STARMACH GALLERY – PROFILE AND HISTORY
The origins of the Teresa and Andrzej Starmach collection probably lie in the amount of time they spent in the company of works of art during the two decades of running their gallery, and also in their frequent attendance at international art fairs and auctions. Nor should we overlook the fact that they were responsible in practical terms for the Nowosielski Foundation, established in 1996. This latter factor may be decisive as to the current profile of their collection, although it is not clear whether works by Nowosielski were the first that they acquired on a permanent basis. It would seem that, from the very beginning, their preferences as collectors diverged to a certain extent from the program of the Starmach Gallery. During the first years of the Gallery, exhibitions there centered almost exclusively around several generations of Krakow artists (Andrzej Pawłowski, Jerzy Nowosielski, Marek Chlanda, Andrzej Szewczyk, Kazimierz Mikulski, Andrzej Wełmiński, Teresa Tyszkiewicz, Teresa Rudowicz, Maria Pinińska-Bereś, Maria Stangret, Tadeusz Kantor, Jacek Maria Stokłosa, and Jan Tarasin, associated with the Krakow Group), while their preferences as collectors focused on work of a constructivist provenance, in the broad meaning of the word, and especially around Warsaw artists who were connected with Henryk Stażewski either directly, as in the case of Edward Krasiński, or indirectly, as with Koji Kamoji and Ryszard Winiarski. Works by Stażewski and Krasiński are predominant in the collection, and not only in numerical terms. Stażewski?s works are chosen in such a way as to constitute an integral group of paintings and reliefs from the decade 1961?1970. In Krasiński?s case, we have?aside from several classic interventions from the years 1964?1996?one of the few extant examples of the artist?s large-scale spatial compositions, the 1987 Labirynt (Labyrinth). The veracity of the pedigree of each work shows that these selections were not acquired all at once, but rather painstakingly and deliberately put together over the course of many years. Those less familiar with Polish artistic life after the Second World War may be puzzled by the need to balance the excellent, rather natural Krakow side of the collection with a contingent of Warsaw artists. The Warsaw connection hardly appears accidental when we consider the role of Tadeusz Kantor, as an emissary of the Krakow avant-garde, in shaping the program of the Foksal Gallery, with which Henryk Stażewski, Edward Krasiński, and Koji Kamoji were associated, as well as Stanisław Dróżdż, Andrzej Szewczyk, Tomasz Ciecierski, Mirosław Bałka, Mikołaj Smoczyński, and Marek Chlanda, all of whom are represented in the Krakow collection. A group of Cricot 2 actors, who had parallel exhibitions at the Starmach Gallery, also featured at the Foksal: Zbigniew Gostomski, Maria Stangret, and Andrzej Wełmiński. It is worth pointing out here that neither Gostomski nor Wełmiński figures in the collection.
After such a clearly marked starting point, it is no wonder that the choice of more works only loosely connected with the Krakow Group (which informally bears the city?s standard) is so selective. The central figure here is Tadeusz Kantor. Heralded by works from the early fifties, his presence somewhat later becomes a point of reference for Maria Stangret?s informel canvases, Jadwiga Madziarska?s collage paintings, Tadeusz Brzozowski?s metaphorical pictures, and even the eschatological compositions of Jonasz Stern. The next phase of Kantor?s work is signalled by individual emballages and conceptual objects, and the culmination arrives with his 1973 revolutionary exhibition-manifesto Wszystko wisi na włosku (Everything is Hanging by a Thread), acquired in its entirety for the collection. This is the very point where, in the eyes of the collectors, Kantor?s role in shaping the visage of Polish art comes to an end. The Dead Class, which had its premiere in 1975, does not feature; we encounter not a trace of the production that made him a world-class figure. This is a very radical move. The only possible conclusion is that Kantor?s Theater of Death belongs to a different axiological order. On the other hand, there is a place for Mirosław Bałka?s works from the mid-nineties which?themselves characterized by scarcity?go some way to filling the space of the memory of bygone existence that was once occupied by Kantor. There are thus two intersecting lines that best characterize the identity of this collection, but that also represent a great limitation. Even if the horizon shrinks to take in nothing but postwar Polish art?and that is the boundary imposed here?its richness and diversity will always represent a temptation to bring in subsidiary themes, or simply an attractive counterpoint. In the Starmach collection, photography is the counterpoint, especially two extensive, internally coherent sets of photographs by Marek Piasecki and Jan Tarasin. The first of these is no surprise, since photography was the chosen medium of this little-known avant-gardist from the Zamek group in Lublin. Here, we are dealing with experimental?and therefore creative?photography that differs little from the other creative work that arose in those circles.