The Emporium Keeps Its Standards High With a New Exhibit of Contemporary Polish Prints

Upon recently rewatching Roman Polanski's The Pianist as my nod to the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto's Jewish uprising, I was reminded of how intrigued I am by Poland and its history. But even though I have traveled to other Eastern European countries, I've somehow missed Polska. So I'm excited that the Marek Maria Pienkowski Foundation has brought art from Poland to Knoxville. Until June, the Arts and Culture Alliance presents works from the Wroclaw School of Printmaking, produced by professors and teaching assistants at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design, as part of the larger Wroclaw Faculty of Graphic Arts and Media Art Exhibition.

People who enjoyed the recent Poland Now festival or have seen the Gay Street exhibition's sister show at Preservation Pub, featuring media art and more than 30 event and social posters by graphic-design students from the same academy, can round out their experience by taking in the works currently on view at the Emporium.

With approximately 50 individual or grouped prints on display, the Wroclaw School of Printmaking show provides an overview of different printmaking processes, including dry-point, linocut, mezzotint, lithography, etching, screen printing, and digital printing. Artists from the academy previously exhibited in Knoxville in 2009; this time around they heighten the sensory buzz for Market Square bar patrons as well as keep the standards for Emporium shows raised high.

Beyond its variety of technical approaches, the show is exceptional for the diversity of its subject—or non-subject—matter. The only trendy thread running throughout a few pieces is an affinity for large-scale abstraction. Whatever the size of any given print, however, its visual and/or conceptual leanings contribute to a relatively broad range of pieces.

Three intaglio prints by Przemysław Tyszkiewicz depict the same sinewy, hybrid dog with a spiked tail and feet with talons. In one image, it occupies the lower half of a predominantly black pit-o'-hell scenario, surrounded by skulls and some sort of truncheon with reptilian heads. In another, it's another equally fierce canine. A third print has it posed with its tail forming a circle that frames its head, the portrait of a noble beast.

Cows are the chosen subjects for Paweł Frackiewicz's offset lithography. Positioned within collage-like compositions full of rendered wood frames and beams alongside other constructed elements, they juxtapose the easy fecundity of nature with that which is laboriously man-made, an interpretation supported by Frackiewicz's image of a Brahma bull, a flamboyant lily blossoming from his bovine penis.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are Marta Kubiak's screen-printed images resembling cut-outs of animals. In one, the shape of a calf with a glass milk bottle is superimposed with water droplets or tears; beneath it an identical calf shape is severed in half, marked by a red line. Another print contains a zebra, a tiger, and other animals in a kind of zoo line-up. These are arguably the most colorful and graphic design–influenced prints in the Emporium show. Currently an assistant in the Wroclaw School's serigraph studio, Kubiak attended the exhibition's First Friday opening, accompanied by fellow intaglio studio assistant Agata Gertchen and Jacek Szewczyk, the academy's vice chancellor.

The works in the Wroclaw School of Printmaking show are decidedly surreal, whether abstract or representational. In the latter category are Anna Janusz-Strzyz's dry-point scenes of men and pets dining with angelic figures in the background, and of fairies hovering near a woman holding a lamp beside a howling wolf. Epitomizing the surrealist bent of the exhibition is Jacek Szewczyk's "Armoured Bicycles" etching. With its scraggly trees, scrawny cats, and bicycle parts littering a nightmarish landscape, it turns what might be considered whimsical things into anxiety-provoking objects. Christopher Nowicki's mezzotints of a motorcycle, public transport cars, and a figure in a doorway are notable, in part because the Ohio native entered and won a prestigious Polish printmaking award while in the University of Washington's MFA program. He is currently an associate professor at the Wroclaw School, having moved to Poland in the early 1990s.

Among the aforementioned abstract pieces are prints by Agata Gertchen, Aleksandra Janik, and Anna Trojanowska. Whereas Gertchen's linocuts possess deep blacks and what appear to be cropped portions of images drawn from both urban and rural environments, Janik's digital triptych is primarily grayscale, its blurred faces superimposed with Asian script. Trojanowska's work is also large, but made up of small lithographs presented as multiples.

The overall appearance of the Wroclaw School of Printmaking show within the Emporium's expansive yet cavernous space is not particularly dynamic. After all, the works displayed are entirely two-dimensional and generally lack color. But the originality and level of accomplishment they reflect makes for a memorable exhibition.