Asymetria Gallery, Warsaw: Soc-Design-Photo 50.60.

Wojciech Plewiński, Polish Salon of Architecture, 1958

Collective exhibition
Soc-Design-Photo 50.60.
27th february – 3rd april 2012

The exhibition is the first part of Polish Design Photo, a research, exhibition and editorial project initiated by the Asymetria Gallery, the Archaeology of Photography Foundation, and the Raster Gallery. Our intention is to take a closer look at the history of a specific photographic genre – design photography. Through a series of exhibitions and a recapitulating publication, we shall try to rediscover an intriguing, but little known, part of Polish photographers’ oeuvre and, in the process, present the history of 20th-century Polish design from a new perspective. We are interested not only in photography’s role in creating the product’s aura and ‘iconicity’ and the significance of photographic documentation for historiography, but also in the object and product as a photographic subject, the relationship between photography’s artistic and commercial dimensions.

The proportions of the shows are determined here by the history of Polish photography rather than the ‘cult’ practice of design, whose career accelerates as production technologies become more and more advanced. The contemporary American designer Joshua Porter argues that design should have nothing to do with art, because whereas the former simply makes products easier to use, the latter serves to trigger feelings and reflections. This view might be shared by the classic Polish designer Krzysztof Meisner (the author of the Osa moped and the Druh photo camera, amongst others), according to whom the term ‘design’ refers to the free-market civilisation and its needs, serving to invent such products and their decorations so as to elicit a purchase decision from the consumer.

‘In the name of participating in this free-market adventure, the term “design” has replaced the earlier German Formgebung and Formgestaltung, the French esthetique industrielle or the Polish projektowanie form przemysłowych. These terms are closer to the marginalised today meaning of design as designing for man rather than for the market, closer also to the crucial trend of soc-design’, says Meisner. The gap between design as a function of the market and soc-design was to be filled by completely new thinking during the ‘Thaw’-era liberalisation after 1956.

Łukasz Gorczyca’s observation seems highly pertinent in this regard: ‘The second half of the 1950s was a period of a particularly strong cultural revival and post-“Thaw” enthusiasm. Ten years after the war and following the traumatic experience of Stalinist socialist realism, artistic and visual culture entered an era of modernity. Modernity became everyone’s catchword, key to describing a new cultural paradigm, a return to the modernist project and the promise of a new, cosmopolitan opening of Polish art. Modernity was the embrace of a new, universalistic aesthetics, but it obviously also had a political aspect. Its power lay not only in rejecting the socialist realist doctrine imposed by the communist regime, but also in the qualities and contents of a new formal language. Totality was the modern project’s fundamental feature, since everything was now to become modern: art, architecture, science, but also dwellings, furniture, fashion, photography and, above all, man’.

The Asymetria Gallery exhibition presents such a photographic view that, thanks to artistic values, recapitulates the term toward soc-design (as Krzysztof Meisner understands it). Commercial photography was reportedly pursued by all Polish photographers, but only the most outstanding ones managed in their artistic documentations, pursued at the margins of the necessary ‘potboilers’, to recover the humanist dimension of design in its original meaning.

In the first place we are showing the works of the classic Polish photographer Zbigniew Dłubak who in the 1960s created also what Urszula Czartoryska called the most interesting photography-based shop interior design. His design of the Adam men’s fashion store at Świętokrzyska Street (1962) is full of ambiguous humour – an elegant young man, lying on the wall and elongated to infinity, is shown in photography in the store’s other sections in a surreal perspective.

We are also showing, for the first time ever, the design photographs of Tadeusz Sumiński, best known for his landscape work. Sumiński was a long-time freelancer with the Institute of Industrial Design, photographing design, fashion, and architecture. His 1963 documentation of Warsaw’s train stations reflects the author’s artistic credo: ‘I regard documentariness as photography’s highest value, but I still can’t resist the desire to aestheticise’.

Finally, we will see a follow-up to Wojciech Plewiński’s brilliant reportage from the 1958 National Salon of Interior Design in Cracow, where modern furniture – mass-market prototypes shown in a ‘Thaw’-era aesthetics – gain an intimate, erotic feel thanks to the presence of a female model (Krystyna Zachwatowicz).

The featured photographs, published by the Asymetria Gallery in the form of unique collector’s portfolios (edition 9), will be for sale at a promotional price during the exhibition.

The exhibition design by Piotr Duma and Aneta Faner is to reveal in the course of the successive shows the idea of play between ornamentation and sign, creating a visually characteristic cabinet of modern forms.

Rafał Lewandowski

Asymetria Gallery
Jakubowska st. 16
03-902 Warsaw, Poland

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