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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » February 20, 2008
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Defiantly Classical
February 20, 2008   
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Sculptor Ryszard Piotrowski talks to Przemysław Molik about creative passion, the tension between classical and contemporary art and about differences in how art is perceived in Poland and abroad.

The main themes in your work are erotic subjects and nudes, in the form of small sculptures. You are not a typical 21st-century sculptor and remain a classical artist despite the domination of modern art.
To me, art must carry emotion and so I am very skeptical about the over-intellectualized avant-garde. I consider myself an inheritor of the Hellenistic and Roman cultures and that is why my statues in marble, which is my favorite material, encourage touch and closeness with their sensuality. Abstraction and a lack of subject, which are so typical of modern times, have an Oriental background and as such they are alien to me.

Marble seems to be an archaic medium and yet you remain faithful to it...
It is archaic, but what I find so fascinating about is that you can use it to create just about anything, unlike granite which is cold and graceless. I can arrange a human body any way I like, I can show the arms and palms in different configurations.

Still, classical artists such as yourself are out of the current artistic mainstream.
The dominant language in contemporary art is that of aggression, if not obscenity, and so there is no way classical art could compete with modern art. What is more, the common belief is that you are not supposed to make things the way they were in the past. Everything has to be avant-garde and modern. But if I may ask, why can't we just do what Phidias, Michaelangelo and Rodin did centuries ago? I believe art that deserves attention is not necessarily avant-garde art, it only needs to be good and whether it is good or not is for the beholder to decide. Classical art is timeless, as it is all about harmony and beauty in the full sense of the words.

But modern art drowns classical art out…
It absolutely does. Galleries in Warsaw used to present various attitudes and trends, while all you get these days is a misconception of modernity based on what is fashionable. Art and artistic life are so much richer than that! Take France, where experimentalists and installation artists have a place of their own at the Pompidou Center in Paris while those who deal with different branches of art get to show their works at lots of other places. In Warsaw, the Zachęta Gallery only enlarges on what you can see at the Center for Contemporary Arts (CSW). To me, this restricts arts an awful lot.

Does that mean Poland has the wrong approach to the arts?
Yes. To begin with, Poland lacks what you might call a cultural policy. The media is on a constant quest for ratings, which means it shows whatever sells well and only gives publicity to people who guarantee scandals and put on a good show. The artistic community is not the 10-15 names you see all the time, but hundreds of other artists who do not have the stamina or plain luck to be in the right place at the right time. Those other artists are out of the mainstream.

Schools have inadequate art classes and local culture centers have lost their significance. Quality is born of quantity and connoisseurs develop not only from novice artists, but also people who get encouraged to interact with art. People in Poland get systematically discouraged from culture and this leads to just one conclusion-nobody needs art in Poland.

The construction of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw will change nothing about how Poles perceive art. Warsaw already has the Center for Contemporary Art and the Zachęta Gallery. Instead of a new museum, the funds should go to culture centers and subsidies to galleries in cities and towns where future artists are really made.

Is this why you choose to exhibit your sculptures abroad more frequently than in Poland?
The Polish public has been allowed to develop a distaste for Polish art and culture. When I have an exhibition in Poland, people only come to the opening, after which you hardly hear about the exhibition and visitors are few. On the other hand, when I'm abroad I have no problems with exhibitions and the reception of my works. There are people out there who have great interest in art as such, not just modern art and what the media is giving publicity to. My sculptures might be seldom shown in Poland, but abroad they are well-received.

Don't you feel a little disappointed that your sculptures are not in the collection of, say, the National Museum in Warsaw?
The museum is out of my league and besides, if my sculptures were to gather dust in the museum's basement like works by many of my colleagues-and that is all you get these days-then of course I do not feel disappointed at all. What really matters is to do what you get pleasure in, what you enjoy. I enjoy sculpting as much as I do seeing people touch my statues. When people spend money-big money-on my works for their private collections, I know they like the sculptures and will not put them away. Creating art is a very intimate activity. You either find beauty in it or you don't. I create and want to go on creating art that needs no explanation or hiding in museums and that's the beauty of it.

Ryszard Piotrowski graduated from the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw in 1976. In 1979, he took part in the Bienale Dantesco in Ravenna, Italy, and 1981, he took part in the Autumn Salon art festival at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw.

Over the past few years, Piotrowski has made works of a more private nature, including small forms of marble and bronze as well as silver. Most of the time, Piotrowski displays his works abroad, especially at galleries in France and the Netherlands. In Poland, his works can be found at galleries in Cracow, including the Herzyk and Raven galleries.

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