ESSAY by Adam Mazur, curator of the exhibition in The National Museum in Gdańsk
Painting was first, photography appeared later and in the end there was video. This history line also matches the collection of Joanna and Krzysztof Madelski who have been building their collection basing on the creation of artists key to the Polish art of the second part of the 20th century. The collection of Joanna and Krzysztof Madelski has evolved over the years. While the painting has been there since the very beginning, the photography had appeared sporadically until 2009 when it fully developed into a separate assemblage. Intensive purchasing has led to creating a photography collection counting a few hundred items whose selection was presented in the exhibitions Subjects of Gender and Desire in 2012 within the Photofestival in the Poznański Palace belonging to the Łódź Municipal Museum and in 2013 in BWA Art Gallery in Olsztyn. While the first of the expositions had the chronological order and focused on vintage photographs, the one in Olsztyn presented a broader selection of works by contemporary male and female artists, including a range of video shows (among others of Katarzyna Kozyra, Marta Deskur, Martynka Wawrzyniak, Dorota Nieznalska etc).
The exhibition presented in the interiors of the Abbots’ Palace in Gdańsk Oliwa combines for the first time photography and paintings, still the works are not presented in the chronological order. It would be pointless because, contrary to the photography collection, paintings in the possession of Joanna and Krzysztof Madelski have not been chosen according to this key. Therefore, more interesting as it seems is the exposition based on formal passages and correspondence among the male and female artists using different media. The similarity of motifs, community of iconography also happen to be, although not always, an interesting common basis joining together apparently incoherent characters and art attitudes. Moreover, differently than in the case of the photography and video collection, the issues of gender do not play any significant role here. For example, while no anxieties are generated when placing in the immediate neighbourhood the photographs of Tadeusz Rolke and Witek Orski, adding on the neighbouring wall the painting by Paweł Susid or a photograph by Jerzy Lewczyński may already evoke an interesting tension in the structure of the exposition. Similarly, setting together Andrzej Szewczyk and Stefan Gierowski seems obvious, but completing this company with the work of Dorota Nieznalska or Marian Schmidt stimulates imagination and allows to see the well-known and acknowledged works of outstanding male and female artists in a different light. It is also a cognitionally intriguing trace to compare the art of the female artists working especially intensively in the 1990s such as Monika Zieliń- ska Mamzeta and Katarzyna Górna with the creators so fundamentally male as Tomasz Ciecierski, Jarosław Modzelewski or Leon Tarasewicz.
The exposition confronts the “old painting” with the “new media”, female with male artists but also exposes the tension present in the contemporary art between painting abstraction and photographic concreteness, between the “pure form” and “dirty politics”. Subjects of gender and desire – to refer to the title of the Łódź and Olsztyn exhibition of the works from the collection – are certainly not only post-feminist female artists but also the contemporary male painters who are gripping the brush and easels tightly.
It is not coincidental, as it may seem, that female artists contesting patriarchal culture did not even think of challenging male artists in their professions when reviewing traditional comprehension of art by reaching for photography and video. It is even more surprising because still in the 1970s – with just a few exceptions of Ewa Partum or Natalia LL – also photography as such was perceived as the male medium.
The exhibition of the collection of Joanna and Krzysztof Madelski is the opportunity to see in a dialectic perception the art of men and women, paintings and photography of acknowledged masters and artists of the youngest generation. At the same time what is worth emphasizing is the dynamic nature of the collection, which all the time acquires new purchases. Among new works there are both photographs of masters of the kind such as Tadeusz Rolke, Zofia Rydet or Tadeusz Rydet, mature artists as Anna Bedyńska, Bartek Wieczorek, Anna Or- łowska, or – the one who opens this exhibition - Bownik and, most of all, the rich choice of artists just after their debut like Weronika Ławniczak, Witek Orski, Kamil Zacharski, Sonia Szó- stak or Yulka Wilam. This element of the collection seems in many respects to be very interesting, not to say experimental – as it shows not only the direction of the collection’s development, but it also attempts to follow the changes in art and photography in the second decade of the 21st century.
The exhibition of photographs and paintings in the Abbots’ Palace in Gdańsk Oliwa is preceded and completed by the display of video films from the collection of the Madelski presented in the Gdańsk Gallery of Photography. Among the female artists present in the collection and presented there are such excellent figures as Katarzyna Kozyra, Agnieszka Polska, Zuzanna Janin, Marta Deskur, Agata Michowska, Martynka Wawrzyniak, Julka Paluszkiewicz.
Private collections are dominated by the old media, well preserved in the culture. The presentation of the collection of Joanna and Krzysztof Madelski creates the opportunity to see films by female artists key to the Polish contemporary art and which are not always accessible for the broad public.