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ChairThrones

publication date: 2006
author: Szymon Bojko

Tadeusz Mysłowski, an artist of established reputation in Polish art, residing and active in New York, with a studio-branch in Lublin – his second home, so to speak – is the author of a project-vision “ChairThrones”, homage to the reformers of art of the 20th century. As a keen observer of the project nearly from its birth, I would like to share with the readers some mechanisms of his artistic inspiration. Tadeusz, a Polish-American hero of my column in 'Vox Design', has a gift of structural systematization of most of his ideas. His method of gathering source pre-causes (the anatomy of the concept) is exemplary and worth following. His multi-layered erudition and inquisitiveness for 'nesting' his own idea, through steps, stages of its materialization – are admirable. I have often been astonished by the bulk of his analytical work. I perceive it as a cognitive investment in finding out the truth. It could inspire numerous artists or designers, especially beginners in the creative and research field.

 

Mysłowski's project is based on an archetype of cultural legacy. It encourages reflection upon intergenerational memory and the myth of innovation, accurately referred to in the title of the well-known book by Robert Hughes – The Shock of the New, summing up the discoveries of the new form in European art. The legacy of the pioneers of modernism is still valuable and undergoes erosion only to a small extent, although some art historians tend to minimize the heroic ethos of this formation. The modernity at the beginning of the 20th century offered a technological civilization, art, spiritual and material culture, architecture and design resulting from it at a scale unknown so far and addressed to a mass audience. Modernism and its variations were the basis for this true cultural revolution. Numerous manifests from different countries pointed at the square, a product of a rational mind and of order, as the symbol of our times. The pioneers referred to Plato, Archimedes, Euclid, Newton, Poincaré, Einstein. Le Corbusier, architect, painter and theoretician, wrote about an age marked with the laws of geometry. The rational message behind this idea is worth remembering. It helps us think of form as building material.

In my teaching practice I noticed that the true value of a serious art project lays in its structure and in what we commonly refer to as its 'philosophy' (my American colleague Professor Doug Scott used the term 'password' to describe it). Learning about those impulses is an intellectual adventure for a bright and wise mind.

Admiration for Greatness, the willingness to worship The Great ones, followed by particular ceremonies and rituals was known from the beginning of humankind. Holiness was venerated together with wisdom and courage. Greatness was always referred to in relation to something less perfect. This dialectic was discovered by the French monk Bernard de Chartres in the 12th century. He vividly compared the development of humanity to an interaction between giants and midgets, symbols present in every generation. The midgets are the young people, sitting on the shoulders of the older ones – the giants. They see further and know more than their wise predecessors, as the giants lift them with the power of their empirical experience. Thus with changing generations, continuity is materialized.

By transferring this truth into the area of art, we come close to the roots of the “ChairThrone” idea conceived by Tadeusz Mysłowski. Before we do it though, I'd like to point at some other manifestations of homage paid by internationally acclaimed artists to the Giants. The repetitiveness of this phenomenon is striking; in epochs and disciplines, in music and literature, visual arts and design (particularly in such objects as furniture). Distinguishing playful parody, paraphrase, collage and assembly – quotations from the Greats – from independent, creative metamorphosis, syntheses of achievements may be a trap for the researcher. For example, some outstanding American artists, above all Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Wesselmann and Larry Rivers, in the years of triumph of Pop Art found pleasure in paraphrasing the works of the Greats (they told me a lot about it). Andy Warhol enjoyed quoting the Greats, from Mona Lisa to Marilyn Monroe. George Segal, who perhaps lacked the visual intelligence and frankly – talent, literally copied the motive of the geometrical grid of Mondrian's canvas. Against this background intellectual maturity and originality of Mysłowski's concept is indisputable.

Mysłowski for years has been absorbing the legacy of modernist theories and transforming them into his own linear-spatial system. Basing on the works and thoughts of Kazimierz Malewicz, Piet Mondrian, Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro, Henryk Stażewski and the recently 'discovered' Wacław Szpakowski, he creates reality out of geometric and organic abstraction. He follows the non-figurative art movements of the 1960s avant-garde in Poland and in the USA. He presented the value of this approach in an original photographic study “Avenue of the Americas” (1983). It was the first homage paid to Mondrian which confirmed the timeless value of the creator of neo-plastic art, of the concept of modeling the urbanized space. I wrote then: “It is an indisputable continuation of the achievements of the European early 20th century avant-garde. There is also a next step that takes into consideration the latest experiences of plastic arts. Mysłowski starts recording the spatial code at the point, to which his predecessors arrived'.1

Homage paid to the Masters belongs to the private ritual of the artist. It constitutes a home, intimate and secular sacrum. I noticed this celebration when I visited the artist in Long Island City for the first time, on the other side of Manhattan. The studio converted from a garage and a small ice factory already at the entrance demonstrates a cult object to the guests – an impressive body of a car (a white Jaguar 420, 1967). The artist is talking about it with reverence, as of an icon of pure form. The residential part is separated from the studio with a winding and narrow stairway (67 steps). From the walls along the stairs, like in the gallery, thinking heads are glancing – photographs of the Greats. They are the giants from the quoted philosophical parable by the French monk. it is worthwhile mentioning their names: Piet Mondrian, Kazimierz Malewicz, Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Mies van der Rohe, Barnett Newman, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Friedrich Kiesler, Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, Isami Noguchi, Benoit Mandelbrot (of fractals), Michio Kaku, Julian Przyboś, a poet. The home panorama of images-symbols ends with a cult photograph of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. Signum temporis!

From the photographic sanctuary on the stairs we are heading towards an entresol, where you can find some works of the world design, as if they arrived here from the London Victoria and Albert Museum. Chairs and armchairs of the 20th century. Forms that changed the traditional understanding of the appearance of these functional objects. Here are some of the more important sign-symbols: 'Wassily', a chair inspired by technology of the shining chromium, used in manufacturing bicycles, nicknamed this way by Marcel Breuer after his friend from Bauhas, WasyI Kandinski (is it here, on the entresol, where the idea of 'Chair for XY' was conceived?); the famous Zig Zag seat by Gerrit Rietveld; the willow armchair by Mies van der Rohe, who gave it a new, light form; streamlined, bio-morphical piece of furniture by the Eames couple – 'The Eames chair'; the aerodynamic piece by Eero Saarinen; Vito Acconci's bizarre, metal structure: a ladder-chair, perhaps inspired by the expressionist chair designed by Walter Reimann for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; a Breton stool; and finally the Art Nouveau, unparalleled Thonet, personifying lightness, finesse of the line and elegance.

I am referring to an article entitled: “Art of Sitting on Air”.2 Tadeusz gave it to me for inspiration. In fact his idea of homage in the form of the 'Chair for XY' fits into the concept of adoration of the Visionary, transferred into a common piece of furniture. The Chair within the last decades has undergone revolutionary transformations thanks to technological inventions. From a four-legged form with a backrest, to a two-legged one (two-legged cantilever chair), an object giving an impression of floating in the air. I recommend this article to Polish designers. Tadeusz, apart from many other talents, has a feel of the so called Zeitgeist, an ability to update forms taken from another epoch. Therefore, he has probably decided to point at the cult, or even magic values of the Chair ranked as a symbol. This is how Mysłowski makes his point:

'From the very beginning, mankind created images transgressing empirical perception. They circulated around supernatural phenomena, later on moving onto rulers, scholars, artists, inventors, leaders, athletes, and idols of pop-culture. Greatness can not be measured and compared. In search

of a model, of a point of reference, people at first referred to allegories, symbols, metaphors, abstraction, or objects associated to the strong imagination of the Great Visionaries. I was enchanted by objects, the form whereof was the essence of genius. Hence, just a step to my “ChairThrone” project. The chair, a useful object, grew over the ages with mythology, which glorified wisdom, dignity, majesty, and power. The chair was synonymous with many things, and above all – with changed proportions – it became a meaningful object.” Let us add – with a changed scale, too. Immediately, some examples confirming this thesis come to mind: the monumental “Chair” by Tadeusz Kantor placed behind the National Museum in Warsaw, a chair on the stage at the theatre of Robert Wilson, chairs and ladders in the theatre of Józef Szajna. The name “ChairThrone” from the philological point of view is very close to the English mentality. The Chair and the Throne have very similar meanings. To be a chairman is to exercise authority. Portuguese 'poltrona' means 'armchair'. The junction of these words and meanings made by Mysłowski creates an assimilable linguistic cluster. It may that it will get into social circulation. Especially that the author – apart from quoting the surname of the artist to whom he is paying tribute, also finds a verbal logotype for the chair-symbol, an abbreviation of the sound, originating from the contemporary vocabulary valued by designers of electronic devices.

M O N D R I A N beam-woogie

M A L E W I C Z square-cube

S T R Z E M I Ń S K I + K O B R O negative-positive

S T A Ż E W S K I module-square

S Z P A K O W S K I structure-line

I asked the author of the “ChairThrones” to present the personal, private links to the artists he gives tribute to. Below are two of these short stories, mini-narratives. Each refers to some important moment in the artist's biography.

Malewicz at the Polonia Hotel:

I have wondered why his only and representative exhibition in Warsaw took place at the hotel, and not – what he deserved – at the Museum or the Zachęta Gallery. For more than 20 years, the Polonia Hotel used to be my second home, whenever I came to Poland from the USA. I had a chill going down my spine whenever it occurred to me that Kazimierz Malewicz, my hero, walked down this glazed wide hall; that in one of the rooms the two squares were presented: the red one and the smaller black one, being the symbols-icons of avant-garde in the civilized world. Moved by those memories, I wrote a letter to Hotel director with a proposal to commemorate this event – the visit of the great Polish painter. I never got any response. From my stay at the Polonia Hotel I have though a souvenir – a cup from which Kazimierz might have drank red borsch. I keep it at my New York studio. I imagine the square-cube, the “ChairThrone” for Malewicz in the refurbished hotel, in an adequate location, with proper lighting and inscription.

 

Mondrian and the Victory Boogie-Woogie:

Together with my wife Irena we cherish gratitude for the American painter, Harry Holtzman. We met him incidentally at some exhibition opening. We found out that during the second world war, he invited Modrian to New York and took care of him. The young artist was aware of the danger from the part of Hitler's barbarity. Enchanted by the great Dutchman's personality, he created work conditions for him, which resulted in the creation of the famous Boogie-Woogie series – the icons of the big city. Thank to Harry the priceless documentation of Mondrian's last years survived. My beam-woogie, representing my admiration for the discoverer of visual and musical rhythms in abstraction, includes also Harry's modest personage.