“(Bust)”; undated; monotype, paper; 
42 × 29.8 cm; private collection
“(Bust)”; undated; monotype, paper; 
42 × 29.8 cm; private collection
“Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room” is the first foreign show that focuses on the final years of the artist’s work. The exhibition at Moderna galerija, one of the most prestigious museums of modern art in Europe, consists of over 120 works created between 1955 and 1957. A large number of these paintings have never been exhibited or haven’t been displayed for over sixty years. The exhibition is the largest undertaking in the eight-year activity of the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation, which carries out the mission of promoting the artist’s work in Poland and around the world. The show is organized in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

“Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room” at Moderna galerija

Moderna galerija is one of the oldest and most prestigious museums in Central Europe. For several decades, it has initiated daring exhibition and academic projects devoted to the heritage of postwar Yugoslavia, and Central and Eastern Europe. The exhibition “Andrzej Wróblewski. Waiting Room” will be on show in Slovenia’s capital for three months—until January 10, 2021.

Across six rooms with a total area of over 800 m2, over 120 works by Andrzej Wróblewski from the final period of his life [i.e., 1955–1957] will be presented. They will include three well-known paintings “Waiting Room I, The Queue Continues,” “Waiting Room II, (Chairing I),” and “Tombstone, (Tombstone of a Womanizer),” as well as numerous gouaches, monotypes, and a dozen or so large-format works created on brown packaging paper. Among them, a great majority are works that have never been exhibited before or were last shown to a wider audience in 1958.

This is the first exhibition of Wróblewski’s work outside of Poland in which the curatorial team—Magdalena Ziółkowska and Wojciech Grzybała from the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation, and Marko Jenko from Moderna galerija—has focused on the final years of the artist’s work. This period symbolically begins on May 10, 1954, with the birth of Andrzej’s firstborn son, known to his family as Kitek, and ends with Wróblewski’s death on March 23, 1957, in the Tatra Mountains.

“Waiting room mentality”

The metaphorical through line of the exhibition rests upon two symbolic figures—people pinned to chairs in anticipation, reflection, and timelessness; degraded, anonymous, and undifferentiated. This “waiting-room mentality,” as the German playwright Heiner Müller once called it, is characteristic of the experience of Communist Central and Eastern Europe. Magdalena Ziółkowska explains: “The exhibition can be treated as an attempt to answer the question of why, after more than seventy years, it is worth returning to the artist’s 1956 trip to Yugoslavia. For some, this will be an analysis of government documents, a careful look at the collected facts, or reading daily entries in the artist’s diary. For others, this will be a journey full of questions and hypotheses, a journey shrouded in mystery.” And although everyday life in Yugoslavia during Tito’s rule differed so much from the economic conditions and the socio-artistic situation of the Polish People’s Republic and other countries behind the Iron Curtain, such perspective allows one to take on more universal matters related to moral existence, bodily regimes, as well as affective labor and mourning.

Six themes

The exhibition focuses on six themes. The first, the protagonists of which are the delegates, is the reconstruction of Wróblewski and art critic Barbara Majewska’s trip to Yugoslavia between October 30 and November 21, 1956. The delegates are, of course, Andrzej Wróblewski and Barbara Majewska. “It is apparent that this journey was undertaken at a time when Wróblewski was suffering a complex personal crisis that forced him to reconsider his own artistic stance. In this sense, as Barbara Majewska has explained, the trip ‘was not only a trip in the atmosphere of the Polish October, but also a trip south.’ In other words this was primarily a sensual journey to experience ‘other hill forms, other smells, flora, other kinds of light, other buildings, and other people.’”

The curators present numerous archival materials, photographs, documents, and artworks, in which one can find direct inspirations from Yugoslav contemporary art, figures such as Lazar Vujaklija, but also landscape, folklore, local architecture, and “stećci”—carved stone tombstones found in this part of Europe. “Many of his works painted after this visit in late 1956 and early 1957 display a striking anticipation—or rather a frightening intuition—of death, in their focus on the motifs of tombstones and funerals, just as other works of that period converged on the motifs of the petrifaction or reification of the human body.”

Their complete form is the monumental canvas “Tombstone, (Tombstone of a Womanizer),” whose protagonist, the womanizer, is full of contradictions. The theme of the womanizer is the second part of the exhibition. This figure constitutes a roadmap to a collection of eighty-six monotypes, probably created at the turn of 1956/1957. At the exhibition, we will see thirty-three from the thirty-five so far recovered artist’s monotypes. It is in this technique that Wróblewski evokes themes present in his early work—fish, horses, violins, vehicles, and the chauffeur; but one subject firmly occupying the artist’s attention is the female body, transformed in countless ways and depicted with numerous attributes. Because these works reference all of the most important themes raised by Wróblewski throughout his lifetime, this series is considered to be his “artistic last will.”

The third question taken up in the exhibition, on which the viewers are led by the chaired man—more a specter than a hero/protagonist—is the theme of waiting, the mesmerizing inventory of waiting rooms, queues, and chairings. Here are works exhibited during Wróblewski’s lifetime at the 3rd Exhibition of the “Po Prostu” Salon at Warsaw’s Jewish Theater in August 1956, as well as various depictions of women and portraits of a young model.

Another part of the exhibition, whose protagonists are mothers and daughters, nurturers, carers, lovers, and wives, is dedicated to the day-to-day of Wróblewski’s home life, and motherhood. Numerous portraits of Wróblewski’s wife, female nudes, interiors of the artist’s Kraków apartment and studio are engaged in a dialogue with the famous “Mothers, Anti-Fascists” painting, submitted by the artist to the Polish Exhibition of Young Art under the slogan “Against War, Against Fascism,” organized as part of the 5th World Festival of Youth and Students in the summer of 1955.

A separate space has been devoted to works organized around the theme of the boy—a very important and widely unknown topic in the artist’s late work, led by the famous canvas, “Boy against a Yellow Background, Model, (A Boy).”

The last part of the exhibition consists of the artist’s works from which emerges the figure of the protagonist—a hero with a twofold nature, heading for the unknown, beyond the horizon, somewhere straight ahead, in a timeless vehicle. Sometimes, he is the chauffeur, other times—the passenger. As Branislav Dimitrijević writes in his essay, “Wróblewski’s Rückenfigur,” this double figure is also the literary protagonist of Różewicz, Apollinaire, and Lorca’s poetry—visually untranslatable, but filled with a suggestive mood. 

The exhibition was preceded by a three-year conservation project led by the Andrzej Wróblewski Foundation and Professor Marzenna Ciechańska from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. As part of the effort, the team carried out conservation of seventy privately owned objects on paper, constituting the majority of works on show in Ljubljana.

In addition to paintings, gouaches, monotypes, pencil and ink drawings by Wróblewski, the exhibition will feature artworks by artists from the former Yugoslavia, including some whom Wróblewski met personally, that build a common context and often establish direct dialogue with Wróblewski.