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Since 6th of October, a multimedia collection from Józef Robakowski's gallery has been exhibited in The Art Museum. It is going to be presented until 26th of December. The collection is a fascinating set of works, artistic events, and avant-garde publications. One can see, among other things, works of: Andrzej and Zbigniew Pronaszko, Witkacy, Josef Capek, Aleksander Rodchenko, Paul Shartis, Nam June Paik and two Aborigine women painters: Maggie Kame and Myrtle Petyarre.
Alicja Cichowicz: - Beside your gallery, there are some other private ones in £ód¼: A.Miko³ajczyk's "Punkt Konsultacyjny" [Consulting Point], M & R Wa¶ko's "Archiwum My¶li Wspó³czesnej" [Contemporary Thought Archive], J. Zagrodzki's "Galeria ¦lad II" [Trace Gallery II], A. Paczkowski and R. Sowiak's "Galeria Czyszczenia Dywanów" [Carpet Cleaning Gallery], "Strych" [The Attic] gallery run by "£ód¼ Kaliska" group, "U Zofii" [Sofia's place] gallery. People live their normal, common lives there - as in private flats - but this fact makes neither the galleries' prestige lower nor their quality worse. Many exhibitions and artistic initiatives are held in the galleries, which is probably not only the result of a need to make contact with the art but also is a result of a need to exchange thoughts. Isn't it the artistic thought exchange that you wanted to emphasis when you made up the name for your gallery?
Józef Robakowski: - Yes, it can be described as a gallery of creating initiatives too, since my flat was the place where ideas for some artistic events were being born: exhibitions, film presentations, actions, artists' meetings and seminars. It was here where during the martial law a very important event called "Artistic pilgrimage " was developed; it took place in many other flats, cellars and closed places. The idea of "Silent cinema" - a review of Polish independent cinema in 1983 - took place here too. In Maria and Ryszard Wa¶ko's place the first "Construction in Process" was thought up. There were many foreign guests paying me their visits. Jiri Valoch came here as a tourist in 1978 to prepare an international exhibition "Visual text", that 120 artists took part in. In fact he was a "secret" commissioner, whereas I was the organizer of the exhibition. Many initiatives were brought into being during meetings in Kazimierz nad Wis³±, Koszalin and Osieki, where we made a movie "State of war".
A.C. - What were the beginnings of "Exchange Gallery"? How did this idea of setting up such private places (art centers) come about.
J.R. - In £ód¼, there is a long traditions of such private inventions which are connected to an experimental progressive trend. The first alternative group, independent from any institutions, "Jung Jidysz" began its activity as early as 1919. It was based in the Brauners' place, where they organized exhibitions, artistic actions as well as managed on their own to established international relations. Moreover, the group "a.r." founded by the Strzemińskis' in 30's acted in a private way too. For instance: they created in £ód¼ "The International Contemporary Art Collection" which was the first one in Poland. These are the exemplars I've tried to follow. They were a kind of guarantee for me that the collected pieces and alternative ideas would be able to stand under every circumstances, regardless of the current political situation in the country. It was important, for example, during the martial law in Poland, when SPATIF [Polish Association of Theater and Film Artists] and STK [Culture Artists Association] had been suspended. These conditions force you to private actions, independent from official propositions. Nevertheless there were such places abroad as well. For example "Contact" gallery from Antwerp was doing very well. German avant-gardists or "Fluxus" movement was acting in a private way as well. We used to be their guests quite often, living e.g. in Otto Muehla's or Vienna activists' communes. "INFERMENTAL" - the first international video magazine was run in that way too. Its main office was situated in Very Body's place in Cologne, and the branches were also situated in private flats all over the world. Demarco had his private office of initiatives in Edinburgh. These were prototypes of "Exchange Gallery" too.
A.C. - Most of the pieces in your collection are gifts, aren't they?
J.R. - Yes, All contemporary art pieces are presents.
A.C. - How did you manage to get Pronaszko's or Witkacy's works?
J.R. - I just bought them. When I graduated in the 60's, The Formists Group and Witkacy's works were cheap, their creative activity was just not popular. They were appreciated only in the 70's.
A.C. - Does some of the works have a special value for you?
J.R. - I think highly of all of them. If I had to count a few: Jiri Kolar - the greatest contemporary Czech artist, Milan Grygar, Dora Maurer - the most outstanding Hungarian artist, Dick Higgins, Paul Shartis - the most important American artists, Michael Druks - Israeli artist from young generation, Nam June Paik - these are the most significant names in the art of the world. I am glad to have their works.
Translation: Zbigniew Kowalski and Anna Petrie
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