The Uruguayan artist of German origins Luis Camnitzer, a teacher and writer on education, likened the art world to an Aladdin’s lamps storage. We collect, conserve and admire “vessels”, we view them in museums, contemplate their ornaments and forms. We can write the history of these objects, name the styles and tendencies. But what really interests us is the genie trapped inside a lamp or a bottle; we believe he is there with his superpowers. We have created a very sophisticated system of sustaining the belief in the existence of this spirit: museum edifices, frames and plinths, books and catalogues, specialist language, the cult of “geniuses”. This system may be extremely costly and energy-intensive. What’s more, it requires specialist knowledge and (fittingly for a cult) an appropriate degree of initiation. Art would therefore be something of “handicraft+”, although it is difficult to determine, without sliding into esotericism, what hides behind the mysterious “plus”.
What if the genie does not exist? Or – apparently a much more interesting possibility – he has left the lamp and seldom visits it, inhabiting instead many different places, objects and actions? What if the “plus” states for propaganda?
As an exercise in imagination and lesson in using artistic strange tools (the philosopher Alva Noë argues that artworks are precisely “strange tools”, and the essence of the utilitarian aspect of art is that it makes us see the usually obvious and normal as something extraordinary), it is worth reconsidering Jerzy Ludwiński’s texts from the first half of the 1970s. The theoretician, lecturer and art critic (1930–2000), considered one of the local pioneers of conceptual art, assumed that we were living in a ‘post-artistic era’. Ludwiński maintained that we had to be ready for a completely new kind of art that would not require support or ‘nurturing’ – in the sense of imbuing it with visibility and meaning – by art institutions. Writing about a post-artistic era, Ludwiński emphasised the osmosis between art and other disciplines. His premise was that the new art escapes the confines of language and the institutional apparatus at our disposal. ‘It is very likely that we are no longer involved with art today. We have simply overlooked the moment when art turned into something quite different, something that we are no longer able to put a name to. What is certain, however, is that what we are engaged in today has greater potential,’ Ludwiński wrote in 1971. Cases to be presented are current programmes at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw: activities of The Sunflower Solidarity Community Centre, and exhibitions Primary Forms, and Who Will Write the History of Tears.