Polska/Ziętek. The gymnast

otwarcie 13.05 (sobota), godz. 12.00–20.00

Curated by Zofia Płoska-Czartoryska 
Acknowledgements: Katarzyna Karwańska
Exhibition producer: Aleksandra Szkoda

Olga Korbut from Grodno, Belarus (then USSR), was the first gymnast to captivate the collective imagination. The smiling 17 year-old stunned the audience at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where she won three gold medals in categories never seen before. At the next Olympics in Montreal, the crowd favorite was taken by the even younger Nadia Comăneci from Romania — the first gymnast in history whose performance was assessed as flawless by the judges (she received a score of 10/10 seven times). 

Korbut and Comăneci performed the impossible on bars, mats and balance beams. They were light, strong, and fearless, yet cut off from the world and fully controlled by the state training machine (and later also by the secret police). They were considered a national treasure, and their successes were political gold for the then dictators — Brezhnev and Ceaușescu. In the West they became media idols, a symbol of natural perfection and exotic, Eastern beauty. They experienced violence and at the same time stood up to their coaches and the system. Many of their accomplishments, seen at the time as defying the laws of physics and anatomy, have now been deemed too risky and are now prohibited.
Bogdan Ziętek diligently sketched in his notebooks and collected photographs of “impossible contortions” performed by gymnasts, constantly present in the iconosphere of the Cold War media. Sculpting their bodies was, for the artist, a test of the limits of the material (lime wood), and a demanding exercise in anatomical precision, which he decided to practice less frequently than the static poses of beautiful models. The collection of sculptures of gymnasts is a separate, little-known chapter of the sculptural project of creating an “ideal woman” that has been consistently implemented by Ziętek in his home garage for over half a century. 
“I thought that my sculptures would come to life one day” — these words of Ziętek particularly resonate with the tension of the athletic bodies present at the exhibition. The male gaze and fascination with superhuman strength find their reverse in Agnieszka Polska’s film Ćwiczenia korekcyjne (Corrective Exercises). The artist sets in motion the stubborn, mute matter of old photographs. The discipline of training, the arduous overcoming of physical limitations, the cruelly high bar are a legacy of totalitarianism and cult of the controlled body, and at the same time an aesthetically stunning triumph of female power.

Bogdan Ziętek (1932—2018) — sculptor, photographer, independent artist. He worked in Brzeźnica, near Bardo, Lower Silesia. Professionally associated with Grochowskie Zakłady Magnezytowe. His works have been presented at collective exhibitions at Zachęta — National Gallery of Art, Warsaw and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Major individual exhibitions: “Women in Bogdan Ziętek’s World”, Mazovian Museum in Płock (2010), “Venus from Brzeźnica”, Ethnographic Museum in Wrocław (2015), “I like calm women…”, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Cultural Center in Bydgoszcz (2016). His output of almost two hundred figures (including fourteen life-size sculptures) and works in other media — especially photography — are still waiting to be studied and recognized as their rightful place in the history of Polish art.

Agnieszka Polska (b. 1985) — visual artist, living and working in Berlin. Her work has been presented at the New Museum and MoMA, New York, Centre Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Tate Modern in London, Hirshhorn Museum in Washington and Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, among others. She participated in the 57th Venice Biennale, 11the Gwangju Biennial, 19th Sydney Biennial and 13th Istanbul Biennial. In 2018 she was granted German Preis der Nationalgalerie.

Works by Bogdan Ziętek are courtesy of:
Art Brut AK Collection of Andrzej Kwasiborski, Muzeum Etnograficzne in Toruń, Sarmen Beglarian and Sylwia Szymaniak (Biuro Wystaw), José Carlos E.S. Costa, Marta Derejczyk, Joanna Kurbiel, Wojciech Sosnowski
Saturday June 2, 2023 at 12 PM 
Guided tour with curator Zofia Płoska-Czartoryska 

Thursday June 15, 2023 at 6 PM
ZIĘTEK — film screening and talk 

Friday July 14, 2023 at 7 PM
THE GYMNAST — performance by Katarzyna Sikora


Bogdan Ziętek, Untitled, 1989/1992, courtesy of José Carlos E. S. Costa.