“Under [these] conditions and in the absence of any pertinent instruction in literature, the resulting linear ideas were—so to speak— just improvisations. Despite many intervals in pursuing the project, some of extended into years, the author would keep these sketches hoping to be able to develop them someday and he meticulously recorded the date of their creation’, notes Wacław Szpakowski in his 1968 essay Rhythmical Lines about his precise and diligent drawing practice. An architect and artist who lived during the first half of the 20th century, Szpakowski worked for the Polish ministry of mail and telegraphs. It was around the same time that he took on an obsession that over time evolved into a massive body of work featuring his geometrically decisive one-line drawings. While Szpakowski worked in a Kafkaesque deliberation and maintained a daily office job, he amassed a mesmerizing oeuvre that so far has reached public on a minuscule scale. Although the artist produced his drawings behind closed doors and omitted exhibiting them until the ‘60s, his work has garnered attention in recent years on this side of the Atlantic. While MoMA’s 2013 exhibition Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925 put a strong emphasis on the artist’s work and contextualized his drawings alongside many of his peers including Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara, and El Lissitzy, a group exhibition currently on view at Lower East Side’s Miguel Abreu Gallery furthers this conversation. Co-organized by Masha Chlenova, who was behind the MoMA exhibition, and the gallery’s own Anya Komar, Grounding Vision: Wacław Szpakowski embarks on the interpretation of his work within a contemporary lens and places his hallucinatory drawings in conversation with some of the most striking present-day artists.
Entering the gallery, one finds an interactive screen offering an introduction of Szpakowski to Lower East Side gallery hoppers who are mostly novice to his work, including some of his early drawings to track the transformation of his signature fashion. Maneuvering around the exhibition, the audience witnesses that his obsessive one-line drawings that each pursues a distinct pattern unfold in mysterious and ardent ways. Akin to labyrinths that would conquer any vagabond drifter, the intricate motifs the late artist orchestrated absorb viewers who find themselves tracing his lines to find their way out. Accompanying these ink drawings for which he used tracing paper are a selection of works by contemporary names such as Trisha Donnelly, Sam Lewitt, R.H. Quaytman, Hanne Darboven, and Guy de Cointet. Each work ties to Szpakowski’s artistic and aesthetic endeavors one way or the other.
Donnelly’s Untitled video, for example, projects a contemplative and inquisitive juxtaposition of visual data within fast-paced and beguiling information technologies enclaving our perception today, channeling the titular artist’s meditative creative force through serenity and motionlessness. Sam Lewitt, whose copper-clad plastic heating circuits and his Airbnb project marked him amongst the noteworthy artists working today, clearly intertwines into the exhibition’s compelling aesthetic tone. His geometric circuits correspond to Szpakowski’s mathematical attempts to convey the abstract and systematic patterns prevalent in the universe. Similar homage to current dominant visual and informational systems is evident in Hilary Lloyd’s video installation Building that features two LCD monitors—secured on two rigid-looking metal rods—streaming rapidly flowing chunks of a footage documenting a building façade. Moving simultaneously upwards and downwards and left and right, these chunks of footage compose a similar optic system to Szpakowski’s angular juxtapositions. Hanne Darboven’s ambitious installation featuring 190 blown up postcards documenting her life in Hamburg ties to her Polish fellow’s similar devotion to artistic appetite and the desire to make sense of the universe through creation, while enduring predicaments caused by personal or communal impacts. The exhibition’s other exhilarating component is de Cointet’s three-minute-long video documenting a close up of a clock as its hand reaches number seven. Stuck in between abstraction and representation due to its extreme close up and the artist’s manipulation of seven as a geometric form, the looping video underlines the form of abstraction that Szpakowski managed to bear. Signaling representational tones for being inspired by geometric equilibrium that governs our daily routine, both Cointet’s video and Szpakowski’s numerous drawings, brought together through loans from his family and different institutions around the globe, manifest the composure and chaos embedded within the everyday.
Grounding Vision: Wacław Szpakowski will remain on view at Miguel Abreu Gallery until February 19th, 2017.
Writing by Osman Can Yerebakan