What Is Enlightenment?
200 years of the Print Room of the University of Warsaw Library
The exhibition "What Is Enlightenment?" is conceived as a dialogue between the Age of Reason and today’s world, between the prints and drawings from the collections of King Stanisław August Poniatowski and their interpretations by contemporary artists.
The exhibition attempts to respond to the current debate in Poland and around the world on the “crisis of Enlightenment values.” To what extent is the crisis something new and self-contained, and to what extent is it inherent in the internal dynamics of the Enlightenment? The issue of the Enlightenment is always an issue of the here and now: any understanding of today’s reality without drawing on the sources of modernity will always be incomplete. This is clearly evident in the Polish context, where discussions and conflicts over the approach to modernity, and the role of religion and tradition, the significance of what is public and shared, have remained unresolved since the days of Stanisław August, but continue to drive thinking about a better future.
The dialogue presented in the exhibition generates a vision of the Enlightenment as an era marked by crisis and conflict, but also an era that still endures—not as a phantom or absence, but as a living framework shaping our contemporary world. The Enlightenment will last as long as an attitude of critical thought is pursued.
The exhibition “What Is Enlightenment?” attempts to answer the question: How do we rewrite the history of Polish modernity. To this end, we focus on the Enlightenment sources of the Print Collection. These sources are treated primarily as the deepest level or “archive” of Polish modernity, and as a point of departure for reflections on the complex relation between the historical (seeming to belong to a period in the distant past) and the “here and now,” and on what is yet to come: the future, which as a utopian model was such an important point of reference for the Enlightenment project (as it is for any modernizing project). Much as Enlightenment artists, philosophers and collectors, like archaeologists, studied the past to draw conclusions and lessons from it, and create visions and prophecies for the future, in this exhibition as well contemporary artists attempt to decipher current situations and signposts for the contemporary world from the often complex images and symbols of that era. This dialogue between past and present doesn’t stress the differences but reveals their shared Enlightenment identity. The Print Collection is examined, among other ways, in the perspective of the conflict between universal history based on human rights and democracy, and particular history, the tension between knowledge and the imitation of knowledge, and also in the context of the genesis of contemporary liberalism, the fight for emancipation, and finally the roots of the “Polish civil war” which has shaped the Polish public sphere for over 200 years. We consider the Enlightenment to be an important touchstone in discussing the systemic transformation of the past thirty years.
A special role is played here by Goshka Macuga, the Polish/British artist nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2008. Macuga returns in this context to the topics of the fate of art in post-transformation Poland (which she explored in her individual exhibition at Zachęta in 2011) and the political nature of prints. Her view of the collection and the heritage of the Enlightenment is steeped in a post-humanistic perspective and forms a commentary on the entire exhibition. In this glimpse from the future, the Age of Enlightenment and our “here and now” coalesce into a single epoch.
Anna Boghiguian, Andrea Bowers, Vincenzo Brenna, Pablo Bronstein, Augustin Brunais, Jacques Callot, Olga Czernyszewa, Matthäus Deisch, Camille Henrot, William Hogarth, Ewa Juszkiewicz, Nikita Kadan, Johann Christian Kammsetzer, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Jakub Kubicki, Zbigniew Libera, Emanuel Listnau, Friedrich Anton August Lohrmann, Goshka Macuga, Domenico Merlini, Johann Heinrich Müntz, Anna Niesterowicz, Nomadic State (Karolina Mełnicka, Stach Szumski), Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, Ferdynand Pinck, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Jean-Louis Prieur, Roee Rosen, Ephraim Schröger, Franciszek Smuglewicz, Mikołaj Sobczak, Józef Wall, Stanisław Zawadzki, Szymon Bogumił Zug
Goshka Macuga, Łukasz Ronduda, Tomasz Szerszeń
Małgorzata Biłozór-Salwa, Małgorzata Łazicka, Izabela Przepałkowska, Jolanta Talbierska, Przemysław Wątroba
Urszula Dragońska, Agnieszka Kościelniak-Osiak, Joanna Turek, Szymon Żydek
Pracownia Macieja Siudy: Jan Szeliga, Maciej Siuda
Execution of exhibition furniture
S4P Manufaktura Mebli
Jakub Antosz, Marek Franczak, Piotr Frysztak, Szymon Ignatowicz, Paweł Sobczak, Sebastian Powierża, Marcin Szubiak, Jacek Turowski, Maciej Turowski, Michał Ziętek
Elżbieta Duziak, Anna Gajek, Anna Tryc-Bromley, Marta Hekselman, Dominika Jagiełło, Bartłomiej Karelin, Wiktor Kazimierczak, Joanna Kołodziejska, Michał Kożurno, Agnieszka Kosela, Marta Maliszewska, Marek Mastalerski, Marta Skowrońska-Markiewicz, Katarzyna Nowakowska, Bartosz Stawiarski, Marta Styczeń, Kacha Szaniawska, Katia Szczeka, Ewa Urzykowska, Iga Winczakiewicz, Katarzyna Witt, Anna Wołodko, Daniel Woźniak