Little Warsaw: Instauratio


...So we thought it best to give it a serious try
e-mail interview with Geurt Imanse, co–curator [1] of the Time and Again exhibition


Following your experience with Russian and Eastern European art, to what extent has the Time and Again exhibition altered the evolved picture, and/ or to what extent has it confirmed your anticipatory expectations? Have your questions changed while working on the exhibition and following the shaping of each project?

The Time and Again exhibition has not changed my existing opinions in this regard.

As a curator working in an internationally significant institution, what do you consider as a specific means to alter the status of the art scene of the former socialist countries, which from here is perceived as hermetic? By what means do you think this exhibition has stepped beyond the old stereotypes?

Specific means to change the status of the art scene of the former socialist countries (which for me is not hermetic, by the way) would be to continue making convincing art projects, and to expose them nationally and internationally. I do not think this exhibition has stepped beyond the old stereotypes. Maybe for Eastern standards, though I would not really know, but certainly not for Western standards.

What do you mean by "standards"? Are they different in a Western and Eastern contemporary art context?

Standards in this context means: you have a theme for a show and you invite artists to reflect on that theme. This has been a common practice in Western Europe since the 50s of the last century. I do not know how this was in Eastern Europe, but I fear it was not such a common practice.

Regarding stereotypes: was it not intended to find new approaches and points of view compared to the more or less schematic picture of Eastern Europe often presented in large exhibitions after the political changes in the late 80s?

Well, partly it was, because the show had a clear theme: to find out how the artists from the new EU countries, in our case the former socialist ones, were dealing with history. That is a bit more specific than 'just a show about art from Eastern Europe'. On the other hand, quite a number of thematic shows have been organised in Eastern Europe itself too, mainly through the activities of the former Soros Centers for Contemporary Art, so I would not like to call the thematic approach 'new'.

The work of the artist group Little Warsaw has sharpened the contradictions inherent in a public monumental sculpture - which has strong political connotations as a consequence of its confrontation with the museum context. The physical dimensions of the statue have made it clear that it must have been originally located in a public space. Apart from this, the statue's original context has barely been outlined. For those who are not familiar with the meaning of public sculptures in the former socialist countries, it could easily be incomprehensible. To what extent was it from your side an intentional, conceptual decision (to leave the audience to their own interpretation)?

1. I do not think the meaning of public sculptures in the former socialist countries differs so much from the meaning of public sculptures in the Western countries, as role models I mean.

2. The public of the Time and Again show may get at least some sense of this meaning, because of the statue's presence in the show.

3.When it is explained, as in our accompanying text, that part of the project by Little Warsaw is the moving of the sculpture from an open, always accessible place to a museum building elsewhere, also public but only accessible on certain daily hours, the public can be trusted to understand that this project is not only about just this specific sculpture, but may have a broader context. More detailed information on the sculpture itself could have had the effect that the public would not pay as much attention to this broader context.

I think appropriate use of public space has had different traditions inasmuch as, e.g., the placement of public monumental sculptures took place in a politically loaded, specified situation.... Could it be bracketed when we see the sculpture as a model?

You may be right there. But just to give you an example: Amsterdam has a monument to a late 19th century general who quite viciously slaughtered the Indonesians of the Aceh region of Sumatra when they attempted an uprising to obtain independence. A national hero, so to say. Now this monument is seen as a shameful memory of colonial capitalism. Is that not a more or less similar political issue?

They are not similar in the sense that Janos Szanto Kovacs's historical role has not become questionable. But I think the status of the public space and monumental sculpture in the 60s in Hungary was different than that – in the same period – from the Netherlands, where the use of public space has a more established democratic tradition. The dislocation that Little Warsaw used as a method can really work effectively if we know from which context the statue has come, and what the purpose of this dislocation was. Do you think that these are self-evident when we see the sculpture in the exhibition?

I do not agree: if the political issue is not at stake in this, there is hardly any reason (in my opinion) why the meaning of the Somogyi sculpture is so much different from the one that I mentioned. Then it (Somogyi's sculpture) just figures as a role model, which was the same for the example I brought up. Socialism was meant to be democratic too, wasn't it? The Little Warsaw act has just as much to do with the meaning of sculpture as such and the publicity of it than with politics, in my opinion, but the Little Warsaw guys may correct me on this. And I guess the dislocation as an artistic process may have been just as important as the context of the sculpture, because the context works only for an Hungarian audience and it loses its meaning more or less on an international level.

This work by Little Warsaw incorporates the artwork of a locally well-known sculptor. How do you see the question of copyright and originality in this case, and what do you think about proprietary rights in the context of artworks installed in public places? I do not think about legal forms themselves, but rather their sustainability in this context.

When an artist wants to make use of the work of another artist to create a new work of art, in my opinion it would be just decent behaviour to ask the artist in question for his blessing. When Robert Rauschenberg wanted to erase a De Kooning drawing, he asked De Kooning’s permission and got it. And subsequently created his 'Erased De Kooning Drawing'. As far as I know, it does not make any difference if the work of art is public or not.

It seems to me more like a kind of collaboration. However it is really not a new question, it always causes problems if we should defend a certain artwork from another.

In my opinion, it depends completely on how much the original artwork that was re-used, so to speak, to create a new artwork, gains or loses in the final result of the new artwork. And of course, this is a very subjective matter, having to do with personal taste, etc.

The work in question can also be interpreted as a thematisation of the recontextualising power of museums. What do you think about the relevance of this reading? Does this work open a place for self-reflection for the museum?

The interpretation is yours. I think this reading is more about philosophy than about art and as such, out of my scope. And no, this work does not open a place for the self-reflection of the museum. That has been done already a long time ago by others and a neo-neo version of this notion, provided I understood your question well, does not really add to this in my opinion. Maybe just the phenomenon of repetition in itself is interesting in this framework.

The statue at the end is installed differently (caused by practical difficulties) than it was planned.
How did it change the meaning of the work if at all?

In my opinion, one of the meanings of the Little Warsaw work with the statue still holds firm: a sculpture designed for a permanent accessible public place now is in a place that has restrictions for public viewing, at least partly. In a way it got even an extra dimension because of the traditional problem of sculpture and pedestal, the sculpture being inside the building and the pedestal being outside.

What do you find interesting in this work? Why have you decided to select this?

To have such a large public space sculpture in a rather confined temporary exhibition space is some weird experience, not to mention the process of getting it there.

The Stedelijk Museum has the policy of thinking with the artists, meaning that their latest proposal for a show, however maybe more difficult to realise, mostly gets the benefit of the doubt. It was the very eager wish of Little Warsaw to realise this proposal, so we thought it best to give it a serious try.


Interviewed by: Nikolett Erőss



1 The exhibition was curated by Geurt Imanse and Leontine Coelewij

24. January 2005.