Polish Performance Archive of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
Polish artists and circles involved in performance art were in many ways critical of Polish People's Republic authorities. They would often be involved in the so-called “second circuit” of publishers and galleries that functioned without public support and independently from national institutions. Performers’ actions themselves were also loaded critically not only towards the authoritarian practices of the “people’s” government, but also the patriarchal and hierarchical aspects of Polish culture.
The Archive of Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw presents the history of Polish performance art. It uses an attractive web portal to publish photographic and video recordings of artistic actions along with commentaries from curators. The Archive is also engaged in research and promotion activities, and is participating in the preparation of Museum’s permanent exhibition.
Warszawa Pańska 3, Poland
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Name of collection
- Polish Performance Archive
Provenance and cultural activities
Performance art as a genre has been present in Polish art since the very beginning of its existence. Although first experiments took place in the 1950s, it was in the 1960s when “happenings”, “actions” and “live actions” became part of the repertoire of artistic practice in Poland. The term itself was introduced to local milieus after the 1978 international I AM festival in Warsaw.
The mission of Polish Performance Archive is “gathering, archiving, studying and providing online access to materials on the history of performance art in Poland” since its early beginnings until today.
The archive is managed by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (MoMA). Its collection partially overlaps with the collection of Artists’ Archives and the Filmoteka (Film library) of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, which pre-date the Archive. In 2015 the archive dedicated to performance art was established as a separate project, and since then is being developed as such.
All the archives are successively published via an attractive web portal of the museum, available in Polish and English. The items include photographic and video documentations along with commentaries by art historians and curators. The collection is used for temporary exhibitions at MoMA and made available to other art institutions. The archives will also serve to create the final permanent exhibition of MoMA, which is still in the preparation stage (although Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw was established in 2005, and has always had a very rich exhibition programme, as of 2017 it still did not own a permanent location).
Robert Jarosz, the director of the MoMA archives stresses the particular importance of the web portal in the activities of the museum: “I approach every archive shared on-line as a sui generis exhibition, which, unlike temporary ones, does not disappear.”
Launching the on-line Polish Performance Archive in 2016 was marked by a six-week-long series of meetings with Polish performance artists, and lectures on the history of performance art. The programme highlighted the presence of female artists who strongly contributed to the development of this genre.
Robert Jarosz and Łukasz Ronduda designed the concept for a “representative selection of Polish performance works starting from the second half of 1960s until today”. Jarosz describes the work on the archive in the following words:
“This is alive, this is important. First and foremost, this has never been elaborated on, and never in such scale, and never made available. One would say «Polish performance». But no-one could actually tell what this Polish performance was. (...) Polish Performance Archive is not a ghetto, where you would have a strict definition, saying «this is a performance and that in not a performance». It does not, at any point, introduce a relation of power. There is not instrumental attitude.”
“We look at the sources. We look at the ways of reaching the goal. What could have been considered a performance in 1960s and what couldn’t. We present artists who were previously not associated with this field of performance.”
"This broad approach to the selection of artists and this inclusive mind-set, was strongly rejected by Zbigniew Warpechowski, who was our first guest during the series of meetings dedicated to Polish performance. He did not refrain from expressing his indignation beautifully, while speaking to the full audience at Museum’s hall at Pańska street. It gave me a huge satisfaction, as I have reached my goal flawlessly. That is, I wanted to transgress this fixed, customary concept. To describe this field in a way it has not been described before.”
Polish artists and milieus engaged in performance art were in many ways critical of the authorities of Polish People's Republic. Especially after the martial law, i.e. after 1981, they became involved in the so-called “second circuit” of publications and exhibitions, which was independent from state institutions and functioned without public support. Part of the exhibitions and events at that time was intended and interpreted as outright political manifestations and acts of dissent.
First and foremost, the actions of the artists themselves were heavily loaded with critical and subversive content. It was often aimed at the authoritarian practices of “people’s” government and its apparatus, as well as the traditional, patriarchal, or hierarchical aspects of Polish culture defended jointly by the authorities and the Catholic Church — in spite of the conflict between these two institutions over other spheres of life. Especially critical was the feminist movement within the Polish performance art.
As Jarosz points out: “Everything the artists did in Polish People's Republic, most certainly represented the culture of dissent. A successful one in terms of the works it produced.”
These subversive aspects of performance art later formed a significant contribution to the Polish interdisciplinary “critical art” of the 1990s. This became particularly apparent soon after the transformation of 1989 with the prominent works of the new generation of artists addressing the notions of dispersed authority, gender, illness, suffering, remembrance of Shoah, or attitude towards animals.
The processes of building the archive are similar for all three Polish Performance Archive, the Artists’ Archives, and the Filmoteka of MoMA archive. The recordings and documentations are either deposited or donated to the Museum by collection owners, artists or their heirs, usually free of charge. Sometimes they reach out themselves, on other occasions it is the Museum that initiates the contact.
Next step involves a selection process, cataloguing, digitisation, and technical and conceptual description. After that, the works are published at the website. These tasks are carried out by a small team of 2-3 persons with the support of a rotating staff composed of volunteers and interns. Since the museum is facing financial difficulties, which translate to issues with full-time employment of workers and the digitalisation equipment, the “processes of publication is delayed”.
Description of content
“What makes our archive different” says Rober Jarosz of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw “is that our aim is to build knowledge. And share this knowledge.”
The archive holds primarily photographic documentation and video recordings of artistic actions with newly added descriptions by art historians and custodians’ commentaries. It also includes art prints, artists’ publications, journals collections, and inedita, such as notes for works and exhibitions, or even family photographs donated by artists along with their private collections.
These materials constitute the basis of the collection presented at the web portal of the Museum.
They include presentations of works of the most interesting of 20th century Polish artists. The records of activities of the most prominent contemporary Polish creators are placed alongside with recordings of the forefathers of the genre, who today live “a second life” as masters of these artists (as in the case of Zbigniew Warpechowski).
“The archive is based mainly on the works of the classics of this genre, created between the 1960s and 1980s, such as Zbigniew Warpechowski, Włodzimierz Borowski, KwieKulik, Krzysztof Zarębski, Wojciech Bruszewski, Janusz Bałdyga, Józef Robakowski, Akademia Ruchu, Ewa Partum, Teresa Murak, Natalia LL, Zygmunt Piotrowski, Jerzy Bereś, Tadeusz Kantor, Tomasz Sikorski, Jerzy Truszkowski, Zbigniew Libera, Luxus, Zbyszko Trzeciakowski, Anna Płotnicka, Ewa Zarzycka, Artur Tajber, Wiktor Gutt, Grzegorz Kowalski, Jolanta Marcolla, Teresa Tyszkiewicz, and Adam Rzepecki.
Historical realizations were supplemented by those from more recent decades in the development of performance art in Poland, presenting works by artists such as Roman Stańczak, Marek Rogulski, Wspólnota Leeeżeć, Piotr Wyrzykowski, CUKT, Artur Grabowski, Oskar Dawicki, Wilhelm Sasnal, Paulina Ołowska, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Paweł Althamer, Daniel Rycharski, Łukasz Surowiec, Honorata Martin, Wojciech Bąkowski, Alicja Żebrowska, Artur Żmijewski, Zorka Wollny, and many others.”
(from the Museum of Modern Art website https://artmuseum.pl/en/archiwum/archiwum-polskiego-performansu/o-archiwum)
- film: 0-9
- photos: 1000-
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
- video recordings (including oral history recordings): 10-99
- voice recordings (including oral history recordings): 10-99
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Warszawa Pańska 3, Poland
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Important events in the history of the collection
- parts are closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Szenajch, Piotr
Jarosz, Robert , interview by Kruczkowska, Patrycja , May 25, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Jarosz, Robert , interview by Szenajch, Piotr, December 12, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection