgrimage site for foreign admirers of the communist ‘exotics’. In addition to photographing the ‘Doge’s Palace’, Orłowska photographed the nineteenth-century manor house of painter Jan Matejko, located just a kilometre away. The physical proximity of these two buildings, constructed in eras so apparently antithetical to each other, became a point of departure for reflections on the intellectual and formal affinities between the art of Matejko—the greatest of Polish pompiers—and socialist realism.

In Main Programme of Krakow Photomonth 2019




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