Edward Krasiński at Tate Liverpool
by Bianca Stoppani
The first UK retrospective of Edward Krasiński opens with a silent, rarefied atmosphere. Located in the second top-floor gallery of Tate Liverpool, the show is introduced by a black-and-white photographic portrait of the artist. Here, we see Krasiński standing in the right portion of the image and holding with his right hand the end of a cable, whose entire length is rolled up on a giant reel on the left. However, upon a closer look, we notice that there is a second, additional far end, which mirrors the first by protruding from the surface toward the viewer, mimicking its materiality with a wooden cylinder painted in black, and casually supporting a chunk of rope. The several components of Untitled (1996), which also include a short blue strip of acrylic color applied at the top right, may articulate in a single stance Krasiński’s ongoing quest for a subversive stage of continuity between objects, people, time, and space. Actually, this is also reiterated by that very same picture, which was taken in 1970 when his friend and collaborator Eustachy Kossakowski documented the artist playfully posing with his sculpture Dévidoir (Reel).
Performing across painting, sculpture, installation, and photography, Edward Krasiński (1925–2004) was one of the most interesting protagonists of Polish Conceptual art—an artist who was able to work with the visual vocabularies of Constructivism and Abstraction-Création as well as of Minimalism, while maintaining at the same time a serene, pataphysical gusto for the absurdity of life.
The exhibition, curated by Tate Liverpool Senior Curator Kasia Redzisz, covers a period of forty years of Krasiński’s life and episodically retraces his artistic production through the most important shows and performances he did until three years before his death. The first body of works presented is a series of small compositions from the early 1960s, which the artist put together for his first solo exhibition in 1965. Among them, Composition in Space (1964) groups five works, each made out of geometric black wooden panels propped up by black bent metal rods, whose extremities are painted in red or green because, as we are told, Krasiński believed those bright spots would serve as triggers of sensation and thus movement in the beholder.
Expanding the issue through visual experiments at the limits of representation—and somehow akin to the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise—the coeval series “Spears” plays directly with the (im)possibility of perception and literally illustrates a moving object in the space. For his 1963–64 open-air happening documented by Kossakowski, the artist realized a spear composed of an elongated wooden shape hanging from the ceiling via transparent cables as well as a series of smaller parts hanging nearby: floating in midair, this object is narrated by the artist at the same time as if on the verge of moving, still, and already passed, with the fragments, in the latter case, as its contrail. Always palindromic both in space and time, the artist thought of his works as open circuits, and to this must be ascribed also his use of entangled or bent strings, especially in the works he presented for his 1968 show at Foksal Gallery in Warsaw (Krasiński was one of the cofounders).
1970 was crucial for Krasiński, as he moved into the Warsaw apartment of his then mentor, the artist Henryk Stażewski; was invited to participate in the Tokyo Biennale; and became friends with Daniel Buren when he helped Krasiński in covering the front walls of the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris with a stripe of commercial blue tape, 130 cm from the ground. From its first installment on trees in 1968, and then on his friends and house in Zalesie, near Warsaw, Krasiński understood the blue tape as the picklock to finally put in communication the vessels of life and art, reality and imagination, present and past. Unsurprisingly, the blue tape alternatively took the form of a long, thin, blue cable completely covering a clumsy Krasiński in the poster for his famous performance ‘J’AI PERDU LA FIN!!!’ (I Lost the End!!!, 1969); of a series of blue rubber cables loosely pouring from white objects for the Tokyo Biennale; and also of the constant regulating of the display height of his series of axonometric paintings “Interventions” from the mid-1970s. However, the epitome of his concerns for continuity might have happened after the death of his mentor and flatmate in 1988. Reproduced at Tate is part of Hommage to Stażewski (1989), an exhibition that Krasiński organized at Foksal Gallery by presenting both real and fake parts of their apartment. Objects and photographs of furniture were installed in the space seamlessly, thus transforming the gallery in a temporary total work of art through the practices of illusion, displacement, and incorporation.