Recollections from the Congresses
Distinguished Polish art historian, professor Juliusz Starzyński, one of the five founders of the Polish section of AICA in 1955, came up with the subject and the program of the 1975 AICA Congress in Poland. Previously, he had also been the initiator and principal organizer of the first Congress in Poland in 1960, which carried the title “Modern Art, as an International Phenomenon.” Professor Starzyński was unable to realize his last project; he passed away in December 1974. The theme he proposed, “Art, Science, Ethnology, as Developmental Factors in our Time,” was further developed by professor Władysława Jaworska, and realized in collaboration with Małgorzata Sobieraj and myself. Such critics as Pierre Restany and the then-star of Italian art criticism, Palma Bucarelli, accepted the invitations to deliver speeches. Special financial subsidies allowed for a group of younger critics to attend, including Antje von Graevenitz, Georg Jappe, Christian Chambert, and Jean Pierre van Tieghem. The 1975 Congress took place in September and consisted of a tour of major Polish cities: from Warsaw, Kraków, Wrocław, Łódź, and finally returning to Warsaw. The Congress activities took place in those cities. In addition to the main theme, there was a sub-theme, Visual Space–Public Space, which was quite avant-garde for the time. In Kraków, the program included visiting several exhibitions specifically organized for the Congress, a staging of Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class, and the presentation of Kantor’s famous painting “Emballage of the Prussian Homage, According to Jan Matejko” based on the epic painting by the 19th-century history painter Jan Matejko. In Wrocław, the Laboratory Theater of Jerzy Grotowski performed its new play Apocalypsis cum Figuris, and Stefan Mueller organized the Exhibition of International Architecture, Terra 1, which consisted of purely conceptual projects. During the General Assembly, Władysława Jaworska was elected as AICA’s new President. The same Assembly elected me as a member of AICA.
That year’s Congress took place in October. The German art critic and artist Georg Jappe and his wife Elisabeth organized it, and provided special discounts for “Eastern Block” attendees, myself among them, to participate, even waving the registration fees. The deliberations took place in Cologne, and the tour of other cities included visits to the Museum of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Arp Museum in Rolandseck, the Folkwang Museum in Essen, and a museum in Bochum, which hosted an exhibition of the Polish avant-garde curated by Ryszard Stanisławski, the director of the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. A separate trip consisted of visiting Documenta 6 with its curator, Manfred Schneckenburger. A day before the closing of the Congress, when the participants were traveling on a bus to attend a reception organized by the Minister of the Internal Affairs of FRG, the news arrived that German businessman Hanns–Martin Schleyer had been kidnapped by the Red Army Faction. We entered the Minister’s residency walking between two rows of special units of the army, their guns at the ready.
This year’s Congress took place in Switzerland, in several different cities, beginning in Zurich, and continuing in Geneva, Lausanne, and Lugano. The President of the Swiss section, writer, philosopher, and art historian René Berger, organized it and prepared the theme, which dealt with the role of new media and cable TV, and their impact on art. During the Congress, Berger was elected the new President. In preparing the conference, he worked with, among others, the journalist Maurice Pianzola and the curator and art historian Rainer Michael Mason; Ryszard Stanisławski chaired one of the sessions. I attended the Congress with the significant financial assistance offered by the organizers. The Congress provided an opportunity to visit numerous museums, private collections located in different parts of Switzerland, as well as visits to the picturesque Canton of Grisons and the palace of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the remarkable museum he founded in Vaduz.
In 1979, the Irish section invited me to attend the Congress in their country, but I was unable to make the trip because of the difficulties in obtaining my passport and visa. Besides, in 1980 I became completely preoccupied with the “karnawał Solidarności” (Carnival of Solidarity), and then in December 1981, martial law was imposed in Poland, and I couldn’t get my passport to travel. During those difficult times in my country, the German section of AICA paid annual dues for the Polish members, and they continued to do so until 1990. While Poland was cut off from the rest of the world, I kept receiving great personal support from numerous colleagues in Western Europe: Hélène Lasalle from Paris, Rainer Michael Mason from Geneva, Antje von Graevenitz, then living in Amsterdam, Elisabeth and Georg Jappe from Cologne, the artist Eve Calingaert from Brussels, and Wim van Mulders from Antwerp, among others. This kind of solidarity among AICA members is worth emphasizing and remembering.
In 1985, I had my first opportunity to travel to the West since the late ’70s, and I used it to prepare extensive materials on the situation of Polish art and criticism during martial law for that year’s Congress in Brussels. However, the then-president of AICA, José-Augusto França, did not authorize me to present them—despite the fact that they fit into the theme of the conference, “the Evolution of Art Criticism in Societies in the Process of Transformation.” He judged my presentation too “political” for it. He offered, nevertheless, to publish several of my texts on the situation in Poland in the journal Colóquio Artes: Revista Trimestral de Artes Visuais, Musica, e Bailado, which he edited.
I share these loose recollections with you here because I believe our organization should not be only a platform for the exchange of ideas, but also a forum for sharing experiences of how we as critics function in different political systems. Like in the 1970s, when AICA functioned as a precursor of the East-West détente, there are colleagues in different and difficult political situations around the world who still need our assistance today. Furthermore, AICA should continue the mission of providing constant opportunities on an international scale, allowing the voices of critics who work under political duress to be heard.
The more personal stories about relationships with AICA during these difficult years has yet to be written.
Anda Rottenberg is a Polish curator, art historian, art critic and writer. She was born in the USSR and graduated from the University of Warsaw in 1970. Director of the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw between 1993 and 2001. She was a Visiting scholar at the Museum of Modern Art New York, 2001 - 2002, and served as President of the Program Advisory Board and the Program Director of the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art 2005 - 2007. Currently she works as a freelance art writer and curator and teaches theory of art at the Academy of Fine Arts and the Collegium Civitas University in Warsaw. She also hosts a regular radio program on station Tok FM.
Rottenberg curated and co-curated numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad, such as the Gwanju and Sao Paulo Biennials and two major bi-national shows Warsaw-Moscow, 2004 (in Warsaw and Moscow) and Poland-Germany, 1000 Years of Neighborhood (Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin). She was curator and commissioner of the Polish Pavilion in the Venice Biennial between 1973 and 2001. Her most recent projects include: VOID. Contemporary Art from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Municipal Art Gallery and Museum in Nowy Sącz (2012) and UNI/JA-UNI/ON, Open Air Art Project in Lublin (2013).
Author of the numerous critical texts on art translated into most of European languages, as well as into the Japanese and the Korean. Her recent books include: Art in Poland 1945 - 2005 (2005), Draught - Texts on Polish Art of the 80s (2009); and her acclaimed autobiography Here You Are (2009).