Collecting strategy

As much as it does not pretend to be a scientific study, due to the specificity of the subject, the following text nevertheless imposes a kind of analytical approach, associated with an academic perspective. Rarely does any art critic, even if dealing with art criticism on a daily basis, look at the works collected by a given institution in a broader perspective. What I have in mind is the phenomenon of a collection, i.e. a larger set consisting of a number of objects that constitute separate artistic items. It is often simply impossible to gain such a perspective because of the enormous, almost overwhelming number of works that make up a given collection, especially in the case of the best-known institutions. Nevertheless, it is possible to trace general patterns that arrange the collections according to a specific narrative, sometimes quite clearly communicated to the viewer in the form of educational materials and activities. Often, however, discovering these structures, even with great curiosity, becomes a challenge, all the more so if an attempt is made to take into account also works that remain in storage.

Collecting is always accompanied by a more or less rational intention[1], and as far as public institutions are concerned, it is safe to speak of a specific strategy[2]. Its disclosure expands the field of meanings beyond the arrangement of works within the exhibition space, directing towards the attitudes that a given institution adopts when making its collections available to visitors. In this way, a collective awareness of the visual arts is formed, as well as ideas about past and present historical and social phenomena. The nature of Polish collections from the nineteenth to the second half of the twentieth century, both in terms of private and museum collections, is a relatively well-recognised subject[3]. For the purposes of updating our perspective, we should take a look at the formation of contemporary art collections in Poland over the last dozen years or so, confronting them with the strategy of selecting works on the example of a particular institution[4], all the more so as this activity is subject to state patronage under the programme called National Collections of Contemporary Art. Its objective has been clearly formulated by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and it is: “creation and development of representative, international collections of contemporary art of the national collection rank to strengthen the exhibition system and the area of visual arts in Poland.”[5]

CoCA Toruń “Signs of Time”. Origins and framework of the collection

The subject of this study is the collection of the Centre of Contemporary Art “Signs of Time” in Toruń – an institution established by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage in 2006. Its ideological origins date back to a seminar organized two years earlier with the title: “To each time its own art”. At that time, the Minister of Culture announced an initiative of a National Culture Programme with a evocative title “Signs of Time”, which was to cover a total of sixteen province capitals. The programme was part of the National Strategy for Culture Development, and the Minister himself initiated the CoCA collection with a gesture of handing over two paintings, one by Edward Dwurnik and the other by Marcin Maciejowski. As indicated in the document defining the development strategy, at the national level the programme is coordinated by the National Centre for Culture, and on the regional scope it is implemented by civic bodies in cooperation with local government institutions[6]. It is worth noting at this point that the criterion of the regional character of the Centre’s activities is already apparent at the structural level, related to the foundations of the institution’s management.

The task of expanding the collection, keeping a record of what is already held and promoting contemporary art is handled by the “Signs of Time” Society of Friends of Fine Arts established for this very purpose. It was led by Marek Żydowicz, a graduate of conservatory and museum studies at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, and the creator of the world-renowned international film festival Camerimage, from 1993 to 1999 held only in Toruń, later expanding to other cities. The programme council was formed by Krzysztof Mikulski and Sławomir Kalembka, professors of history at the Nicolaus Copernicus University, Aleksander Wolszczan, a world-renowned astrophysicist, and two painters, professors of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Nicolaus Copernicus University – Lech Wolski and Jerzy Brzuszkiewicz[7]. However, as indicated above, the programme framework of the “Signs of Time” is to place the collection between local and nationwide character. This is due to various forms of fundraising, from ministerial sources, local government sources and sometimes private sponsors. The linking of the two spheres is declared in programme implementation slogans such as: “restoring and revitalizing the relationship contemporary artist – his work – citizen”, or: “a long-term effort to prepare audiences for culture, especially contemporary art”. Moreover, according to the programme authors’ declaration, the collections are to: “activate the critical judgement necessary to interpret further areas of contemporary art” [8].

In attempting to define the nature of the CoCA Toruń collection, one should discuss the collections by categorising them as divided into individual media sectors[9]. A defined approach will make it possible to move from the micro to the macro scale, thus forming the basis for comparing the number and provenance of works developed in different artistic currents. In view of the large number of painting works, the basic organizational criterion it adopts is the environment from which a given artist comes from. Contrary to appearances, the official classification of a purchase sometimes indicates only the source of financing, and not necessarily the artistic provenance.

Collection of paintings

Works from all media simultaneously enriched the collection, though formally it began with two paintings donated to CoCA by the Minister of Culture and Art, namely Nicolaus Copernicus (2004) by Edward Dwurnik, whose great retrospective exhibition was recently held, and the contextually appropriate Explain What Copernicus Did by Marcin Maciejowski. The collection of works of artists connected with Toruń, or more generally with the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Region, comes mainly from the period between 2007 and 2008. The CoCA collection includes two abstract compositions from the 1960s by Stanisław Borysowski, undoubtedly a significant figure in local artistic life. After taking up the post of professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Nicolaus Copernicus University, he educated many artists in his studio, whose works contribute to contemporary collections. His students include colourist Mieczysław Ziomek (Bird Paradise, 1993) Waldemar Woźniak (Bulrush I, 1996), or Witold Chmielewski. The latter also became a lecturer at his alma mater, and the Toruń collection was enriched by his monumental Panorama of Lucim. Four Seasons (1978). Several panels, taking a form similar to a polyptych, reflect the artist’s close relationship with the community he comes from, capturing the specific elements of the time and place. The polyptych is a work aspiring to the universal approach to the relationship between man and nature, and at the same time it essentializes the concept of setting the collection between its regional and national character. The work called Struggle (1991) by Bogdan Kraśniewski, another of Borysowski’s disciples, reveals a departure from realistic mannerism towards symbolism characterized by expression. The works Mixed Codes (1995) by Lech Wolski, Annunciation by Marek Szary and Dance of Death II (2006) by Krzysztof Cander expand the collection with paintings by other recognized representatives of the faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts in Toruń. Furthermore, the figurative composition by Piotr Klugowski, who held the position of a rector at the faculty for several years, has also been a significant part of this collection. The motif of works by local artist educators is expanded by works belonging to artists professionally linked with CoCA. Watching the Sky (2007) is the work of Filip Pręgowski, a nationally recognized painter and at the same time a distinguished art theorist who, among other things, wrote a book on the work of Francis Bacon. Apart from his role as a lecturer at the Nicolaus Copernicus University, he is also one of the experts preparing descriptions of works from the CoCA collection. The author of the embroidered composition on canvas from the Imponderabilia series, purchased in 2013, is Katarzyna Tretyn-Zečević, a graduate of the Faculty of Arts at the Nicolaus Copernicus University and the chief stocktaker of the CoCA collection. Centre for Contemporary Art have been linked with local artistic circles by Jerzy Brzuskiewicz (Constellations, 1991; Cut-out - I-IV), a member of the Artists Confraternity Board in Toruń and the President of the “Signs of Time” Society of Friends of Fine Arts. Resistance by Joanna Górska and Resistance I by Rafał Góralski from 2007, both created as a part of a series within the Rusz Gallery they run, are even more relevant in terms of drawing attention to the local artistic activity. Operating since 1999, the initiative is based on displaying a new billboard by one of Toruń’s roads every month. Apart from stationary exposition, the artistic duo came up with an initiative of mobile exhibitions, touring with their billboards the streets of Toruń, Bydgoszcz and other nearby towns in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship. The theme of regionalism is complemented with the images of the graduates of the University of Bydgoszcz who were born and still work in the city. Among them, we should mention colourist Zezon Korytowski, trained under Hanna Rudzka-Cybis, still life artist Aleksandra Simińska, abstract artist Ignacy Bulle, or Anna Drejak, known for her female nudes. Dorota Podlaska, born and active for a long time in Bydgoszcz, stands out in particular against this background. CoCA Toruń is in possession of her extensive Merry Christmas series, composed of forty portraits (2005).

The review of works by authors with an established reputation in Poland may begin with two landscapes by Jerzy Mierzejewski (1986, 1990) and a painting by Leon Tarasiewicz (2006), a striped composition characteristic of his work, oscillating between pure abstraction and an allusion to the agrarian divisions of the land from a bird’s eye view. Two paintings by Włodzimierz Zakrzewski are in line with the above-mentioned trend. On the one hand, they build abstract forms, on the other, they refer to patterns that lead to concrete associations. His compositions evoke visions of an urban layout plan (Near the Boat, 2005), or tactical battle plans (Three Battles: Cheronea 338 BC, Grunwald 1410, Austerlitz 1805, 2005). Correspondingly, the composition by Jarosław Modzelewski, who sets the representation on the verge between a recognizable symbol and an abstract shape in his Star of David (1980). This abstract group of works is complemented by the organic forms of Władysław Jackiewicz (comp. IV and VI, 1970) and a subtle balancing between abstractionsm and figuratism in composition with masks (1967) by Kazimierz Ostrowski. Zbysław Maciejewski’s paintings (Red Wall, Unexpected Presence 1983) are more realistic, while the style of Andrzej Łubowski’s works (Excavation II, Track III, 1978)[10] reflects the full range of his hyperrealist technique.

In a way, a synthesis of the above mentioned search is a series of ‘simultaneous paintings’ by Jan Dąbkowski (from the years 1991–2000), which marks a clear division within each composition, juxtaposing the outlines of human silhouettes and objects with the formal play of contour and colour, constituting allusions to recognizable shapes. The colourful collages meld into a decorative pattern, establishing a complex relationship on the intra- and inter-pictorial planes across the whole series. The micro-narrative based on an intertextual dialogue is continued a few years later in the work of Marek Sobczyk (K. Kobro irons/ironing, 2012), known for his use of various image quotations. Similar is the case with Threesome 2 by Beata Białecka who has transposed into her painting the conventions familiar from old portraiture. Złoty wiek sztuki polskiej 2000-2016 (2016) by the Krasnals closes this thread of inter-artistic dialogue by presenting an object by the controversial Maurizio Cattelan, constituting for the artistic collective a pretext to criticize the Polish artistic circles. Further, in three pictures from his Strangers Want to Be Good series, Krzysztof Skarbek has referred to the sphere of film through allusions to the well-known pop culture characters. Recent purchases of works by nationally renowned authors are distinguished by the use of strongly haptic effects in their works through the use of a variety of materials. Starting with the two-panel Pulp Fiction (2015) by Krzysztof Gliszczyński, combining paint and wax, through Andrzej Bachanowicz’s tapestries imitating painted abstract compositions, to the assemblage Inversions (2017) by Antoni Sobczyński.

Foreign artists constitute a separate category. In this case, it consists of only two painters who stayed at the institution on residency terms in 2018 – Slovenian artist Rastislav Sedlačík, who donated his Tabul'a a cesta (2015) and the painter of Serbian origin Radovanovic Vojislav, thanks to whom Weed from the Vistula was acquired (2016).

Collection of photographs

Apart from paintings, CoCA Toruń has gathered a very large number of photographic works (390 pieces), which is not surprising considering their potential for reproduction and thus somewhat easier accessibility, also in financial terms. Moreover, it is a particularly important artistic branch for the region and in this context we should start with an analogue photograph showing the Town Hall in Toruń, taken by Jerzy Riegel, born in Bydgoszcz. It is worth noting that we are dealing with a photograph taken in the 1960s, but redeveloped in 2007, which indicates the intention to revive the tradition of local photography. The Zero-61 avant-garde group, closely linked with Toruń, played a considerable role in developing this creative identity. CoCA devoted a retrospective exhibition to them on the 60th anniversary of their existence. The photographs of Jerzy Wardak, co-founder of the group, are characterized by a consistent use of the technique of photomontage and frequent use of local landscape motifs (e.g. Reflections, 1968; Polish Flowers, 1978). The work Andrzej Różycki, a later member of the group and its most important representative, has integrated aesthetics close to the pictorialism with transformations being an effect of a physical manipulation of print (Interrogation, 1968; Scales, 1969). Equally technically distinguished and at the same time more classically composed are the photographs by Michał Kochot (The Fiddler, 1967; Mirror Reflection, 1967). Colander II (1968), counted among the so-called photo-objects, authored by the most famous representative of the group, Józef Robakowski, stands out against this background. The above mentioned artist, primarily known for his videos, started his creative path in the city of Toruń. An exceptional testimony summarizing the activity of all the members is a collection of 56 photographs documenting the opening of their exhibition in 1969, taken by Różycki.

Looking at the photographs made by Toruń’s younger generation of photographers, such as Izabella Retkowska (Absence Witnesses II, 2002) and Marek Nonewicz (Four Rotations with the Sun, 2007), one can notice a continuation of the Zero-61 group’s avant-garde heritage. The collection of regional photographs is also largely built up by a series of photographers from Bydgoszcz. The 1914 Gallery (1978) by Andrzej Maziec brings to life a fragment of the past through three showcases containing photographs and documents of people born in 1914 in Lucim, to which Witold Chmielewski devoted the painting panorama described earlier in the article. The theme of local identity is maintained in the She series by Violetta Kuś (2011), portraying herself dressed in folk costumes against the background of a wooden cabin while performing various everyday activities. The artist, assuming the role of rural women from the past, carries out an almost ethnographic project. The location of the performances in one room is common to the next two series: the kitchen in Seating (2004) and the living room in the photographs making up A Large Room (2018) by Wojciech Woźniak, which focuses on apartments within one of Bydgoszcz housing estates. Part of the collection going beyond the local theme also includes works in series such as Millenium School by Krzysztof Zieliński and A-Z (Educational Cabinets) by Andrzej Tobis from 2007, incorporating similar themes involving the issue of individual and collective memory.

A more critical reflection on the motif of location as a carrier of memory is presented in seven photographs by Krzysztof Wodiczko, documenting actions performed in 1983–1988 in various cities around the world. The artist projected images at night onto the façades of representative public buildings in large cities, treating this gesture as a symbolic attack on the hegemony of state power represented by various monuments[11].

A different motif opens the Natalia ist sex photographic installation, composed of thirteen panels (1974), emblematic of the Polish critical art figure Natalia LL. Each of them presents the letter of the title inscription composed of a sequence of nude shots of the artist and her then partner Andrzej Lachowicz, which oscillate with their boldness between eroticism and pornography. The aspect of sexual identity has been even more strongly touched upon in Barbara Konopka’s photographs MalaVida 5 and MalaVida 6 (2007), co-creating an extensive narrative of a longer cycle[12]. The story spun around the meeting of two fictitious characters; moRgan, the artist’s alter ego with VeriKa, a woman who gradually transforms into a man[13], deals with the phenomenon of transgenderism. Cell by Jacek Malinowski (2012) is a series of photographs comprising larger projects, with an austere interior with non-plastered walls, equipped only with a bed and a washbasin. These inconspicuous representations gain significance in the light of the declared intention to reconstruct the prison cell of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichman[14]. Malinowski’s photographs, depicting the place in master shot and close-ups, have a documentary character, deluding viewers into believing in the authenticity of the pictorial message.

The works centred on a single human figure remain situated in a historical context, as evidenced by two non-obvious self-portraits. The monumental, rich in details representation of Zofia Kulik, styling her image after the royal images of Elizabeth I in The Magnificence of Self V (mother, wife, daughter) (2007) and a composition in which Wojciech Zamiara sets himself in the role of the titular Stańczyk (1996). These collage-like compositions are different from the portraits of important figures of Polish culture in the lens of Krzysztof Gierałtowski, from which emerges an attempt at psychologization, particularly visible in the shot by Jerzy Bereś (1987), taken with a large close-up of his face. As for foreign photographers, like in the case of painters, they come from Central and Eastern European countries. Of note in this category are Germán Murat’s highly aesthetic panoramic shots of Istanbul from a very long distance, included in the 2015 collection. More significant, however, are the critical photomontages by Heinz Cibulka, with ironic commentary on Polish reality – including as many as 93 photographs by this author, documenting one of the famous cyclical happenings by Herman Nitzch (1984), who for decades has been implementing the concepts of the Orgies Mysteries Theatre[15]. Observing the course of events for three days, Cibulka has rendered in detail the happening with its ecstatic atmosphere, while preserving the ritual division of activities, which was meant to refer to the rites of ancient mystery cults.

Video art collection

Photography, which operates the frame, must consequently point at the video art medium. The more so, since photographs and video registration have been an interdependent documentation of a given performance. In total, the collection includes over forty works by fifteen Polish artists, a relatively small number compared to works in other media. In the case of the video art collection, the previously applied division based on the artistic education path and activity area is not applicable due to the relatively small number of local artists working with this medium. YYAA (1976) is the earliest and also one of the first videos included in the collection, made by Wojciech Bruszewski, one of the pioneers of this form of artistic message in Poland. The video consists of four recordings that combine manipulations of sound and image, highlighting their relationship to each other. Similar effect is observed in Art is Power (1985) by the aforementioned Józef Robakowski, in which the author replaces the original sound from the TV broadcast of the parade on Moscow’s Red Square with a piece by the progressive music group Laibach. A comparison of these early works with Insect Speech (2006) by Angelika Markul and The Calendar (2008) by Agnieszka Polska, allow us to notice a technologically determined evolution of means of expression, and simultaneously an impact of the then precursory audio-visual experiments. The effects are still achieved using the editing process, and the difference is based on the smoothness of the image and the additional possibility of simultaneous juxtaposition of different shots.

The second category of video art is marked by performance recordings, which necessarily place greater emphasis on the neutrality of the action and focus on the expression of the act of performance rather than the impact of the image medium itself. Works corresponding to such a classification were included in the collection mainly in the years 2013–2014, and the noteworthy ones include Farewell to Europe (1987) by Jerzy Truszkowski, contesting the then reality through gestures of removing signs associated with various ideologies and worldviews. The rebellious attitude of the artist, who with Zbigniew co-founded the NAO group, heralded a phenomenon referred to as ‘critical art’. A Quarter of an Hour (2004) by Katarzyna Kozyra, purchased a year later[16], which refers to the roles and identities we impose on ourselves and aspire to fulfil through disciplined actions, has been a model example of this trend. The tendency to think about individual identity against the background of social conditions is continued in Ewa Partum’s Piroutte (1984), as well as in the films of Barbara Konopka. Mentioned above, in reference to the photograph MalaVida (2007), here it functions as a fluid juxtaposition of frames, addressing the issue of body autonomy in the context of social rules together with the earlier Interferences (1985), a body art performance. A recording of the action by Supergrupa Azorro, that took place in 2010 at the premises of CoCA, was a video performance, bearing a social commentary quality, this time directed at cultural institutions. The members of the group take measurements and ostentatiously repeat their opinions about the gallery space, placing themselves in the roles of art critics.

Other works added to the collection between 2014 and 2018, fall within the realm of new media art, focused again more on the pictorial medium and the generation of meanings associated with contemporary visual culture. Starting with The Tower of Babel (2006) by Dorota Chilińska, applying a system based on computer algorithms, through video installations by Zuzanna Janin, presented in the form of a diptych[17], to the Art of Easy Choice, Art of Difficult Choice by Izabella Gustowska (2006), already considered a new media classic. Apart from the above, Search Engines by Kamil Piotr Krzymowski touch upon the current topic of how popular websites work. The attempt to problematize our perception through digital video is perfectly complemented in the project The same horizon repeated at every moment of the walk (2014). By dividing the background internally into several parts, Jacek and Ewa Doroszenko attempt to reflect the synesthesia of impressions that often accompanies the exploration of new places. This effect is accentuated by adjusting the fluency of the image to the tempo of the sound of increasing intensity, reversing the order in which visual perception dominates over auditory.

Video art of foreign artists has been more numerous, though also slightly more varied than the previously mentioned ones. Two videos by Israeli artist Balabana Sharon from 2007 deal with the problem of the synthesis of human and machine by juxtaposing a naked body with tires (Car) and a motorcycle helmet with hair that covers the face, blown away by a gust of wind (Triumph), in effect dehumanizing the human figure. Notwithstanding the above, most of the works belong to artists from Central and Eastern Europe. These comprise of representatives of a group of Romanian artists associated with the Department of Photography and Dynamic Imaging in Bucharest, whose works became part of the collection after the 2017 exhibition “Komu Bije Dada” organized at CoCA. They include Bogdan Condurache, Alexandru Ariciu, Alexandru Mihăileanu and Andra Tudor, among others.

Collection of objects and sculptures

Spatial media, i.e. objects-installations and sculptures, form a separate part of the collection. This first, much larger group is marked by some eighty works, many of which were collected in the first two years after the programme was initiated. Unlike the video art collection, regional artists play a significant role here. One of the first examples of objects in the collection is a readymade entitled plastic soldiers (1984) by Paweł Łubowski, who served as director of CoCA for several years. The following forms oscillate between the use of traditional craftsmanship and an attempt to find innovative solutions. Andrzej Kałucki, who runs a studio at his native academy, proposes, in his Wizards from the Glass Mountain (2006), a modern stained glass composition which goes beyond a regular shape, while Anna Kola experiments with a sheet of glass by creating abstract representations out of melted fragments. Exploitation of texture effects is also expressed in sheet metal objects by Tomasz Pietrzyk and Anna Wysocka, lecturers trained in Lech Wolski’s studio. A departure from the classic understanding of technique and the aesthetics of materiality is offered by Andrzej Wasilewski in his neon installation JaMoje (2006) and a work that makes use of Marian Stępak’s socks stretched on a wooden surface (Socks II, 2004). Concurrently, Stępak is also an important figure for the promotion of local contemporary art, having run the Vistula River Gallery for many years, which aims to present the works of the university’s students and lecturers. A particular testimony of regional artistic activity is the readymade that takes the form of a white-painted metal trash can associated with the establishment of the Niezależna Galeria Nieistniejąca „NIE” in 1970 by artists from Bydgoszcz – Leon Romanow and Ryszard Witecki.

Elżbieta Jabłońska, the author of the kitchen installation (2003) and Oskar Dawicki, the author of After Christmas Forever (2009) readymade, come from the Toruń Academy of Fine Arts community, while being widely known artists. In 2012–2015, there was a visible tendency to focus the collection around the most iconic figures in Polish contemporary art and works devoted to themes important for the discourse concerning national identity. The controversial Las Vegas 1 (1998) by Robert Rumas encourages a discussion on practising Catholicism in Poland, while the works by Jerzy Kosałka, with their unambiguous titles (The Collection of the Polish Forest Warden, 2008; The Polish Gallows, 2010), stress our national vices. On the other hand, Krystyna Piotrowska’s Braid, arranged in a spiral shape, and Agata Zbylut’s dress from 2014, stylized to look like a priest’s chasuble, bring the viewer into the context of criticism formed more on feminist grounds, referring to the issue of constructing female identity.

Mirosław Bałka’s installation takes a slightly different direction, towards a discussion with the national past, by exhibiting three plastic trays from the communist period (130x32x17, 46x32x2, 2009) found by the artist in one of the rooms of the former headquarters of the Ministry of Culture and Art[18]. Two sculpture installations by Jerzy Bereś, similar in form but made under different political systems (The Altar of Changes, 1978 and The Wind of History, 1995) constitute an open discussion with the recent past and the then present. Continuation of the polemical approach is visible in the last group of objects that needs to be singled out and which have a specific status, since they were created for the purpose of performance. They also belong to a different category than a photographic documentation or a video recording of these actions, functioning rather in suspension between functionality and autonomy.

A Plexiglas board dedicated to the institution is the result of the above mentioned action carried out by Supergrupa Azorro. Similar story refers to the colourful coats made by Max Skorwider, with plush toys sewn into them, in which the performer strolled on the CoCA roof together with Maciej Kurak (Toy Story, 2011). A peculiar instance in this category are objects that are not preserved, but reconstructed for exhibitions. The Pyramid by Natalia LL is the best exemplification of this process, which has been multiplied at that. Intended as a model based on the premise of the pyramid of Cheops, the object was created in 1979 for a performance in Wrocław, and the work was recreated in 2017, in connection with the artist’s retrospective exhibition at CoCA[19]. A similar reconstructive procedure has been applied when rebuilding Jarosław Kozłowski’s Rozmównica (1970/2015), in connection with an exhibition devoted to the early stages of his work. The solution is as surprising as it is understandable, considering the fact that we are dealing with a conceptual artist, so a concrete object in its pure presence does not have primacy here, but is merely a reminiscence of an idea.

The representation of foreign authors of installations in the collection is more diverse compared to other media, although these are still artists with certain connection to this part of Europe. While in residency, London-born Suzanne Treister made a project in 2010 titled Różówka, in which she explores her own family history, setting it in a wider context. The composition of the twelve bottles of vodka distilled in the local factory was based on a recipe made by the artist’s grandfather, who ran a distillery in Dębno in the former Galicia. The artistic education of Ewa Axelrd, a graduate of the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts, and then of the Royal College of Art in London, who has been creatively active in Polish and foreign circles for years, has been an interesting analogy in this context. Her Warm Leatherette is a half-folded car seat whose positioning and upholstery, which approximates a human complexion, resembles a human silhouette. The most up-to-date objects in the collection are the installations showcased at the time in monographic exhibitions organized at the CoCA. You do not take a photograph. You make it (2013) by world-renowned social activist Alfredo Jaar, is a blackboard and a cubic-shaped bundle of sheets of paper with the said inscription, which are part of the conceptual formula typical of this Chilean artist. A group of objects from Scanning (2010) by Joachim Fleischer, lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, is characterized by a similar simplicity but with an emphasis on visual effects. Simple forms made of Plexiglas are dynamized under the influence of installed lighting and movement resulting from the suspension of objects on wires. As indicated earlier, sculpture is the least represented medium. In the recent dozen years or so, only seven figures have been purchased for the CoCA collection under the National Programme, starting with She by Joanna Bebarska (1995) added to the collection in 2007. The artist is still active in Toruń and lectures at the local Nicolas Copernicus University. Next in line is the 1995 stone-made Touch by Iwona Langowska, still active in Toruń, and two works donated to the institution in 2014 by Adolf Ryszka, who once ran the Sculpture Department here (Head of Pablo Casals III and Space Hedgehog from 1966). Finally, in 2019, the collections were enriched by two figures by Sylwester Ambroziak, made in his characteristic, easily recognizable style.

Summary. Objective implementation status of the collection

On the basis of the attempt to categorise collections outlined above, a general conclusion emerges regarding the pursuit by institutions of what I would call a balancing strategy. The number of works is distributed in similar proportions between artists more closely associated with the local environment and those working in other centres. As far as the works in the first category are concerned, one can notice a predominance of academic circles, graduates and lecturers of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Nicolas Copernicus University. Concurrently, the works of artists from the regional creative milieu are present here in a broader context, beyond the university and Toruń itself. Undoubtedly, however, an almost generational change can be observed, as works were purchased by masters and their students, who had previously obtained their diplomas in the studios run by the former. Purchases have been made concerning works deemed important in the scale of the whole Polish contemporary art or, at least, works by recognized modern classics. Moreover, each medium category includes artists from outside Poland, and they usually come from neighbouring countries or areas of Europe closest to our country. In this sense, the institution fulfils the initial postulates, creating a collection with local, national and eventually international reach.

The next issue is maintaining stylistic diversity by marking the more important periods in the art of the last decades of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. One can clearly notice the disproportion between more and less represented media, which, however, does not influence the coherence of the whole collection. Closer analysis reveals the purchase of works that, when juxtaposed, create different types of micro-narratives, being evidence of consistency and the realization of a specific vision. Its main element is a retrospective presentation of the divisions of artistic search within contemporary art. Noteworthy in this regard is the lack of primacy of a particular artist or artists unified in one particular mode of representation. Whole cycles of works by one author do appear, but they are also appropriately juxtaposed and build an intertextual dialogue.

Based on over a dozen years of building up the Toruń collection, it can be said that the institution is trying to combine two tendencies. On the one hand, it consistently gathers works by contemporary Polish artists of the last decades, offering a broad cross-section of the art of the last few decades. Equally strong in this cross-sectional proposal are well-known, well-established artists, as well as artists who are almost equally eminent, but closer to be regarded as local, i.e. of particular importance for the artistic identity of the region. The implementation of both tasks is equally important as it builds the iconosphere of contemporary Polish art[20] on several levels, which is done with a deliberation comparable to earlier strategies of creating museum collections Given that many of these works have not yet had the opportunity to be sufficiently processed within the framework of art-historical institutions, this is an important and necessary task for the creation of new patterns. The second tendency is connected with the intention to reflect the most current artistic trends, which would also reflect the moods and socio-political aspirations of recent years. It should be noted, however, that CoCA Toruń presents this art in a broader context and the the number of the works concerned is not dominant over the rest. It is difficult to observe any overt ideologization of the collections, relatively common in institutional practices. Instead, a visible trait is rather the intention to present various phenomena within the scope of our contemporary art in a kaleidoscopic manner.

In it, I notice an idea connected with forming a kind of a canon, with the enormity of incoming trends, trying to include everything as essential as possible. This would mean familiarizing the audience with a clear, defined vision, but at the same time not saturated with a particular ideological direction. Summing up, the case studied in the above paper should be considered as a positive example of conscious, comprehensive creation of a contemporary art collection. All art institutions should aim to strike a golden mean between the basic task of protecting and developing a collection and a creative approach to its exhibition and thus its broad promotion.


[1] For more information about the development of one’s own attitude in the creation of a private collection and the potential criteria involved: see Jerzy Stelmach, Uporczywe upodobanie: zapiski kolekcjonera, Wydawnictwo Bosz, Warsaw 2013.

[2] The so-called cabinets of curiosities, formed during the Baroque period, were the starting point for shaping what we understand today as museum collections. They were at first strictly closed collections, but with time their popularity spread and special guides recommended members of the aristocracy to visit them, and the 17th century Republic of Poland was no exception to this. The items gathered within them were selected both in relation to individual aesthetic tastes, but also to a large extent for educational purposes, as a mirror of knowledge about the ancient and contemporary world. Consequently, even with limited access to the collection, the key of selecting and presenting what one collects and holds was important, evolving over time into a system that creates fully open, public collections. Joanna Orzeł, Z gabinetu osobliwości do gabinetu naturalnego, od kultury ciekawości do fascynacji nauką, czyli Józefa Jerzego Hylzena wkraczanie w świat uczonych, Kwartalnik Historii Nauki i Techniki, Vol. 64, issue 1/2019, pp. 80–81.

[3] An extensive and varied research study that bears clear testimony to this state of affairs is. Kolekcjonerstwo polskie XX i XXI wieku. Szkice, Tomasz F. de Rosset, Agnieszka Kluczewska Wójcik, Aldona Tołysz (eds.), Narodowy Instytut Muzealnictwa i Ochron Zbiorów, Warsaw 2015.

[4] Such an attempt has already been successfully made on the example of the sculpture and painting collections of the National Museums in Kraków, Wrocław and Łódź. However, considering the wider range of artistic media discussed here and the focus on one institution that is not a museum in the strict sense of the term, I consider this subject not exhausted and worth developing. Cf. Marcin Szeląg, Kolekcje muzealne współczesnego malarstwa i rzeźby polskiej. Analiza porównawcza zbiorów Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi, Muzeum Narodowego we Wrocławiu i Muzeum Narodowego w Krakowie, Artium Quaestiones, issue XII 2001. Also noteworthy is the publication devoted to the implementation of the Signs of Time programme, but on the example of CoCA Szczecin and from the perspective of the economic development of cultural institutions as an economic sector. Cf. Agnieszka Zbylut, Sztuka współczesna – sposób na kreatywność, Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego, Ekonomiczne Problemy Usług, issue 107/2013.

[5] National Culture Programme “Signs of Time” for 2004–2013, in: Strategy for Culture Development in the Regions, Warsaw 2014, p. 19.

[6] Ibid., p. 20.

[7] Centre for Contemporary Art in Toruń, O kolekcji, article available at: www.csw.torun.pl (accessed on: 12 August 2021).

[8] National Culture Programme “Signs of Time”..., op. cit., pp. 3–4.

[9] At this point, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Katarzyna Tretyn-Zečević, the chief stocktaking officer of the collection of CoCA Toruń, who provided a digital version of the list of collected works. This made the work on the text immensely easier, putting in order all the observations resulting from the inspection of the works made available as part of the permanent exhibition.

[10] Despite the fact that the indicated artists go beyond the regional area, their works were purchased with funds from a grant by the Marshal of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship.

[11] Wodiczko himself treated his creative activities in this period as a public mission, a form of democratic expression. More on the interpretation of the artist’s intentions: Bożena Czubak, Sztuka Domeny Publicznej, in: Krzysztof Wodiczko. Sztuka Domeny Publicznej. Katalog Wystawy, Akapit, Lublin 2011, pp. 7–14.

[12] The series, which has been realised since 2004, consists of numerous photographs as well as videos and animation projections.

[13]M. Sinior, Projekt "malavida: moRgan & veriKami" w CSW, article published on www.fotopolis.pl 16 July 2007, (accessed on: 20 August 2021).

[14] The artist allegedly arranged them based on photographs of the cell published in the American magazine Life in 1961. The article about the Cell is available at www.csw.torun.pl (accessed on: 23 August 2021).

[15] Between 1965 and 1975, Cibulka participated in the activities of the Vienna Actionists, beginning his journey as a photographer as alte as in 1972, documenting selected happenings of the group. Marta Smolińska-Byczuk, Pasywność-aktywność: dialektyka przeciwieństw w twórczości fotograficznej Heinza Cibulki, Sztuka i filozofia, issue 24 2004, pp. 179–180.

[17] It consists of two films presented together during exhibitions: Home as an optical device and Dance as a mapping device.

[18] Article concerning 130x32x17, 46x32x2 is available at www.csw.torun.pl (accessed on: 28 August 2021).

[19] Additionally, Karol Radziszewski re-performed her action at the CoCA by constructing a glass capsule in which he had his sleep session (Dreaming, 2014).

[20] I refer here to a notion that is more than half a century old, developed by a classic of Polish art history; the notion still seems valid in the contemporary discourse on visual culture, especially in Poland. It covers a range of phenomena related to the sphere of visuality and what builds our imagination, and seems to be a good attempt to build a framework for Polish art of the last few decades. Porębski Mieczysław, PIW, Warsaw 1972, pp. 5; 151