M – Z Route Museum – Zegrze Reservoir Route. Modern Art Highway

3 September – 18 October 2015
National Museum in Warsaw

Stefan Gierowski Proposed development of the Museum – Zegrze Reservoir Route, 1971
collage, photography, gouache, print, felt-tip pen, paper on plywood, 50 × 110 cm, National Museum in Warsaw

This latest National Museum in Warsaw exhibition offers another voice in the current discourse on the role of culture institutions in local community life and on the aesthetics of public space. The exhibition documents the premises and outcomes of a utopian initiative undertaken in Warsaw in the wake of the new enthusiasm that took hold after the political reshuffle in 1971. That project, called the “M–Z Route,” revolved around an artistic treatment of the road from the National Museum in Warsaw building to Zegrze Reservoir. More than simply taking a look back in time, the current exhibition, co-organised with Stowarzyszenie Inicjatyw Twórczych “Trzecia Fala,” also compels us to consider re-evaluating the existing views discrediting or trivialising the cultural heritage of the communist era in Poland.

Teresa Brzóskiewicz Map of the development of the Museum – Zegrze Reservoir Route, 1971
collage, print, gouache, paper on plywood, 48,5 × 175 cm, National Museum in Warsaw

A Fiat 126p for every family, vacation funds, jeans from Pewex and a flat in a concrete slab high rise (with the obligatory wall unit) – these are the most obvious symbols associated with the era now known as the “Gierek decade.” It was a period of so-called consumerist socialism that today is the subject of both a hereditary nostalgia and radical demythologisation. It left us with such landmarks as the Łazienkowska Thoroughfare, the Wisłostrada highway and the Warszawa Centralna railway station. The creative fervour spurred by economic growth and increased contact with the West also left its mark on the cultural scene of the period.

The exhibition “Museum – Zegrze Reservoir Route. Modern Art Highway” at NMW attempts to capture and examine that very moment in 20th century art history, with its fascination with all things modern and its perspective of new possibilities in the transformation of public space. The exhibition recalls an event that took place 44 years ago at the National Museum in Warsaw which showcased designs for an artistic reinterpretation of the road from the museum to Zegrze Reservoir. The plan that was presented to museum visitors in June and July of 1971 – the fruit of work put in by dozens of artists, architects and urban planners – envisioned an addition to the museum building at number 3 Aleje Jerozolimskie street stretching toward the Vistula embankment, as well as the construction of a museum branch on Zegrze Reservoir. The proposed Zegrze division was to specialise in exhibitions of cutting edge and avant-garde artistic achievements with the target audience being beachgoers – tourists and vacationers enjoying some “R&R” at the reservoir. The idea for the “M–Z Route” initiative and its programme were devised by Marian Bogusz (a painter, illustrator, sculptor and culture animator; his name is attached to most of the noteworthy projects concerning public space to have emerged in the communist era) and Jerzy Olkiewicz (a publicist, graphic artist and architect; he dedicated himself to bridging visual arts and architecture). Quickly joining the project were some of the art scene’s leading figures at the time, such as Zbigniew Dłubak, Stefan Gierowski and Rajmund Ziemski.

“Looking at the scale and scope of the M–Z Route we can’t help but wonder if some of the projects were not meant to remain mere concepts, unfulfilled potential,” suggests Łukasz Strzelczyk (the curator from Stowarzyszenie Inicjatyw Twórczych “Trzecia Fala”). “After all, can we imagine sound tunnels in the village of Rembelszczyzna? Or a branch of the museum floating on the water? Perhaps the others do put forth viable artistic propositions but even stronger is their impulse to generate discussion and to stir up ferment,” adds the co-creator of the exhibition commemorating that initiative.

Marian Bogusz Proposed development of the Museum – Zegrze Reservoir Route, 1971
collage, photography, print, gouache, paper on plywood, 50 × 110 cm, National Museum in Warsaw

The project’s general premises as well as the individual proposals – colourful ribbons adorning lengths of the road or white bands painted on the asphalt in various configurations and densities – comply with the trend that we today define as site specificity. Preceding and somewhat setting the stage for the 1971 initiative in terms of encouraging a close bond with a given space was the work of Stanisław Zamecznik and Oskar Hansen, while similar tendencies could also be observed in the work of many Polish artists after 1989, most notably Joanna Rajkowska, who came up with the artificial palm tree near the National Museum in Warsaw.

On display in NMW’s main building will be the original artistic renderings from 1971, materials and photos of the original exhibition and a documentary film featuring statements by the artists who submitted designs. The Warsaw character of the initiative will be underscored by a variety of documentary material connected with other 1970s-era Warsaw exhibitions and competitions that addressed the issue of public space. In all of the projects, we notice that the names of the artists involved tend to reappear over and over again, and by examining their visions, we can come to better understanding of how the city and its museums were perceived in those days.

An important element in the NMW exhibition will be an augmented reality presentation – a computer application running on tablets, making it possible to view the 1970s designs as completed projects. In this way, the current exhibition will serve as a supplement to the original; it will show that which was impossible to show 44 years ago and it will bring designs which were once confined to paper into virtual reality.

Complementing the exhibition will be a temporary installation by Katarzyna Przezwańska, an artist specialising in work with architecture, stone and colour. The resin installation inside the empty basin of the fountain in the NMW courtyard will introduce a dash of subtle colour into the otherwise austere surroundings as it imitates water and reflects the architecture of the museum building. This contemporary work in the courtyard references the modernist ideas from 1971 (many of which themselves proposed utilising the courtyard or accentuating the museum’s main entrance) and will act as a symbolic realisation of the artists’ visions after so many years.