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Joanna Borkowska, solo show, National Museum, Szczecin, Poland

Exhibition: Joanna Borkowska: In the Realm of Slow Painting

Curator: Raphael Rubinstein

On View: November 15, 2019–January 5, 2020

Opening Reception: Thursday, November 14, 2019, 18:00

The National Museum in Szczecin – Museum of Contemporary Art

ul. Staromłyńska 1, 70-561 Szczecin, Poland

Despite the many announcements of its death, the medium of painting has not only survived but flourished, at least if we are to judge by the countless exhibitions given over to paintings and the astronomical prices certain canvases have earned at auction in recent years. There are a variety of explanations for why such an ancient medium continues to attract so much attention, ranging from persistent nostalgia for the unique handmade object to theories about commodity fetishism. While there is no doubt some truth in such sociological explanations, it also seems clear that the continuing popularity of painting corresponds to a deep need for the kind of experience that painting alone can offer. Since prehistoric times, since the time of the wall paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet, humans have been gravitating to spaces with vividly colored walls. This signifies not only a hunger for images, but also an attraction to colored surfaces. 

In her radiant, subtly textured abstract canvases, Joanna Borkowska connects to this long-standing phenomenon, while also contributing to the vitality of contemporary painting. To look at one of Borkowska’s paintings is to encounter an immersive experience where no single part of the composition dominates any other. Building on the all-over technique pioneered by Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, Borkowska creates edge-to-edge planar structures through patterns of marks and fields of color. Her process draws on the physical properties of her materials, and in doing so discovers poetic connections between events in her art and larger structures in the world. Details in her paintings, which reward close scrutiny, evoke phenomena of the natural world such as river systems and the veins of leaves, the star-filled night sky and the patterns left in sandy beaches by an ebb tide. This fractal, micro-macro aspect of her art is at once phenomenological and metaphysical.

Access to this experience only comes with patient, sustained looking. It’s important to recognize how Borkowska’s paintings stand in opposition to the obsession with speed that characterized so much of modernism, at least since 1909 when the impresario of Italian Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, announced: “We affirm that the beauty of the world has been enriched by a new form of beauty: the beauty of speed.” In our current high-tech culture, the obsession with speed permeates every moment of our lives. Borkowska’s paintings, which are the opposite of an Instagram image stream, invite us to decelerate our visual world. As such they belong to the growing “Slow Art” movement, articulated in books such as Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed  (2004) and Arden Reed’s Slow Art: the Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell (2017). In a recent essay for the magazine Tate Etc titled “Slow Art in an Age of Speed,” Jonathan P. Watts cited a 2017 research study showing that visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago spent an average 28.63 seconds looking at artworks. Attuned to the natural world and to the history of abstraction, Borkowska defies such rapid visual consumption by making slow paintings for durational looking, something we have always needed, and now perhaps more than ever.

Raphael Rubinstein

Press Information and photo credits: National Museum in Szczecin – Museum of Contemporary Art

Anna Walewska