Maurycy Gomulicki, Konrad Smoleński, Radek Szlaga / Money to Burn / Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, 26.08-23.10.2016

For most of us wealth is still something very much desired. Hence the title of the exhibition is more of a quote, an understatement and an ambiguity. It serves as a slogan which does not actually refer to material assets but rather the lack of. The exhibition tries to trace the visual representations of wealth from the 1990s, the times of transformation when Poles went money-crazy lured by the opportunities of making a quick buck, through the period of disenchantment with the neoliberal ideas until this day. Nowadays, wealth is often a mere fantasy or an illusion, while “poverty is the new wealth”, and as such it is a generational experience, in which irony is used to cope with the longings and fears on the one hand and, on the other, serves as a tool for questioning reality.

Sociological research and various cultural sources show that in Poland since the 18th century until today there has been very little affirmation of economic success or career as a life goal. A happy family is what we’ve invariably been after, and money, as is well known, can’t make you happy. We’ve been taught that the ‘love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Tim 6:10), and yet we believe that ‘you need to steal your first million’ – so wealthy doesn’t mean honest, and money isn’t something to talk about in public. Still, the 18th c. observations seems to hold true, namely that ‘Poles try to outdo each other in wealth and greed. Most love grandeur and demonstrate sumptuousness at the slightest occasion’. The constant pursuit of material goods, consumerist hedonism and love of luxury are inseparably connected with an ostentatious manifestation of affluence as guided by the principle of ‘pledge your house if you must, but never fail to impress’. Did the post-1989 transformation and the arrival of the free market change this thinking about wealth, and if so, how? What did the 2000s brought with their adaptation of Western ways? What does #moneytoburn actually mean today?

The exhibition comprises many parallel stories and anecdotes: from historical references and recontextualisations of stereotypes and symbols, through analyses of the Polish fantasies and notions of wealth, to a critique of the market and personal narratives. Transformation-era clichés or experiences of the 2007 economic crisis mingle here with the manifestation of the joy of possession, fascination with luxury or the beauty of expensive items, as well as reflections on the real and symbolic value of works of art (which have invariably been considered as luxury goods).
A special feature of the exhibition is the video Proposition by the Azorro collective – a ‘proposition to participate in a prestigious no-budget project’. Dating from 2002, the piece, topical as ever, became an inspiration for an exhibition meant to lighten up an otherwise difficult and serious subject.

curators: Katarzyna Kołodziej, Magdalena Komornicka