press release

The exhibition at Zachęta – National Gallery of Art is devoted to issues of appropriation, borrowing, processing, remixing and sampling of culture using existing objects such as artistic and press photographs, works of art created by other artists, films, literature, music, and all things created within the wider sphere of culture and beyond. Such actions differ in their scope, from direct, literal appropriations free of any intervention by the artists, through small transformations, to inspirations producing brand new works of art and new visual forms, only alluding to their originals.

The term ‘appropriation art’ is used in the visual arts, and has its origins in the avant-garde of the early 20th century, the works of the cubists, surrealists and Dadaists. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque created collages which combined found objects, challenging the traditional mimetic painting. Clearly, this strategy was evident in Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades – mass-produced objects found in the artist’s immediate environment. Duchamp’s work questioned the status of the artist and the work of art, the notions of ownership, originality, and plagiarism, as well as of the reception of works of art. The practice of massive appropriation returned along with the productions of pop art artists. Interestingly, in the 1960s their work, just like that of Duchamp, became the subject of appropriation. This is evidenced by an endless chain of appropriations that define the strategies of contemporary artists.

Despite such a long tradition and the popularity of this practice, it has evoked discussions and disputes in artistic circles, especially in recent years, with some participants appreciating it as creative activity and a sign of freedom in culture, and others treating it as an act of piracy, or theft of intellectual property. The exhibition raises questions about the issue of originality, copying and reproduction, appropriation of works of art in the light of copyright law, and finally, the most essential issue – the problem of artistic freedom. The word ‘cannibalism’ present in the title of the exhibition is derived from critical studies of the eras of colonialism and post-colonialism – a period of absorption of the heritage of foreign cultures. In the case of the exhibition, the term refers to appropriations or borrowings of the works of other artists. In the colloquial sense of the word, ‘cannibalism’ bears negative connotations and contains an element of violence. One might ask if the strategy of appropriation so widely practised in contemporary culture is an act of violence of sorts – against the appropriated works and their creators.

artists: John Bock, Cezary Bodzianowski, Candice Breitz, Jordan Doner, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Jack Goldstein, Douglas Gordon, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Hold Your Horses, Johannes Kahrs, Deborah Kass, Edward Krasiński, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Goshka Macuga, Sandro Miller, Jonathan Monk, Yasumasa Morimura, Henrik Olesen, Richard Pettibone, Richard Prince, Karol Radziszewski, Thomas Ruff, Adam Rzepecki, Cindy Sherman, Aleksandra Ska, Jan Smaga, John Stezaker, Radek Szlaga, Rosemarie Trockel, Piotr Uklański, Ai Weiwei

curator Maria Brewińska cooperation Katarzyna Kołodziej