Critical Art Today

Social and political involvement of artists as a continuation of the critical art of the 1990s is no longer mainstream (noteworthily, it has actually never been – we have merely been witnessing a more intense media and institutional engagement with critical artists). We may well risk a supposition that Artur Żmijewski’s manifesto "Applied Social Art" resulted in any manifestation of involved art by any artist being perceived as part of Żmijewski’s art project. Such a “king Midas” paradox was also recognisable at the 7th Berlin Biennale he organised in 2012; the event was actually interpreted as Żmijewski’s major individual exhibition. We are continuously following the experience of that particular Biennale, which had speedily and rather rashly been questioned by art critics and audiences alike. Berlin Biennale archives were made available to the Museum’s website visitors as of the day of the "As You Can See: Polish Art Today" exhibition opening.

We assume that the avant-garde impetus of seeking out new fields for art (an impulse strongly tied to critical art) continues to exist, although it is now being realised in a somewhat different area. The direction of expansion (art-reality) projected by critical art has been replaced with a rather more “horizontal” model of relations: those of art to other areas of culture (film, music, sound). Żmijewski’s manifesto is realised to its fullest extent in artistic institutions that have grown considerably stronger and more radical, rather than in the art community itself. Numerous institutions have begun providing a variety of services to local communities; they engage in the production of knowledge, co-operate with urban activists, serve as locations for debates and negotiations between local residents and authorities, etc. This is where the consistent social modernisation programme is under implementation, be it to a limited scale. Actually, Żmijewski himself has most recently begun to research artistic institutions in Poland, seeing them as contemporary avant-garde phenomena, or as vehicles forming and shaping social imagination.

A crucial viewpoint is provided by Zbigniew Libera’s "Freelancer," a piece shown at the exhibition and a bitter commentary on the circumstances of the artist, who all too often becomes the excluded and marginalised “client” of an artistic institution, despite having fought to improve the situation of marginalised groups for years. Most recent attacks on contemporary art have shown that not many things have actually changed since the 1990s in terms of contemporary visual art reception: the artist may easily become the scapegoat of conservative media and audiences. The understanding of contemporary art in Poland is rather limited, with education in the field in its toddler stages.