Little Warsaw: Instauratio


Precedents are Part of the Present
An Interview with Zsolt Petrányi


The feasibility of the exhibition strategies used in Little Warsaw’s “Instauratio” raises some questions. How do you see it all in light of your earlier collaborations with Little Warsaw?

Just as the formation and interpretation of art is never complete, the same is true of the manner in which an artwork is displayed. Little Warsaw is different from so many of its contemporaries in that they insist on a say in possible strategies of presentation, indeed they consider the positions they take to be part of their works. In every exhibition space (like the “Crosstalk” exhibition 1, the events in Hajós utca 2, at the Venice Biennial and every other show), the artists themselves determined how full the display space would be, and what texts would accompany the works, and the lighting, and all other details. Both expressed and unexpressed information have always played a major role in their projects. There was no documentation, photographic or otherwise, to indicate the origin of the objects displayed either in “Crosstalk” (Marble Street) [I.] [II.] [III.], or Nefertiti’s Body, or the Szántó Kovács statue in Amsterdam. This is an elitist strategy for displaying works, because it does not seek to explain, but rather to raise questions by refusing to reveal the provenance of an exhibited work.

There must be cases where this raises questions, but with works like this that carry complex sets of associations, this does not help to reveal that complexity.

Every work is complex, but only part of this complexity comes from the history of art; another part comes from their social and historical context. Little Warsaw draws on both of these, and since this is not aiming to be socio-art, it does not speak the language of public art. True, from this standpoint, a full clarification would require interpretation.

What strategy emerges from the way Little Warsaw uses other works and monuments, in your view? There is a tradition of this from the work shown in the Hague 3 (Deserted Memorial [I.] [II.]) to “Instauratio,” also including Nefertiti’s Body and Marble Street.

The “evocation” of a work of art is not in itself an artistic strategy, only a technique. I see the strategy as being a mode of behavior that only rarely becomes visible in the work of art itself, but primarily in the commentary that surrounds it. By “evocation” I do not mean quotation or reference, but rather a situation in which an already existing work evokes associations in a new context – in this case, through the style and thematics of a public statue, associations of an historical and cultural situation. What this work really shows, through its use of another’s creation and the fact of its removal, is the artist’s intellectual point of view. Little Warsaw’s projects that use other works of art seem to present the notion that contemporary art is not a status quo but a process, one where precedents are a component of the present situation – and so are usable and quotable.

What do you see as the source of the tensions that have arisen at least since Little Warsaw’s contributions in Venice, tensions that have created a fertile soil for the present mis-explanations?

This is because the members of Little Warsaw are working in a genre in which they are not educated. They have no degree in sculpture and attempt things that are difficult even for trained professionals. So it is natural that they are sharply criticized by those who see them as skirting the serious professional tasks.

At the same time, this means that they can approach sculpture in new ways. But I don’t think all this has anything to do with their having or not having professional training in sculpture (though someone seeking norms can certainly use this to justify his argument). I was thinking, among other things, that a source of this tension might be that they have taken the risk of working with original works.

The idea of risk is a very important component of the creative process. This is obviously a given for the generations that have grown up on the avant-garde. Without it, a work of art would be no more than an intellectual exercise, an outline of “what would happen if?” Little Warsaw wants to exempt itself from that situation by using preexisting original works.

Budapest, January 12, 2005
Interviewed by: Nikolett Erőss
Translated by: Jim Tucker



1 Crosstalk. Group exhibition, Műcsarnok – Kunsthalle, 1st June - Aug. 9th, 2000. Curated by Zsolt Petrányi. Little Warsaw participated in this show with their work entitled: Marble Street.

2 The studio of Little Warsaw in Hajós utca (Hajós street), Budapest, where exhibitions and related talks were held regularly.

3 See:

24. January 2005.