No 2 (90) 2012
April - June

Man and the City

The city is a living, constantly changing tissue, where man plays an essential role, and has a considerable influence on its development. What does real symbiosis of men and the city look like? Is the impact always positive?

Kaja Werbanowska

B. in 1985. Art historian. She publishes texts on contemporary art.

Kaja Werbanowska

THE "SIGNS OF THE TIMES TORUŃ CONTEMPORARY ART CENTER APPROACHED THESE TOPICS in the presentation of 70 pieces from the UniCredit Art Collection. This has been just a small fraction of it, as the overall collection covers as many as 60 000 works. "Man and a Big City" has been a second edition of the exhibition that had been put up a year earlier in Moscow. The pieces showed in Toruń depict man and the city as of the beginning of the 20th century to this day. The metropolis has been illustrated from different angles: from bird's-eye view, eyesight level perspective, street life, home interiors. Watching the exhibition clockwise, one can see the photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans featuring a part of Yokohama coast taken from the Landmark Tower, the highest building in Japan. The towns photographed from a helicopter look rather like dummy models than real cities. Moving along, one observes urban scenes from a lower perspective. The panorama of Vienna suburbs by Oskar Kokoschka, the urbanized Bologna outskirts by Giorgio Morandi and a photo by Vera Lutter who, while living in New York, rented the highest located apartments in Manhattan to take photographs of New York skyscrapers. Lets move down to the eyesight level. One is looking at the Italian architecture through the yes of Gabriel Basilico and Marco Zanta, who has put side by side modern and ancient buildings in his works.

Finally, one is in the street observing everyday urban life scenes. Eugene Atget has got frozen in the frame one of Paris mansions with a group of kids hiding in the gateway. Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed a lemon seller in the Hamburg market, and Weegee - a flower seller. One should also mention photos by Florian Bohm, the artist who has managed to single out people who stopped for a second in the urban hubbub at the pedestrian crossing. One is peeping at home interiors. The video by Christian Marclay features people talking on the phone. This piece has been a compilation of a dozen videos from the 60's and 70's. Finally, one has reached the end of the exhibition which certainly could not lack an "ideal city". One is not at all surprised to see the work by Giorgio de Chirico from his "Piazza d'Italia" series, offering a surreal view of an Italian square. The exhibition has been crowned with the piece by Peter Blake, the British founder of proto-pop who is the author of the "Urban landscapes" series. The "Man Butterfly" picture, displayed in Toruń, shows London full of butterflies.

This is not all, exhibition curators purposefully decided to place centrally the screens featuring videos by Francesco Jodice. The artist has made documentaries on three cities: Săo Paulo, Aral and Dubai. The videos from the "Urban Stories" series are both documentaries, and pieces of art. The artist has focused on big agglomeration problems - geopolitical, sociological, culture related and demographic. Thus, one is faced with an issue of safety in Săo Paulo, where millionaires move only in their cars, while practically every vehicle is equipped with bulletproof windows. The "Aral" tells about drastic changes of life around the lake that has grown smaller several times in some dozens years as a result of rivers flow regulation in order to water neighboring fields, which in turn, has brought about an ecological catastrophe and distinction of fish, the only living support of locals. The "Dubai" is a story about the origins of the famous "desert flower", its luxury and wealth achieved as a result of today slavery and lack of respect for human rights.

Jodice, De Chirico, Goldin, Cartier-Bresson, Gursky, Kokoschka, Tillmans are the names that are enough to encourage one to see the "Man and a Big City". There is a saying that art reflects our life. This is true. In this case, one has an opportunity to see urban life through the eyes of the artists; with no divisions into periods of time or methods applied. The Toruń exhibition makes one aware that art highlights certain problems and speaks up for our rights, as well as for the beauty that occasionally happens to be missed.

"Man and a Big City", the "Signs of the Times Contemporary Art Center, Toruń, March - April 2012.