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Wilhelm Sasnal / MATRIX 219

November 20, 2005 - March 5, 2006

Wilhelm Sasnal: Smuggling (day), 2005; ink on paper; 84 x 126 in.; collection of Rubell Family Collection, Miami; courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, New York.

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

features the work of Polish artist Wilhelm Sasnal, one of the most renowned artists to emerge from Eastern Europe in recent years. Best known as a painter, Sasnal also employs a variety of other media, along with a broad range of art-historical sources and diverse stylistic approaches, to create works that negotiate his identity and position within the new capitalist culture of his home country.

Central to Sasnal’s work is his practice of reframing visual elements in order to comment on them. His interest in paradoxes of social structure and image interpretation is evident in a suite of large ink drawings of Prohibition-era bootleggers, works motivated by a visit to the United States in 2004. During that trip, he also discovered and purchased The River by Pare Lorentz, a 1938 book based on a film about the Mississippi River famous for its free-verse script and a score by Virgil Thompson. Lorentz’s book became the subject of Sasnal’s MATRIX exhibition.

Lorentz’s images evoked a simpler, more successful American past, and his film conveyed a belief that by reclaiming the best parts of this idealized past, Americans could improve their lives. The River extolled the Tennessee Valley Authority’s dam-building program and lamented the poverty resulting from mismanagement of the river valley. Similarly, Sasnal’s choice of subject can be seen as a political comment on the current state of America. Sasnal’s decision to focus on The River was remarkably prescient, as Lorentz also included footage of the great flood of 1937. The River had its world premiere in New Orleans in 1938.

For his show, Sasnal has created a film that features seven Bay Area and Polish bands singing text from the book—rearranged—as a soundtrack. In Sasnal’s film the book takes on a new contextual presence: we see the bands, in various settings, using it as songbook. The visual and aural qualities of Sasnal’s film reflect the present time, just as Lorentz’s film epitomized the events and style of his historic period. The effect is simultaneously nostalgic and very contemporary.

Sasnal’s film repertoire is not nearly as extensive as his paintings. But like his paintings, Sasnal’s films are spare and decisive. Pared down to essentials, they reveal only what he wants the viewer to watch and hear. Together with the large-scale ink drawings that function as posters for it, Sasnal’s film for MATRIX continues his practice of playing with conventions of representation, visually reframing iconic images, and highlighting political inconsistencies.

Sasnal’s work was included in the 2004 MATRIX painting exhibition Some forgotten place. MATRIX 219 was curated by former MATRIX Curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson.

Terri Cohn
Adjunct Curator

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis C. Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment and Glenn and April Bucksbaum.

Special support for Wilhelm Sasnal/MATRIX 219 has been provided by the Polish Cultural Institute.

BAM/PFA thanks the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Programs at Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga, CA, which provided Wilhelm Sasnal an artist residency prior to his MATRIX exhibition.