No 4 (88) 2011
October - December


Factory of Surprises

Daniel Granet and Catherine Lamour wrote in the introduction to the new edition of their book "Large and Small Secrets of the World of Art" that the 21st century is arty, just as the 60's of the 20th century were dominated by rock. They share the opinion with Borys Groys, and a number of other contemporary theoreticians, that art has an impact on all aspects of life - media, fashion, advertising, family life, professional careers. The art has turned more versatile than ever before, while as a result of globalization, it is governed by universalizing rules stronger than earlier.


Stefan Szydłowski

Art historian and critic, curator, University lecturer. Author of texts on contemporary art who specializes in the theory of culture.

Stefan Szydłowski

OBVIOUSLY, CONTEMPORARY ART IS DIVERSIFIED; there is the "haute couture - high art appreciated by museums, art critics and collectors; and there is art popular among these who have different taste and aesthetic needs. The fact - that one cannot be absolutely certain which of the two will be more significant after a lapse of time, and where it is to be found later; in the museum or on the fringes of visual culture - adds color to contemporary discussions and arguments on art. One owes this mainly to the artists who have followed into the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp, Russian vanguard, Andy Warhol, Josef Beuys, Yves Klein. Certainly all of them should be approached as Marek Sułek's predecessors.

The artist studied under Ryszard Winiarski and Jan Tarasin, and it was the former who turned my attention to him, mentioning his studies and artistic work in Holland. I was passing by a blue painted tree in front of the Ujazdowski Castle everyday then (in the 90's). This was an object strongly written into the neighborhood claimed by art. Lately I have not had many opportunities to see the output by Marek Sułek. I learnt that he was still active as an artist rather from the press, than gallery exhibitions or from special literature on contemporary art.

This fact made me aware of some essential characteristics of the today art, its most recent tradition, how all the scene is running and how it gets us run along with it.

To grasp the artistic output, presented in Europe and the United States for 20 years, one is in need for some bridge, something particular that proves the specific nature of his stand and his work, so as he is easily identified. In case of contemporary artists, however, it is not uncommon to wish to avoid "distinguishing marks", an individual recognizable style, what has been called la patte in the former language of art; a gesture proving the artist's separate identity. Marcel Duchamp, the patron of the contemporary, turned to impersonal technical drawing. Great experts and collectors, sensing the rhythm of our times, reached for documentary photography, police and medical records. General feeling has grown ever stronger that a contemporary piece of art should not stand out as complex or unique. It should look like as though anyone could do it; what is more, this discredits neither an artist, nor his work; on the contrary, it elevates both.

Andy Warhol enjoys an unquestionable stand among the contemporary. When writing about Marek Sułek, one simply must mention the former. He is still considered great, the exhibitions of his works do not close the discourse he once initiated. When Blake Gopnik writes "Other Andy", he really shows that Warhol is being new, ever current, and in this sense, perversely still the same, pop oriented, magnificent with his direct statements and provocative simplicity.

Sułek belongs to the same "family" besides Josef Beuys and Yves Klein, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, Anna Baumgart and David Cerny and many, many others. All of them do not feel awkward facing the old tradition of visual arts. Everything they do is a gesture, an intervention, occasionally they simply mark their presence, or unexpectedly attack stereotypes and standards ruling universal art perception. They attack opinions determining how it can appear in the institutionalized structures and public space. A potentially radical approach and the need for compromise make one call them artists, and what they endorse - the art in public space, social sculpture, a spatial form, an open form, etc. Marek Sułek happens to be not enough radical. When he made a cast of an attractive behind of Katarzyna Figura (Marks of the Present series), he did not get a proper location to present the piece in an urban area, on one of the main squares in Warsaw, for example the Bank Square, the Saski or Grzybowski Square. As though he doubted the monument form and material that he had originally used. He has missed a chance to cheer up and lift the spirits of the catalogue of Warsaw monuments. Unfortunately, this modesty made the piece incomplete. Has it been created to remain merely a media event? The ephemeral projects were more lucky; he painted blue or pink withered trees left over in the city. The use of abandoned and discarded, the artistic recycling caused indignation, and this should be considered a considerable success. An outcry was raised, when ostentatious colors were noticed, while a withered, dry trees caused no emotions whatsoever; just as ordinary dead body does not, while an attempt to "utilize" a dead body stimulates a discussion. May one use healthy organs to save somebody's life, would it not undermine the institutions believed to guard moral and aesthetic values?

Marek Sułek has been following a risky path; first of all, he has had surprises for us, both pleasant and astonishing. He has left a strong mark in various places in Europe and in the United States with his ephemeral pieces. He has frequently shocked contrasting the natural with the artificial; the commonplace - such as an ordinary potato - with the pink acrylic paint which he uses to color potatoes scattered on the ground or stored in old wooden boxes. This has been the author's game with a random passer-by, involving a change of the ordinary into the extraordinary; the everyday into the festive, the edible into the inedible. This has been a childish play to color anything that is possible to color, to make the world nicer, more colorful, unusual, to make the world as imagined, not only by children. The objects painted pink no longer remain indifferent for us, they make us suspicious. They have been deprived of their utilitarian function, turned unreal, no longer for us. Pink potatoes are not likely to taste good. They are definitely more pretty, nevertheless horrifying in a certain sense, dangerous, could they be poisonous? There are plenty of them; they are neither single, nor signed. They occur in various places at various times. They cannot be described in terms of being unique, authentic etc. Everything becomes dubious, the reality has been turned into the matter streaked with distrust.

The artist works by means of series and cycles. Thus, one can be tempted to interpret all his later efforts through the first ones going back to 1992 in the "Context of Architecture". Undoubtedly, these have been extremely significant for his output, nevertheless, formal similarities do not let one ignore remaining works. In his understanding an artistic task is to unveil critically the embellished standards and stereotypes of popular thinking. He calls an archetype what is underneath. What is "beautiful" belongs to commercial, traditional topics of art.

He has been occasionally provocative, tracing media standards, celebrity icons, casts of body parts of movie stars. He happens to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors to put his own terms to reveal a bit of sky (over Manhattan or over Łódź), just like Duchamp and Klein, he is selling the elusive, though in a sense material. He is interested in women, to be more exact, in female body. His intentions here are not strictly to uncover the contemporary forms of commercialization. In this case he considers both ways which, in my opinion, is more honest and authentic than either of the one-sided approaches. Many hypocrites of both sexes are outraged as long as they do not take from this shadowy, though never drying spring.

Marek Sułek happens to be instrumentally oriented, enjoying his own presence in the street in the repertoire combed down for "receivers", customers of stalls, kiosks, fast foods and victims of beggars. Visitors frequenting contemporary art museums are equally astonished as critics of street phenomena. The artist yields to neither of them. He provokes the former with his concept of an artistic performance corresponding to what the artist calls the archetype. Most likely he means the values and notions shared by target audiences who do not wish, or simply do not know how to admit this. I see the approach oriented on the "archetype", stripping, unveiling, as a therapeutic value of his actions. For half of a century series and cycles have been undermining a popular idea of art, a piece of art and an artist. Marek Sułek has joined this tradition and, as it turns out, there are still numerous opportunities for this type of artistic presence in the world of our imagination. "The City of Angels" has been one of his most recent projects. A group monument. Warsaw has several of these in various squares. Blue angels with ugly, cartoon like faces and alike wings - definitely having little in common with universally shared notion of angelic beauty - appeared in the Prague, right Vistula river bank district, to provoke with their looks. One has an angel one deserves. Thus, one can easily understand the feeling of local inhabitants, and attempts to stimulate their sense of humor by journalists obliging to the artist.

Marek Sułek has been constantly offering new surprises, though he occasionally reaches to the formulas once made, he does this in the right place, in the right time, and in the right way. Thus, one should carefully follow his further efforts and search for the presence of his former works (if only in the documentary form) in the newly presented pieces. 

Marek Sułek

Born in 1963 in Tarnów. Graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (faculties under Prof. Jan Tarasin and Prof. Andrzej Winiarski), and from the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. He has pursued performances in public space, painting and photography. He has been the author of Zones of the Reality Made Unreal, Sculptures for Use Once Only, Technical and Biological Installations, to mention some. His performances have combined natural aspects and technical elements, i.e., biological material with plastic. Thus, he has created non-existent in nature, absurd mutations - blue trees (painted withered trees); installations made of acrylic coated plants (blue potatoes), ephemeral sculptures consisting of plaster, paint and flesh, and the so called transformers - sculptures being locations where insects live and transform (thousands of larvae of a fly). For nearly twenty years now Marek Sułek has followed projects in a whole variety of urban spaces (in Amsterdam, New York, Berlin, Antwerp, Sarajevo, the Hague, Gdańsk, Łódź, Cracow, Warsaw). Further, he has performed in natural environment, taking advantage of specific conditions and local materials - projects in upper Bosnia, northern Holland, central, northern and southern Poland, the Massif Central in France ("Silence Producing Machine"). He was an author of the "Extraordinary Warsaw" initiative in 1997-2000. He has interfered into the then sleepy space of the capital city. The following projects go back to this period: "A Pink Tree", "The Gallery of a Bit of Sky", "The XL Street Sculpture", "The Sculpture for Use Once Only", "The Millennium Performance", and "The 2000 People" - a mobile installation covering several thousand portraits of Warsaw inhabitants, later showed on the Expo in Hanover. In the period 2001-2004 Sułek showed a series of performances in New York - "A Bit of Sky over Manhattan" (construction/astronomical observatory), "The Brooklyn Madonna" and the "Mutimixing" action and exhibition. In the recent years he has been busy with outside projects at home (Gdańsk, Łódź, Warsaw) and the NES series presentations (small expositions of "unfinished works"). "The Art Producing Machine", "Breeding Grounds" and "Mixers" series, and subsequent "Sculptures for Use Once Only". This area touches upon the aspects of the artist's private life, and refers to the existential issues - death, birth, creation and destruction.

Marek Sułek is the Winner of the 2011 EXIT Award

The Award has been granted for two decades sustained efforts to fight the stereotypes present in popular perception of visual arts, and attempts to initiate a social discourse in this area. The distinction is a statuette sculpted by Sylwester Ambroziak. The former Award Winners are: Eugeniusz Markowski, Wojciech Prażmowski, Jerzy Truszkowski, Leszek Golec & Tatiana Czekalska, Jarosław Modzelewski, Józef Robakowski, Piotr Wachowski, Krzysztof M. Bednarski, Andrzej Cisowski, Mariusz Woszczyński, Marek Ejsmond-Ślusarczyk,Wojciech Ćwiertniewicz, Eugeniusz Minciel and Izabela Żółcińska.

Selected one-man exhibitions:

1992 - „Flying blue" Studio Korteleidse Galerie, Amsterdam - „A kind of blue", Galeria Apert, Amsterdam
1993 - „Powrót do natury", (wystawa w nagrodę za najlepszy dyplom 1992) Galeria DAP, Warszawa - „Iets Blauw", Muzeum Narodowe, Het Paleis, Haga
1994 - „Powrót do natury 3", przestrzeń miejska, Antwerpia, Euroart, Belgia - „Andy is dead", Galeria Zderzak, Kraków
1995 - „Blue M", Galeria Schroder, Haga, Holandia - „Strefa zależności", Galeria Exposorium V.U., Amsterdam
1996 - „Różowe Drzewo", przestrzeń miejska, Warszawa - „Blue X5", Galeria Apert, Amsterdam
1997 - "Błękitne Drzewo dla Sarajewa", Sarayevo Winter Festival 97, Bośnia - „Pływająca instalacja X26", przestrzeń miejska, Delft, Holandia
1998 - „Akcja Blue X 5" , Galeria Rzeźby + Galeria Kuchnia, Warszawa - „Sen o Błękicie na tle zachodzącego słońca", przestrzeń miejska, Warszawa
1999 - „W kontekście wody / w kontekście lasu" oraz „Silence Producer", międzynarodowe warsztaty, La Pommerie, Francja - „Dream on XY", przestrzeń miejska, Spuiplain, Haga
2000 - „Różowe Milenium", Pałac Kultury i Nauki, Warszawa - „Ludzie 2000", Pawilon Polski, Expo 2000, Hannower
2001 - „Tryptyk Mieszany"+ „ Multirzeźba", Salon Sztuki Współczesnej - Galeria Rempex, Warszawa - „Błękitne na Różowym", Galeria Art New Media, Warszawa
2002 - „Cztery przestrzenie", Galeria Brantenbjerg, Dania - „Mixer", Galeria XX1, Warszawa
2003 - „Multimixing", przestrzeń niezależna, Galeria 515 Aurora, Nowy Jork - „Skrawek Nieba znad Manchattanu", przestrzeń Manhattan, Nowy Jork
2004 - „Stories", Galeria Peter Muller, Haga, Holandia - „Fotostories", przestrzeń niezależna, Galeria Aurora, Nowy Jork
2005 - „Diana", Goethe Instytut, Warszawa - „My sweet stories", WM Gallery, Amsterdam
2006 - „Nes - transformacje", przestrzeń niezależna, M25, Warszawa - „Nes - come back", Galeria Fabs, Warszawa
2007 - „Maszyna do wytwarzania sztuki", Galeria Fabs, Warszawa - „Fotoplastikon", PKiN Warszawa / Muzeum Filmowe w Łodzi
2008 - „Biało/czerwone", przestrzeń niezależna, Koneser, Warszawa - „White sweemming", przestrzeń miejska (Wisła), Warszawa
2009 - „Never Ending Story", Centrum Nauki Kopernik, Warszawa - „Mickeyburke" przestrzeń niezależna, 1500 m do wynajęcia, Warszawa
2010 - „Biały obiekt", przestrzeń miejska/stocznia, Gdańsk - „Miasto Aniołów", przestrzeń miejska, Warszawa Praga
2011 - „Życzenia z Łodzi", przestrzeń miejska, Manufaktura, Łódź - „Destrukcja = Kreacja", przestrzeń miejska, Łódź