In Belmacz’s small gallery space Stanisław Wejman’s painted cigarette packs are stacked against stark white walls, their colours enhanced by the bright lighting. Every single one of them – and there are many – is painted first in a single colour and then decorated with curious shapes, mostly round and in shades that don’t necessarily prove a harmonious match. Some hint at facial features in what could be a smiley, or at least a round face with a big grin…
At first, I’m a bit unsure what to make of it all. Set beside Wejman’s beautiful etchings in the exhibition catalogues, the cigarette packs seem a bit mundane, or a bit too simple to exemplify the work of an artist who’s had such a prolific career as an educator and printmaker. Until you realize maybe they shouldn’t be taken too seriously, it feels slightly tedious standing in front of those small empty cartons, trying to make sense of the way they’re collated, and looking – without success – to find a pattern in their shapes and colours. Wejman painted the packs, we’re told, and gave them away to friends and acquaintances as souvenirs: little boxes that serve as reminders of something for someone. It’s a thought that turns the display from a random collection of empty objects into one of social interaction and humorous play, especially given that someone with a well-established career produced them: someone who no longer needs to emphasise his contributions to contemporary Polish printmaking. The cartons show Wejman’s passion for smoking in a humorous light, and – within the actions of painting and his giving away of the empty packs – connect this ‘hobby’ to a wider social network. Maybe they’re also a homage to the dying art of smoking – health warning not included.
Wejman’s display is so prominent that it takes a while to realise this show is supposed to be a dialogue not a monologue. Where is Depta-Garapich’s contribution? I find this out unwittingly after one of the gallery assistants gently points out I’m sitting right in front of her sculpture. This isn’t to say the work is so bland it would go unnoticed – quite the contrary in fact. Its siting is a bit unfortunate though: placed directly at the gallery’s glass front its clean shape blends with the interior so smoothly that at at first glance it seems part of it. Yet on closer inspection the sculpture’s features come into play. Unexpected Encounters, as it’s called, is made from rolled-up white paper with a round cut-out exposing a circle of golden mirror-roll – clean, elegant and simple are the words that come to mind. Despite the everyday character of the material, Depta-Garapich has created a fine sculpture that somehow corresponds to the exquisite jewellery on display at the centre of the exhibition space. But where can we find an exchange between the Unexpected Encounters and Wejman’s cigarette packs?
A link between the two is cleverly drawn with the conversation ‘Unexpected Encounters’ from Picture a Moon, Shining in the Sky, where the two artists of different generations talk about ‘disposable objects that became works of art almost against intention:’ There’s a generational gap between Wejman and Depta-Garapich – their works are made from disposable materials, and connected by the question of whether they would be recognizable as ‘art’ at all, were it not for the gallery space they’re displayed in. The exhibition as a place for their encounter thus forms another important part in the dialogue between the works. Also, Wejman’s cigarette cartons probably were not intended to be art, just play, and encountering Depta-Garapich’s sculpture at the Belmacz is an unexpected outcome of his humorous approach to reusing the remnants of his 40-a-day habit.
With these links drawn, the exhibition becomes an accomplished show that raises more questions than it answers in a thought-provoking two-man/woman display. Yet, much of this is veiled behind the strong forms and contrasts between the works, so some engagement with Picture a Moon, Shining in the Sky will certainly enhance the viewing experience and show that this is an exhibition engaging with the materiality of objects, the generational divide between artists – and a bit of fun, too!
‘Unexpected Encounters: Stanisław Wejman and Kasia Depta-Garapich, A conversation between artists of two generations’ runs at the Belmacz Gallery, 45 Davies Street, until 21 February 2015.