Friend of a Friend puts Warsaw on the emerging art map

Stefano Pirovano

Friend of a Friend kick started last weekend in Warsaw and it’s likely that a milestone was placed on the path of the emerging art collectors and galleries. Let’s try to understand why.

One could argue that sharing the gallery space is nothing new. Condo re-started this model three years ago in London, and it was certainly a marketing success for the dealers who took part to the initiative. But London is a city that contemporary art people from all over the world are already confident with. On the contrary the majority of Friend of a Friend’s first edition guests, including collectors Rolf and Venke Hoff, were visiting Poland’s capital and largest city for the very for time in their life, and didn’t know much about its contemporary art scene. Or, to put it in other way, they knew ‘only’ what international galleries and art museums have told them about some talented Polish artists like Paulina Olowska or Monika Sosnowska. Of course it’s not enough, Poland is a wider concept. Now thanks to the Friend of a Friend project, not only they have probably learned about other interesting Polish names such as those of Mateusz Chorobski, Piotr Makowski, Piotr Lakomy, Gizela Mickiewicz, Tomasz Kowalski or Krystian Truthczaplicki, just to mention a few. It has also provided them with a firsthand experience of the geographical, social, cultural and economic environment these artists and galleries are part of.

Moreover, from the perspective of the local art community who is hosting the foreign ‘friend’ galleries, FOAF is a formidable cultural booster and opportunity, particularly for all those local artists, curators, and collectors who are still at the early-stage of their career or don’t have the opportunity to travel. That’s also why the support given to FOAF by a respected local public cultural institution like the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and its efficient staff is to be regarded as a key element of the project, a key that also marks a significant difference between FOAF and Condo – this latter is entirely supported by the galleries.

The list of the cities represented this year at FOAF includes Paris, Prague, Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Zurich, Vienna, Mexico City, New York, The Hague, London and Frankfurt; hence there’s a wide range of positions represented in Warsaw at the moment. Still, the dialogue between artworks and the context spontaneously flows. The stack of used work gloves presented by Los Angeles-based artist Brian Dario at Reserve Ames gallery, hosted by Stereo, may address the previous life of the building where the gallery is located, while peeping into its future. ‘During the 1950s it used to be the main printing house of the area’ told us Michał Lasota, founder with Zuzanna Hadryś of Stereo Gallery. And you would also like to know that Warsaw has a huge tradition in the production of posters – every two years the city hosts the International Poster Biennale. The Wola district, where the former Dom Słowa Polskiego’s decadent but charming building is located, will become a real estate paradise. Sooner than later white shirts will replace work gloves.

Similarly, since we are in a former Soviet country with a strong communist identity (as Slavs and Tatar writes in a newspaper-like publication titled 79.89.09 available at Raster gallery ‘Solidarność’s strikes never demanded an end to Communism itself but instead for relatively tactical but concrete improvements: in living conditions, working hours, food, etc.’), the two glass cast telephones by Mexican artist Jimena Mendoza could stand for a sort of nostalgic memory of some dangerous or even impossible phone conversations. Mendoza studied art and currently lives in Prague thanks to a grant of the Jumex Foundation. Her phones are formally beautiful, but useless communication devices. They are on exhibition at Piktogram, which is hosting galleries Svit (representing Mendoza), Lomex, and Future.

At Wschód, that is hosting Neue Alte Brucke and Union Pacific gallery, Mateusz Chorobski’s wall sculpture turns official Polish coins into a solid metal piece that is indeed illegal, for destroying currency is forbidden. In a Southern European country this act of disobedience would probably make no significant point. But one of the first things you notice when visiting Warsaw for the first time is that pedestrians are surprisingly respectful of the traffic lights. Even when the monumental boulevards are totally empty and no truck, car, or bicycle is around they patiently wait for the green light to cross the street. It’s a attitude of mind, but ‘policemen can give you a fine for that’ they tell you. At some point you realise that this apparently troubled city has a solid mental structure and social awareness behind the existing soviet buildings and new ambitious skyscrapers (the coolest one at the moment is by archi-star Daniel Libeskind). Certain social rules are still values that nobody here would really like to put under negotiation, as the last general election has proved.

Back to art, as Future gallery founder Michael Ruiz told us in regards with Friend of a Friend and Condo it would be a mistake to consider these initiatives as alternatives to the art fairs. ‘This kind of event is something very different, – said Ruiz to CFA – which you can’t compare either with the Fiac, or Paris Internationale’. Still, if you have to choose the destination for your next art trip we would bet you will not regret skipping the art fairs and go for a more intimate, and probably memorable art experience. Whether you are an artist, or a collector, cultural discoveries is what you’re looking for, isn’t it? And if you’re are putting Warsaw among the options you would be interested to know that later this year mega collector Maya Hoffman is expected to set a main exhibition in Warsaw, with some highlights from her fabulous art collection.

April 30, 2019