Proposed Exhibition

Polish Pavilion

La Biennale di Venezia
2024

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Project Idea

For the Polish Pavilion at the 60th International Exhibition in Venice (2024), a Polish artist Dorota Mytych proposes Utracone / Looted, a multi-channel video projection installation. The exhibition takes its title from Poland’s Division of Looted Art—a comprehensive database of stolen Polish artworks from World War II. The project features a grid of two hundred videos showing the hands of four painters—Jessica Houston (Canada), Marcia Teusink (UK), Tracy Grubbs (USA), and Mytych herself—as they repaint looted paintings from the archive. Each video captures the evolution of a painting from a blank canvas to a fully-realized recreation of an artwork , which is then wiped away leaving only a ghost image. Looted explores the pillaging of artwork in both wartime and colonization.

Using moving image and sound, the Polish Pavilion will offer a space for viewers to reflect on the historical and persisting reality of art-pillaging across Poland. Like the missing paintings (which exist today only as black and white archival photographs) these recreated works endure solely in the sepia-toned videos. The installation will highlight the continuous cycle of erasure and recreation, simultaneously acknowledging loss and celebrating the creative process. Looted breathes new life into lost artworks, bringing them again into a symbolic yet ephemeral circulation of cultural heritage commemorating their loss.

Description

— Mytych proposes transforming the Polish Pavilion into a dimly-lit theater with projections on all internal walls (from floor to ceiling), with a multi-channel audio-visual installation featuring a grid of two hundred 3-minute videos. Each video will begin with a blank canvas, and then an artist’s hand will enter the frame to repaint a lost artwork from those documented in Poland’s Division of Looted Art. An initial mark begins the journey of the painting process. Queens, mothers, mountains, boats, kings, and roses are all painted live by the four participating artists and captured on video. The videos will be staggered by 20 seconds, creating a sea of images that simultaneously show varying stages of the painting—from the initial abstract marks to the finished image. Once complete, the artist will erase the painting with a rag, leaving only its trace behind. The transformative cycle will then repeat, with the artists continuously creating and erasing additional works. A soundtrack of brushes working on canvas, palette knives mixing on glass, and other studio noises will accompany the videos, adding to the ambiance in the Pavilion.

Upon entry into the main space of the Pavilion, the visitor will be confronted by a multitude of moving images projected on all four walls. Each video refers to a painting with its own unique story of disappearance. For example, Raphael’s Portrait of A Young Man experienced a tumultuous history. It was hidden in the November uprising in 1830, was later returned to Poland after being taken to Paris, and was seized by the Nazis in WWll. After being returned to Krakow, it was taken by Hans Frank in 1945, only to finally disappear again.

In the face of this void, the Looted project keeps Portrait of A Young Man alive in the collective memory, along with hundreds of companions on the gridded wall of videos. Some paintings within the grid will play both forward and backward, showing the erasure of the work and the cloth bringing the image back into view as a symbolic gesture of reappearance.

As people watch the many different images projected, including Anton van Dyck’s Portrait of a Boy and Joseph Chełmoński’s Shepherd with the Whip in the Meadow, they might contemplate how the works vanished—tales which often hold danger and resilience. They may also consider how the disappearance of art separates people from their past, or how art offers hope in the face of violence and tyranny. They might simply become fascinated by the creation of a painting itself. They may also recognize a missing artwork leading to its eventual rediscovery.

Accompanying the installation, a website and mobile application will house an open database of the repainted artworks. This application will allow visitors to identify the works of art in the Pavilion and learn more about their provenance and disappearance. The open, online nature of these resources furthers the artists’ commitment to accessibility and making the hidden visible, moving the project beyond the confines of the exhibition.

Proposed Pavilion elevation with custom curtains and large-scale printed video stills draped on either side of the entrance. The entrance foyer features custom curtains and exhibition text on either side of the doorway.

Justification

— Looted, a project featuring the contribution of three international female artists, sheds light on the looting of art during World War II in Poland to raise awareness about the country’s turbulent past and the deliberate destruction of its historical heritage. By paying homage to these stolen artworks for the Biennale, the artist seeks to build alliances across nations. Ultimately, Poland’s loss is common to many nations, underscoring the collective sorrow of plundered art worldwide, whether through war or colonization. Looted is a thought experiment in many ways—a proposal to consider life without art and to appreciate its richness, beauty, and grace from its smallest mark to its biggest brushstroke.

Looted also speaks to forced migrations of art, the shadow economy of black market sales, and the complex questions of restitution, where cultural institutions, international cooperation, and increased awareness are needed to protect cultural heritage. The issue of plundered art provides a platform to examine the dynamics of ownership, power, and dominance in an age where colonial legacies are being challenged. Looted brings a volume of lost and plundered art to light in a symbolic act of re-presentation.

Proposed Pavilion elevation with custom curtains and large-scale printed video stills draped on either side of the entrance. The entrance foyer features custom curtains and exhibition text on either side of the doorway.

About The Venice Biennale

The International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, renowned worldwide since its inception in 1895, stands as a prestigious artistic event held biannually. Poland has actively participated since 1932, with the pavilion financed by the Polish government and remaining under its ownership to this day. The exhibition spans six months, featuring projects from around the globe showcased in national pavilions across the Giardini area, the Arsenale, and various locations throughout the city.

Running in tandem with the Art Biennale since 1980, the International Architecture Exhibition highlights significant global realizations, designs, and concepts in the architectural field.

As the steward of the Polish Pavilion, Zachęta — National Gallery of Art orchestrates the exhibitions at the Biennale Arte and Biennale Architettura in Venice through an open competition, continuing to champion and promote Polish art and architecture on the international stage.

Special Thanks

Nicholas Bartlett
Creative Director and Project Management
Jagoda Matyjewicz
3D Rendering and Technical Support
Andrzej Gąsiorowski
Editor and Technical Support
Piotr Nowak
Technical Support
Monika Wieczorek
Technical Support
Maja Budzyńska
Technical Support

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We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission • We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission • We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission • We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission • We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission • We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission • We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission • We are proud to announce Looted as received a development grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission •