If I were the moon,
I would quit the booze,
my light would be split
among the sober and the lit:
to the drunks I’d be bright,
to the sober — not quite.
Władysław Broniewski, 1955
This is the story of the intimate connections between contemporary art and vodka. Among the myriad functions alcohol has played and continues to play in the lives of artists, what interests us most is that moment of the loss of control—over the body, life, art—which may lead to destruction but also surprisingly bold, earnest and even blasphemous gestures. The works we have gathered from the past half-century document artists’ personal struggles with addiction, forged into material artefacts (Krzysztof M. Bednarski, Oskar Dawicki, Władysław Hasior, Bartek Materka). There are also documentary and symbolic recordings of states of ecstatic loss of balance (Olaf Brzeski, Michał Budny, Edward Dwurnik, Jerzy Lewczyński, Marek Sobczyk), traces and afterimages of encounters in Kraków bars (Marcin Maciejowski, Wilhelm Sasnal), and visual fantasies inspired by the alcoholic universe (Rafał Bujnowski, Mariola Przyjemska, Magisters). Finally, there are works created “under the influence” (Przemek Matecki and Paweł Althamer). From the street side the exhibition is opened by an installation prepared especially for this occasion by Dominika Olszowy, the dreamlike Peepshow. The leitmotiv and historical context for the show is a photo exhibition by Jerzy Lewczyński commissioned in the 1980s by the Katowice Province Health Department in conjunction with the Silesia Chapter of the Association of Polish Artistic Photographers (ZPAF).
The work that binds the exhibition into a whole is an operatic piece composed by Joanna Halszka Sokołowska with a libretto alluding to the titular epigram by Władysław Broniewski, a poet whose post-war career was dramatically linked with alcohol, and who returns to our gallery after an exhibition and disc devoted to him in 2005.
The post-Romantic figure of the artist/drunk is fading into the past, but leaves behind a landscape of hallucination, degradation and disillusionment. The exhibition thus also serves as a sort of farewell to the blurred recollections of inspired inebriation woven into the daily rhythm of artistic life.
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of Bottleneck: The Avant-Garde and Alcohol (Szyja. Awangarda i alkohol), a collection of interviews (in Polish) by Łukasz Gorczyca and Łukasz Ronduda with 14 artists from several generations sharing the alcoholic backstage of artistic life from the 1960s to the present.