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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » December 16, 2009
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Cultural Conditioning Stripped Bare
December 16, 2009   
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The Zachęta National Gallery of Art is organizing Poland's first retrospective of the work of Zbigniew Libera, one of the most important artists in this part of Europe.

Libera is a leading exponent of Poland's "critical art" school. Critical art, as the name implies, takes a (sometimes virulently) critical look at society. Libera's photographs, videos, installations, objects and drawings play on the stereotypes of contemporary culture in a way that is both intellectual and challenging. His starkly confronting 1980s videos, like Intimate Rites (1984) and How to Train Little Girls (1987), anticipated the Body Art movement by 10 years and laid the foundations of the critical art movement.

During the mid-'90s, Libera began creating "corrective appliances," or hideously transformed everyday mass-consumption objects such as The Universal Penis Expander (1995) and The Body Master (1995), a bodybuilding set for young boys. These works strip bare the methods with which society and its politics of the body keeps people in line.

Libera has also designed transmogrified toys and works that expose the mechanisms of child rearing, education and cultural conditioning. The best-known example is undoubtedly his controversial Lego Concentration Camp (1994).

The themes that Libera raises, especially that of the Holocaust, have sparked debates in Poland and abroad. His oeuvre has become the center of heated arguments in the press, in university analyses, and at scholarly conferences.

Libera has never strayed far from the fringe and independent circles despite his career success. He has mostly been involved in photography over the last few years, especially the idiosyncrasies of press photography as a medium of shaping our visual memory and manipulating our view of history. His Positives (2002-2003) and Masters (2004) series are telling examples.

The Zachęta exhibition follows Libera's work over almost three decades. Alongside famous works, there are photographs and films that go back to the 1980s and that have never been displayed in public before, and "corrective appliances" from the 1990s which have never been shown in Poland.

Zbigniew Libera
Selected Works 1982-2008
Until Feb. 7
Zachęta National Gallery of Art, 3 Małachowskiego Sq., Warsaw
For more information, phone 48 22 556 96 55 or go to www.zacheta.art.pl
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