Jerzy Bereś, lata 70., fot. J. Stokłosa

Jerzy Bereś was born on September 14, 1930 in Nowy Sącz, a small town located at the foot of the gentle hills of the Beskid Sądecki mountains. His father Władysław Bereś worked as a skilled laborer in a railroad workshop,  his mother was a housewife. Jerzy spent his childhood in a small house on the outskirts of town surrounded by meadows, often flooded by the Łącznik River. He had a three year younger sister Irena. For longer trips the family went along the mountain rivers, the Kamienica river and the Dunajec river. In 1937 his mother Jadwiga (née Wygoda) died. She managed to escort her son to the first grade of elementary school. Two years later, Władysław remarried and his stepmother Janina (née Rakuss) moved into their house.

1939-1945

After Germany invades Poland on September 1, 1939, the Bereś family, like many Polish families, experiences the turmoil of war. Władysław’s company is evacuated to the east. following the invasion of the Soviet army on September 17th that area gets occupied. Some escapees get into German captivity, others get imprisoned by the Soviets. Janina escapes with children to live with her family in Rzeszów. Jerzy recalled it years later:

It was a great trauma. I was not able to realise what was happening. Being a child I was naive. For a long time, it seemed to me that the Germans would immediately leave.

(Natalia Kaliś, Facing Challenges, an interview with Jerzy Bereś and Bettina Bereś, Culture and History, 18/2010)

Eventually the whole family returns to Nowy Sącz, still in September. Life during the German occupation is difficult. Father works all day in a militarized factory. Jerzy and his stepmother travel to surrounding villages in quest for food. In 1941, the family expands. Irena and Jerzy take care of their newly born half-brother Roman. As a result of the partisan activity in the nearby mountains, Nowy Sącz suffers severely from the German terror. More than a thousand inhabitants lost their lives during the occupation, and two and a half thousand got deported to concentration camps. In 1944 Jerzy is forced by the Germans to dig ditches. As he turned fourteen he became a subject to compulsive labor imposed by the occupiers.

In January 1945, after three days of fights, the German troops get defeated by the Soviets and leave Nowy Sącz. The city is among the most devastated urban areas in the region with one-third of the population murdered. Jerzy and his family were lucky to survive. The political and military support of the Soviet Union brings the communists to power and a totalitarian monoparty system, supported by the secret police, gets introduced. The country loses its sovereignty. It soon assumes the name of the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL) and the communist party is called the PZPR, the Polish United Workers’ Party.

1945-1950

Jerzy begins his education in gymnasium and continues at the Jan Długosz secondary school. He gets recognized for his mathematical talents, though his artistic talents become also evident. He often makes decorations for school celebrations. Janina, seeing that the boy likes to draw, enrolls him in an art course held at the Railway House of Culture. Before the war, she herself belonged to an amateur theatre group there. Having graduated in 1950, Jerzy travels to Cracow to study architecture at the Technical University. He recalls:

Before the exams, I went to Cracow to deliver some papers and get some idea of the situation in general. The Stalinism was approaching – its presence was evident. I walked from one university to another and the Academy of Fine Arts seemed to me the place of greatest freedom. It impressed me, and at the last minute I transferred my papers there.

(Natalia Kaliś, Facing Challenges, an interview with Jerzy Bereś and Bettina Bereś, Culture and History, 18/2010)

Jerzy submits his papers to the Academy of Fine Arts and in October, having passed the exams, becomes a first-year student of the Academy of Visual Arts as in the meantime the authorities changed its name. In the Stalinist aesthetics, the category of beauty is superfluous, what matters is ideological correctness.

1950-1956

Stalinist terror begins in Poland for good. Thousands of people are sent to prison for the slightest criticism of the government, the secret police are tracking anti-state plots everywhere. According to the new curricula, the Academy of Visual Arts is supposed to educate and train artists who will faithfully follow the guidelines of communist propaganda. Socialist Realism becomes the mandatory style in art extolling the achievements of the new people’s government in a realistic style. University life is dominated by ideological youth organizations. Students must participate in hundreds of meetings, rallies, marches. Their goal is to forge a “socialist consciousness” in young people, so that they can serve the new People’s State without any doubt or hesitation.

In his third year, Jerzy gets into the sculpture studio of Xawery Dunikowski. Dunikowski is an artist of a great caliber whose works from 1904-1906 are considered one of the most interesting phenomena in the early 20th century European sculpture. He was a prisoner of the German concentration camp Auschwitz for five years. After the war, he does not protest when the Communist authorities use his fame and authority for political purposes. Thanks to his position, however, he can protect his studio from ideological influence. Jerzy recalled Dunikowski’s studio:

It was a kind of asylum, as the Professor, although bedecked with numerous regime medals, did not tolerate socialist realism among his students.

(Jerzy Bereś, “My Contacts with Tadeusz Kantor,” 1991)

In 1954, at the professor’s request Jerzy helps him with a project for a monument to Stalin. It is to be erected in the very center of Warsaw to honor the leader of the world proletariat, who died in 1953. The competition jury is horrified by Dunikowski’s vision who instead of the “magnanimous father of nations” sculpted Stalin as a “tyrant in valances.” The monument does not get realised, as a year after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Stalinist terror begins to subside and his crimes soon get revealed.

In 1955, he takes part in the All-Polish Exhibition of Young Visual Art at “Arsenał” in Warsaw, a manifest rejection of Socialist Realism and a foreshadowing of the government’s new policy towards culture. His sculptural portrait of Xawery Dunikowski is presented there. At the end of 1955 and the beginning of 1956, he participates in the great exhibition “Xawery Dunikowski and his Disciples,” celebrating the maestro’s 80th birthday.

Jerzy Bereś, Portrait of Xawery Dunikowski, 1955, photo by S. Kolowca (Regional Museum in Nowy Sącz)

In 1956, Jerzy receives an honorary diploma from Xawery Dunikowski. Since the professor had already moved to Warsaw and was not working at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, an additional diploma exam was necessary. The examination committee stated that they are deprived of the criteria to evaluate the sculptures. Recalling his studies, Bereś wrote about Dunikowski’s studio:

(…) It was an asylum of free art. It was a high-quality school, lively and creative, nevertheless based on a traditional concept of art. According to this concept, the artist’s task was to capture, reflect the existing reality and preserve it for the future. Dunikowski’s well-known saying was: I stand with a razor blade in my hand and wait for the right moment to capture with a single cut what is most important in sculpture.

(Jerzy Bereś, “Autobiographical Sketch,” 1993)

In Poland, the time of so-called “thaw” is coming. Stalinism is receding into the past. After the bloody suppression of the workers’ revolt in Poznań, there is a change at the top of the communist regime: Władysław Gomułka becomes the new Gensec. Great hopes are raised for more freedom in social and cultural life. Crowds cheer in praise of Gomułka.

1957-1959

Maria Pinińska i Jerzy Bereś, their wedding in Katowice, 1957, photo from the family archive

On April 28, 1957 he marries the sculptor Maria Pinińska. They met during the entrance exam for the Academy of Fine Arts and hanged together throughout their studies. A little over a year later, on July 27, 1958, their only child, daughter Bettina, is born. In the meantime Jerzy together with Maria and Tadeusz Szpunar have an exhibition at the gallery of Dom Artysty Plastyka on Łobzowska street. His works in plaster and ferro-concrete featured in the exhibition are Lullaby/Kołysanka, Idyll/Idylla, Eve/Ewa, To the Sun/Do słońca, Mother/Matka have not survived.

The young couple has no apartment or studio. They spend winter months in Katowice where Maria’s family lives. In summer they live in an unfinished house in Krakow that her grandfather is building for sale. Jerzy focuses on looking for a permanent residence in Krakow.

At that time happens a significant reevaluation of his views on art. He recalled that period saying:

When in the 1950s, more specifically in 1957-58, under the influence of a strong reflection of the fruitlessness of continuing what I had learned from the good school that was the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, being a very good student of X. Dunikowski, and a strong reluctance to join the then currently strong informel tendency, or the fashion for Henry Moore, I was penetrated by an overwhelming will to be independent in relation to the doctrinally conceived disciplines, the currently promoted , as well as possible future trends, I consciously descended into the position of an outsider, I decided not to exhibit for many years.

(Jerzy Bereś, “Creative Fact. The Concept of Work Part I,” 1978)

 

Jerzy Bereś, Idyll/Idylla, 1957/58, photo by M. Gardulski (in a private collection)

Bereś makes his first wooden sculpture a year and a half after graduating from the Academy, in late 1957/58. It is called Idyll. The decision to reach for this particular material can be interpreted as the rejection – conscious or subconscious – of the material acquired at school – consciously or subconsciously – of the experience and skills acquired at school. In 1958 two more wooden sculptures Bart and Rzepicha are created. These are abstract openwork anthropomorphic constructions, composed of many elements, whose surface has been somewhat worked in a woodcarving manner. Idyll has a geometrized form, the shape of the other works is more organic. Bereś did not include them in an exhibition at Dom Artysty Plastyka in 1958, although some of them already existed.

1960-1964

In 1960 their dream comes true. He manages to get a small, one-room flat with a studio adjacent to it located on the outskirts of Krakow. Soon he orders a cart full of firewood at the market.

In 1960 a new period begins to see the creation of new sculptures, increasingly crude and monumental, constructed from almost untreated logs of wood, trunks and branches, large stones, ropes and chains. Bereś does not use nails or screws. His basic construction method is to drill holes through and wedge rods in them under the weight of massive pieces, also tying with ropes. He calls his works Zwidy/ Phantoms.  Decades later, he wrote that they were a friendly dialogue with non-artistic human creativity at earlier stages of the development of culture and civilization

(Jerzy Bereś, “Zwidy,” 1993)

 

Jerzy Bereś and Phantoms/Zwidy, late 1960s, photo by W. Plewiński (Museum of Art in Łodź, CRP Orońsko, National Museum in Szczecin, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaeck.

The first public presentation of Phantoms takes place in June 1962 at the “Park Sculpture” exhibition in Krakow Planty Park. The sculptures arouse great interest. Fellow sculptors, however, think that Bereś has ceased to be a sculptor because his works are not sculptures any more. During the exhibition he meets Tadeusz Kantor in person and a very friendly period of their acquaintance begins.

In 1962, Jerzy and Maria initiate a periodical exhibition “Sculpture of the Year”. It is intended to revitalize the Krakow sculpture scene by forcing an annual confrontation. At the exhibitions, prizes are awarded by an independent jury. At the “Sculpture of the Year” in 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1966, the first prizes are won in turn by Predatory Phantom/Zwid drapieżca, Phantom Bell/Zwid Dzwon, Phantom Crane/Zwid Żuraw, Great Phantom. Zwid Wielki.

In March 1964, he opens his first solo show. Phantoms is shown in the basement of the Krzysztofory Gallery, the headquarters of the Krakow Group Art Association whose members are prominent Polish artists, not only from Krakow. In the catalogue, Anka Ptaszkowska writes:

This sculptor creates tools – useless tools. He attacks the most essential distinction between a work of art and utilitarian object – the distinction so often obliterated. These “tools” are not formally “more beautiful” than an ordinary plow or steering wheel. Neither are they a realization of literary sense, nor is the raison d’être of their existence a construction, treated as an autonomous visual problem. Bereś attains “beauty” by denying the practical function of the object. With this general stroke he provides his “tools” with a new meaning. (…) These sculptures give the impression of being somewhat underdeveloped. They are virtually pieced together, but they hold firm. They manage to carry their weight – not as a result of static calculations, but thanks to the silent tradition passed down from generation to generation. At the same time, they have absorbed the entire experience of the 20th century sculpture.

By the fact that they were not left incomplete and that a margin was left for what is no longer the author – they became fully modern. (…) Bereś as a sculptor renounces the fetish of form; he renounces the fetish of spatial construction of structures. These values ceased to be the goal, they remained accompanying phenomena, resulting from more general assumptions. (…) Bereś acts according to the rules of the world of real needs and useful constructions in order to deny them even more. It seems that as a result of subtracting objects from their function, pathetic stumps will remain. Bereś understood that by making them useless – he could deny them and could save them

(Anka Ptaszkowska, text in the catalogue, Cracow Group Art Association, Cracow, 1964)

 

Jerzy Bereś, Phantom Sign/Zwid znak, 1963, photo by M. Gardulski (Cricoteka Kraków)

The exhibition receives a lively reaction from critics. A few voices:

Maciej Gutowski:

Bereś’s works (…) are different from and unlike our customary perception of sculpture. Their distinctiveness stems from two sources: a different-than-classical approach to sculpture itself and a different-than-usual genesis of creative inspiration.  For Bereś does not seek to express his work by shaping the solid in this or that way, cutting its spatial shape from a particular block. He acts quite the opposite – he constructs his works from ready-made beams and wooden logs to which he adds huge stone boulders,  binding all with ropes or chains. His sculptures are constructions that at any time can be disassembled into individual components and then assembled in an identical manner. (…) Each of Bereś’ works has a particular individuality, one would like to say – personality, having its own distinct expression. (…) Each one brings an element of surprise and amazement

(Maciej Gutowski, “Art News. Sculptures by Jerzy Bereś at the Krzysztofory Gallery,” Dziennik Polski, April 5-6, 1964)

Tadeusz Chrzanowski:

Folk craft, technique of working with the wood developed in villages provides a source of inspiration, but only it. The artist adapts the rawness of form and the appearance of utilitarianism of an object. And then he transforms these inspirations in a fundamental way: he takes the crudeness of woodworking to the limit of durability, to the limits of mannerism, as the simplest swingle tree, well sweep or lock are made much more smoothly and politely than the components of Bereś’ sculptures. In his case, everything is “slapdash” and “from the axe” at their most. And the appearance of utilitarianism? After all, they are mechanisms that do not move and instruments that serve no purpose. Bereś avoided the easy cheap tricks frequently used by contemporary artists in their “objects” in which the only justification is that something turns, moves, or creaks. Bereś’ Phantoms do not move, and yet it seems that it is the movement that the artist tries to express while not aiming at imitation. In his bizarre stands-and-treadmills he attempts to make a statement of an artist. Strange are these sculptures of Bereś.

(Tadeusz Chrzanowski, “Bereś i Zakopianie,” Tygodnik Powszechny, No. 14 (793), April 4, 1964)

Jerzy Bereś, „Zwid biało-czerwony II, 1966, fot. M. Gardulski (Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku)

Stefan Papp:

His adventure takes place in the intellectual realm. He observes human beings through objects, looking for reflections of mentality in the manufacture of tools, primitive machines. He is fascinated by the psychology of tools, their specific adherence to consciousness (subconsciousness?). His sculptures are an attempt to define relations, relations that occur between people and tools. This is why Bereś’ sculptures sometimes seem to be symbolic. From the point of view of functionality, Bereś’ compositions do not make any sense. The possible resemblance to well-known and common tools is only due to an apt outline of the atmosphere, suggestion of the material. (…) From these ” primeval” raw materials, monumental, albeit bizarre, Phantoms are created – field machines, clumsily protruding, leaning, integrated into the ground. It seems that they swing their arm rods while grasping the air, that they organize space with their sculptural existence, and yet they are baffled by their uselessness. There is a kind of naive celebration in these sculptures, reminiscent of the country celebrations. There is the dignity and thoughtfulness of elderly people resting and the grace of playfulness – because these sculptures are full of surprises and pranks. There is a gentle mockery of the precision of modern technology.

Stefan Papp, “Sculptures of Jerzy Bereś,” Współczesność, July 1965)

The journalist Jolanta Antecka recalled:

They were a total upside down turning – except for the material, beautifully used anyway – of all notions. They were crude, they were wild while at that time the dominant group were the artists brought up with the absolute conviction that the most important work of art for which they should strive all their lives was a monument. Erecting a monument ennobled the sculptor and this is what one should aim at. However, monument conceived very traditionally.

(interview with Jolanta Antecka, 30.11.2016)

 

1965

The artist participates in the International Symposium of Sculptors “Forma Viva” in Yugoslavia. He travels there together with Maria, Bettina and their dog Bridge. Two works come into being The Great Kostanjevicki Phantom/Zwid konstajevicki wielki and Tight Phantom/Zwid napięty. This is his first trip abroad. At the time, Yugoslavia appears to Poland as the vestibule of the free world as it has largely freed itself from Moscow’s influence.

1966

He participates in Tadeusz Kantor’s Dividing Line happening.

Phantoms are presented in his one-man exhibition at the Zachęta Gallery, the most important gallery in Poland. For the catalogue, the artist writes: Since the term sculpture did not seem to me very precise – I called my works Phantoms. As each of them is a separate work I tried to add respective adjectives. At first I sketched my concepts, but later I came to the conclusion that it interfered with my work since drawing is already a fact in itself. The occurrence of a creative fact, on the other hand, is the culminating moment for me. My orientation, my measure in this regard is not the current situation in the art world or a particular work, historical convention, but the world outside art. Only in the world without art are there phenomena of subconscious action that can, in my opinion, inspire the formation of creative facts. In the world of art, on the other hand, the struggle that exists between adherents of various conventions and schools created in the past or currently emerging means that works of art often become voices in the discussion rather than facts. (…) Since it is not up to me to determine the importance of my work, I present the facts I have worked out for public evaluation.

(Jerzy Bereś, text in exhibition catalogue, the Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw 1966)

Jerzy Bereś in the studio, mid-1960s, photo from the family archive

He participates in the First Symposium of Artists and Scientists “Art in a Changing World” at the Nitrogen Plant in Puławy. The originator and organizer of the Symposium is art critic Jerzy Ludwiński. Two Phantoms are created at the symposium: Great Phantom/Zwid wielki  and Puławski Phantom/Zwid puławski. The installation of Great Phantom is an ecological demonstration, as an oak tree uprooted and thrown outside the factory’s boundaries during its construction returned to its central location as a work of art. From 1960 to 1966 twenty-seven Phantoms  came into being.

Polish Wheel-barrows/Polskie taczki enter the scene. The work clearly refers to the social situation in Poland. Wheel-barrows hollowed out in the tree trunk with a giant spoon stuck into them are set in a circle painted on the floor seeming to ride around tied on a rope. Wheelbarrows were a symbol of workers’ revolts against communist rule in 1956 when the workers carried the hated party executives out of factories in wheelbarrows. Now, ten years after those events, Bereś seems to be saying that the situation has returned to a starting point. Already in White and Red Phantom I/Zwid Biało-czerwony I and White and Red Phantom II/Zwid Biało-czerwony II  the artist signaled that his works are to be seen in the context of the surrounding reality. Polish Wheelbarrows begins a series of works in which the main elements are various vehicles on an indicated move.

 

Jerzy Bereś, Polish Wheel-Barrows/Taczki polskie, 1966, photo by M. Gardulski (Museum of Art in Łódź)

At the request of Kazimierz Mikulski, Adam Marczyński and Alfred Lenica, he is admitted to the Cracow Group Art Association. The Krzysztofory Gallery will be a mainstay for him almost until the end of his life.

In previous years Phantoms were shown at two exhibitions abroad – in 1964 at the City Gallery in Bochum and in 1966 at the Rodin Museum in Paris. They aroused interest and, as a result, Bereś’ studio began to be visited by curators and critics

 

1967

Jerzy takes part in the “9th International Biennial Open-Air Sculpture” in Antwerp.

Together with Maria he participates in an open-air workshop in Osieki near Koszalin. At Kantor’s encouragement he takes part in the “Panoramic Sea Happening” performed on the beach in nearby Łazy. At the same time he realizes his independent action. He circles around with a rope looped around his neck and tied to a pole in the sand. His comment:

I wanted to show the absurdity of happenings, those endeavors and, in genera,l the condition of Polish art and of the country. It worked out quite well because people quickly lined up in a circle and watched me walk, walk, walk… .

(M. Rogalski, Interview with Jerzy Bereś, [in:] “Panoramic Sea Happening and Tadeusz Kantor in 1964-1968,” Cricoteka, Kraków 2008)

 

Jerzy Bereś during the “Panoramic Sea Happening, Łazy 1967, photo by E. Kossakowski

Pod koniec roku pisze manifest „Akt twórczy I”, w którym zawiera główne idee kształtujące jego twórczość od roku 1960.

Liberation
independent labor – action
a permanent trace
these are the elements of creative fact

any form of taking a stand
towards existing reality
is its constituent:
apotheosis – rebellion – others

an authentic creative fact
belongs to new future
reality
an independent action of well-defined personality
can provide a quarantee for the existence of a conscious creative fact

in visual arts, the conception of a work of art as
an ideal product has devalued
the divinity of act of creation  – the creator
has become a slave

production justifies itself in living
a cult for the product, sometimes disquised with great content
– a monument – a space rocket – a religious image –
is idolatry

the way of honoring real facts
creative in art and science is a testament to
the culture od society

He participates in the 9th Art Biennale in Sao Paulo. The exhibition is visited by the director of the Stedlijk Museum in Amsterdam, and as a result, Phantom Bell is purchased for the museum’s collection. A few years later, he learns from a member of the jury that his candidacy for the first prize was considered but the opinion that he is young and there is time ahead of him prevailed.

Oracle I/Wyrocznia I, Oracle II/Wyrocznia II and Oracle III/Wyrocznia III are created, sculptures that relate to Phantoms in their character .

 

1968

Vehicle sculptures are created: Erotic/Erotyk, Scooter/Hulajnoga, Miraculous Equipage/Cudowny zaprzęg, Carriage/Kolaska, Cart/Wózek.

 

Jerzy Bereś, Erotic/Erotyk, 1968, photo by M. Gardulski (in a private collection)

 

 

“Erotyk” is a kind of chariot: one can see the traces of a woman’s body “imprinted” on the wooden board in the place of a carter, a pole ending in a wooden phallus, obscured by a veil, is inserted in the place of a horse. “Kolaska” is a wheelbarrow with a gouged outline of a lying body. On the floor you can see the imprint of the wheel – the repeated inscription “no.” When “Wózek” (1968/69) begins to move, the red-and-white negative of a female figure carved on its top gets rhythmically pierced by a wooden leaf from underneath, suggesting copulatory movement.

 

 

On January 6, the artist performs Prophecy I/ Przepowiednia I action at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw. He calls it a manifestation; the term “performance” will not be used in Poland until a decade later. The culminating moment of the action is making a large bow from branches and drawing a red and white string. At the end of the arrow hangs a piece of linen with the inscription “Prophecy I.” The artist is almost naked, with two wooden coverings on his hips, inside of which a body is hollowed out. He will often use this outfit in his future manifestations. At the end of the action, he ties the coverings to the erected structure and with his finger dipped in paint he leaves a green signature on them and imprints green traces of his hands, frees himself from the coverings and walks away naked. Throughout the action, the manifesto Creative Act I/Akt twórczy I is read out. The exhibition, which was to consist of a constructed object and photographic documentation gets closed a few days later due to the intervention of the authorities. The political atmosphere is tense as the events in Czechoslovakia bring anxiety to the authorities of the Soviet bloc countries.

Jerzy Bereś, „Kolaska”, 1968, fot. W. Górka (MOCAK w Krakowie)

Wiesław Borowski of the Foksal Gallery wrote:

This was an artistically extremely dangerous undertaking since the artist jeopardized – by bringing the creative process directly to the public – his dignity as a sculptor: so widely cherished and so degenerated in this field of art. He avoided all didacticism in demonstrating the creative process, avoided the usual display of prowess, did not create the impression that he was sharing secrets or technical tricks with the audience. As a performer, he made no mental contact with the witnesses. By doing so, he achieved what was probably the goal of the creative act: the tension of a creative work-action and strong involvement (as well as embarrassment) among the people present there.

(Wiesław Borowski, “Beres’ Creative Act,” Współczesność, 1969, no. 6)

Bereś’s manifestation is fiercely attacked in “Kultura” then the most influential cultural magazine of the People’s Republic of Poland. The columnist Hamilton mocks:

There was so little to see at the happening that the desperate Mr. Bereś stripped down but then there was even less to see. …The posters around the city announce that the traces of the happening produced by Mr. Bereś can be seen at such and such hours, but these are only traces for which the cleaning lady must be called in at the earliest convenience.

(Hamilton, “In 2500 Years After Hippocrates (Persuasion),” Kultura, 1968, no. 51)

A period of close cooperation between Bereś and the Foksal Gallery begins. Along with Henryk Stażewski, Edmund Krasiński, Tadeusz Kantor and Maria Stangret, he forms the group that creates the image of the gallery.

On March 1, he performs at the Krzysztofory Gallery the manifestation  Prophecy II – Making a Monumental Monument/Przepowiednia II – Wykonanie Monumentalnego Pomnika. In the middle of the gallery stands a country cart loaded with the logs of wood to its full capacity. Along the gallery walls bonfires are burning newspapers being the first to go. The manifesto Creative Act I is being read continuously. The audience places successive layers of logs under the feet of the artist.  Finally, the cart is unloaded and the artist stands on a pile reaching the gallery vault. There he makes a bow from wooden branches and a red and white string. Witnesses to the event paint the cart blue. Bereś ties his hip coverings to the bow, signs them with a torch from the bonfire, frees himself from them and steps naked from the pyre.

Traces of the event, along with photographic documentation were to form an exhibition which was closed in the next few days. A violent revolt of students demanding freedom broke out in Poland. The burning of newspapers became a symbol of opposition to the lying propaganda of the communist authorities. In the following months thousands of people were subjected to repression: they were expelled from universities, fired from their jobs, and people of Jewish origin were forced to emigrate.

Jerzy Bereś, Prophecy II/Przepowiednia II, Galeria Krzysztofory, 1.03.1968, photo by E. Kossakowski

Marek Rostworowski wrote about Prophecy II:

In front of a crowd of spectators, in a basement smoky from burning fires, Bereś arranged a pile of wood  standing on top of it he crowned it with a structure made of sticks tied with the scraps of cloth in which he himself was wrapped, having torn them and nakedly joined this monument and after a while he left.  Only traces reamined. From “Zwid.”, an imaginary wooden person, Bereś proceeded to action – to building not according to a plan, but on a trial basis. Bereś’ sculpture is one of art’s most vivid examples of the interplay between imagination and reality.

(Marek Rostworowski, “Z historii Grupy krakowskiej,” in the catalogue of the  Exhibition of the Cracow Group, Cracow Krzysztofory Gallery, 1969).

 

The summer of 1968 brings the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. In November, the sculptor and dissident Wladimir Preclik visits Krakow. On this occasion, Bereś performs Bread Painted Black/Chleb malowany czarno manifestation in the Krzysztofory café. It is a protest against the subjugation of Czechoslovakia as well as the propaganda falsely describing the situation.

Newspaper Puncher/Kasownik gazetowy is being created. It is an instrument in the form of a lever mounted on a primitive table used to invalidate newspapers in the People’s Republic of Poland. Almost all press was owned by to the ruling party, always speaking with one deceitful voice.

Jerzy Bereś, Newspaper Puncher/Kasownik gazetowy, 1968, photo by J. Szmuc

The hippies become a part of the scene at the Krzysztofory Gallery. Against the background of the gray reality of communist Poland they appear as a colorful, interesting and inspiring phenomenon. The authorities try to pacify the rebellious youth movement with all available means. Kantor is initially very interested in the hippies and invites them to his happenings, but later he succumbs to pressure coming from the authorities who threaten to shut down Krzysztofory and orders to expel them from the gallery. At the Krzysztofory Gallery Bereś is their protector. His supports for them makes his relationship with Kantor deteriorate. For the next few years, the hippies will be regular guests at Bereś’s flat, sometimes hiding there from police harassment.

1969

Altar 0 (Prophecy III)/Ołtarz 0 (Przepowiednia III), Falsehood/Fałsz, Normalizer/Normalizator, Moralsmeter/Moralnościomierz come into being

Jerzy Bereś, Altar 0 (Prophecy III)/Ołtarz 0 (Przepowiednia III), 1969, photo from the family archive (in the collection of Studio Theater in Warszawa)

Normalizer is a tree trunk on little legs. Pressing the lever causes a black wooden rose to slide out of the opening. At the same time there is the sound of the metal lids placed under the tree trunk on which white and red paint can be seen dripping. The term “normalization” was used by propaganda to describe the results of the authorities’ pacification of social unrest. Falsehood is Bereś’ commentary on Kantor’s attitude. Under the photo showing Bereś writing the word “falsehood” with his finger on the glass there is a black curtain. After lifting it, one can read: “the real attribute of the avant-garde were the jeans of a hippie. These jeans were hanging in the Krzysztofor café as a relic of the hippies’ artistic activity. Altar 0 (Prophecy III) was shown in October at the 10th Krakow Group Exhibition. When a viewer tilts the pendulum then a red and white phallus rises from the tabletop to the sound of a gong. One day the sculpture disappears from the exhibition, only to reappear after a few days. Many years later, it turned out that it had been “abducted” to the building of the Provincial Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party where party activists wondered whether the sculpture had an anti-state character.

Jerzy Bereś, Falsehood/Fałsz, 1969, photo from the family archive

In her article on Polish happenings Ptaszkowska writes:

During his happening Bereś makes a sculpture. He makes a work of art. A fact not noted in the happening tradition so far. Yet in this case it has nothing to do with the creation of a work of art.  Bereś speaks of his ‘Event’ that it is “a happening-work.” Bereś works until he reaches the limit of exhaustion. The structure of this event is not typical of happenings: no ” sections ” are distinguished here. One and only one theme (work) belonging – seemingly – indivisibly to life – is the engine and material of the event. However, Bereś is not chopping down a wood for fire. The equation mark he puts between “work” and “creative act” is substantial, moreover – real, and yet, everything is taken in quotation marks. Therefore I advise against a practical-didactic interpretation of this juxtaposition along the lines of: “making art requires a diligent effort”. Let’s remember that the “work” created in Bereś’ happening is important only as a trace. Nor should one think that Bereś’ happening has anything to do with a spectacle, making his own experiences or creative thrills available to the audience. First of all, Bereś does not make anything available. The separation between the artist in action and the startled or giggling audience is so complete that this alone makes one suspect that the shift observed several times has taken place. This time the object became the artist himself, his work and his “creative act.” On the other hand, the object became the audience in passive isolation. (…) Let’s recall here another definition- Kaprow’s prohibition “in a happening the audience should be completely eliminated”.  (…) Similarly, in Bereś’, where the audience was not given even the slightest chance to participate.

(Anka Ptaszkowska, “Happening w Polsce, cz. 2,” Współczesność Nr 10 (289), 1969)

 

1970

Enterteinment Mill/Młynek rozrywkowy, Diplomatic Ping-Pong, Star/Gwiazda, Death Knell/Podzwonne, Didactic Rattle/Grzechotka dydaktyczna, Desk/Biurko, Greenhouse/Cepiarnia get created. These sculptures can be called “didactic toys.” They engage a viewer in semantic games of imagination. In the field of observation of the artist are political as well as moral, cultural and existential issues.

Jerzy Bereś, Star/Gwiazda, 1970, photo from the family archive (National Museum in Wrocław)

Various social pathologies are criticized: conformism, opportunism, small-mindedness, careerism, the idleness of mass culture, superficial religiosity. The sculptures contain a heavy load of blunt humor, irony, even sarcasm. Their message is hidden under the mask of plebeian and carnivalesque ridicule. Set together, they form a spectacle that reveals hypocrisy and deception present in all areas of individual and collective life. Important roles have been assigned in this performance to viewers who can set the sculptures in motion. The essence of the message, often surprising, is revealed only after their activation. Sound and color are important. Bereś wrote about them:

These objects are deprived of product features of the simplest possible design which can be activated by the audience. These objects are programmed in such a way that its layer of meaning is only fully revealed after activation. This is especially evident when the signifying sound is used. Here, the man-spectator is necessary for the existence of the artwork.

(Jerzy Bereś, “Creative fact. The concept of works part II,“1978).

 

Jerzy Bereś,Death Knell/Podzwonne, 1970, photo by R. Pietruszewska

Star is a figure cut out of a wooden board, that instead of a head has a rotating star made of radiating phalluses. The rotation of this “star” is accompanied by the rattle of wooden testicles.

In Desk, the lifting of a large seal causes the spreading of female legs protruding from the tabletop. In Diplomatic Ping-Pong, the ball is seated on a pole coming out of the table top. You can hit it with palettes and then under the table the stone hits two pans. When the handle of the Entertainment Mill is turned a male chest rotates whose phallus bangs against a drum placed between the thighs. Pulling the string on the Death Knell causes a large phallus to expand over the scoop. Letting go of the string causes it to fall apart and fall onto the dustpan with a clang. Under the dustpan there is a large pot of green grass. In The Didactic Rattle the sound is created by a wooden fist hitting a wooden face. Of course, these descriptions, as well as subsequent descriptions of the sculptures and actions are obviously very sparse by necessity and merely signal the nature of Bereś’ work. Star is a figure cut out of a wooden board that instead of a head has a rotating star made of radiating phalluses. The rotation of this “star” is accompanied by the rattle of wooden testicles.

Jerzy Bereś, Desk/Biurko, 1970, photo from the family archive (Museum of Art in Łódź)

In March, he participates in the “Visual Arts Symposium Wrocław’70” which is a great manifestation of conceptual tendencies in Polish art. The projects submitted by the artists are to be realized in public space of Wrocław, but almost none of them live to see it. Bereś submits Live Monument entitled Arena/Żywy pomnik pt. Arena project. It envisions the delineation of a sizable circle, one half of which is to be covered with asphalt and the other seeded with grass. In the grassy part young trees should be planted, in the center of the circle a large oak tree is to be embedded with its roots upward. On the edges of the circle should be placed benches, one in the middle is to link the two parts. Every year in early spring, when leaves show on the young trees, the roots of the dead tree are to be painted green. The project is about Wrocław: a city destroyed and displaced after World War II and repopulated with Poles who had to leave the eastern Polish territories that fell to the Soviet Union. It was partially realized by students in 1972 with only a dead tree trunk embedded. It remained there for more than ten years and in 1983 was cut down by the militia under the pretext of preparing a landing site for a helicopter bringing Pope John Paul II who was visiting Wrocław at the time. The landing, however, did not take place. More than a decade passed again and in 1995 a new tree was embedded, but again the project was not fully implemented. This did not happen until 2010, which was forty years after Bereś’  project was conceived.

Jerzy Bereś, Live Monument entitled Arena/Żywy pomnik pt. Arena, as of 2018 Wrocław, photo by O. Hanusek

In December, a wave of workers’ strikes erupts in protest against significant food price increases. Their brutal suppression is followed by another political shift. Władysław Gomułka’s cabinet is being replaced by that of Edward Gierek who announces a “renewal” after the aberrations of the previous government. He receives a broad credit of confidence from the wide spectrum of society, especially from the intelligentsia. The so-called decade of “success propaganda” begins. Gierek opens Poland to the West, buys licenses and takes out loans, tries to satisfy the consumer appetites of a hungry society. It is easier to go abroad. Behind the new face, however, lies the old totalitarian system, based on ubiquitous censorship, secret police and a communist party with a power monopoly. However, everything is more secretive and hypocritical.

The Clapper/Klaskacz is created – an object where a viewer using a lever can set three pairs of wooden hands in motion, making a deafening, rhythmic sound of applause. One hand holding a rosary also moves in their rhythm. The work comments on the atmosphere of the mass support for the new apparatchik induced by propaganda.

Jerzy Bereś, Clapper/Klaskacz, 1970, photo by W. Plewiński (Muzeum of Art in Łodź)

The Foksal Gallery invites him to participate in the “Salon International de Galeries Pilotes” exhibition at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne, later transferred to Paris. Before the exhibition, presumably under pressure from the authorities, other Foksal Gallery artists try to persuade him not to show politically engaged sculptures. Bereś rejects the suggestion. This marks the end of his cooperation with the gallery.

1971

Lollipop/Lizak, Patter/Poklepywacz, Turnpike/Kołowrót, Pendulum/Wahadło, Rag/Szmata, Trotter/Dreptak, Political Stool/Stołek polityczny, Round Table/Stół okrągły come into being. These are participatory sculptures.

Jerzy Bereś, Round Table/Stół okrągły, 1971, photo by M. Gardulski (Museum Würth in Künzelsau)

In Round Table, viewers can use a handle to hit the tabletop with two wooden fists alternately but the pink piggy escapes each time being hit. In Political Stool, the propeller spins over the seat with the imprint of a person seated earlier. Trotter is used to set the pole in motion, marching to the rhythm of a flag waving. In Rag the hand extended for shaking turns when the wind blows. Lollipop is used to lick a wooden butt with a tongue made from a leather belt. Turnpike is a rotating crossbar. On one axis there are canvases with signs of day and night, on the other axis wooden carvings of the crotch area: male and female are set opposite each other. Turning the crossbar causes the sound of a pebble leaping from one metal cup to another.

As part of the exhibition of Polish art at the Sonia Henie Institute, a substantial presentation of Bereś’ work takes place.

In October, he shows 43 sculptures at a solo exhibition at the Bochum Museum. At the opening he performs the manifestation Reconstruction/Rekonstrukcja which is a reference to Prophecy II and Bread Painted Black. It is rather an exception. In the future, as a principle he will never roll out his manifestations”.

Jerzy Bereś, Reconstruction/Rekonstrukcja, Bochum Museum, 30.10.1971, photo from the family archive

1972

Jerzy Bereś, Altar I (Alarm-Clock)/Ołtarz I (Budzik), 1972, photo by J. Szmuc

Stamper/Tupak, God’s Hand/Ręka Boska, Challenge Banner/Sztandar przechodni, Altar I (Alarm-Clock)/Ołtarz I (Budzik), Horoscope/Horoskop are created. In the Altar I (Alarm-Clock) a head with lush hair sticks up from a trough hollowed out in the trunk and filled with food. Pressing a lever makes the head lift up and show the face. At the same time, the sound of a wooden hammer hitting the lid can be heard. Challenge Banner rising above the national colors, can be tilted to one side or the other. It is represented by a woman’s stocking cut out of cloth. The blessing God’s Hand is the end of a pendulum that comes and goes. Stamper” is a large wooden foot with a pole and a plaque sticking out. The foot is right and the plaque says “left.”

In June he performs the manifestation Bread Paited Colorful/ Chleb malowany kolorowo at the Bureau of Poetry of Andrzej Partum, a leading artist of the Polish neo-avant-garde. It is one of several private, independent galleries established in Poland in the early 1970s.

In July, Bereś’ solo exhibition opens at the Museum of Moderne Kunst Louisiana in Humlebaeck.

Jerzy Bereś, Challenge Banner/Sztandar przechodni, 1972, photo by M. Węgrzyn

In October, a solo exhibition at Konsthalle in Södertӓlje, Sweden. At the opening the artist performs the manifestation Transfiguration I/Trasfiguracja I He walks around a flagpole being tethered to a rope and imprints colorful circles of his feet while painting the word “flag” in different colors on his hip covers. He then removes the hip covers and hoists them up the flagpole. Naked he walks over to the table and alternately slices bread and draws red divisions on his chest. At the end, he invites people to eat the bread. For the first time, he performs completely naked for most of the manifestation. In subsequent manifestations, he often performs alternate actions through which he builds a semantic relationship between himself (his body, personality, face) and certain material objects on which he then conducts symbolic operations.

In October he exhibits his work in the exhibition “Atelier 72” at the Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh.

1973

Romantic Altar/Ołtarz romantyczny, Altar Sign/Ołtarz znak, Diary/Pamiętnik, Światowid”, Flapper/Kołatka, Propaganda Ritual/Rytuał propagandowy, Common Altar/Ołtarz powszedni, Altar of Hope/Ołtarz nadziei, Sacrifice Table with a Smoother/Stół ofiarny w wygładzaczem,Toy/Zabawka originate. We will describe only a few of them.

The silhouette of a naked man is carved on Sacrifice Table with a Smoother. A straw doormat fixed on a rotating log in which a bottle with a living flower is stuck can be moved over it. Diary has the form of a vertical board ending at the bottom with a rectangular block. In its upper part there is a hole, in it a broken gasoline bottle with a stone inside. The board like a swing can swing over the table. At the clink of the stone, footprints burned on the tabletop appear and they get covered when the board is at rest. This work is dedicated to those who fighting for their ideas committed self-immolation. Protesting against the Soviet aggression in Czechoslovakia self-immolation was performed by Ryszard Siwiec and Walenty Badylak in Poland, Jan Palach and Jan Zając in Czechoslovakia. Romantic Altar resembles a stall from a medieval fair. A wooden lever in the shape of a flower rises from it. The flower branch is unpainted, while the cup is red and white. The shadow can be seen below: the branch is green, and the cup is unpainted. By bending the lever the red-and-white flower cup contacts the green stem. At the moment of contact there is a loud sound of horseshoes hanging under the stall. In Propaganda Ritual a wooden plank can be rearranged which covers one side and then the other side of the table which is made of half a tree trunk. Once we see an eye with a blue iris, then an eye with a red iris.

Jerzy Bereś, „Transfiguracja II”, Galeria Desa, Kraków, 16.04.1973, fot. J. Szmuc

In April, he performs the manifestation Transfiguration II/Transfiguracja II at the DESA gallery in Krakow.

In May, as part of the Student Theater Festival, he performs the manifestation Transfiguration III/Transiguracja III. For the first time in Poland he performs completely naked. Painting his feet, he imprints circles of marks in different colors, while making colorful signatures on sheets of paper. Then, painting the divisions on his body, he chops the tree trunk into small splinters. He lights a fire using the previously signed sheets for kindling.

 

In September, Auction/Licytacja at the private independent “Pi” gallery. He alternately divides a block of wood and his body into parts: wood with an axe and his body with a paintbrush. He makes a bundle out of the logs, writes his name on it and then puts it up for auction. The auction lasts for several days. In its finale, the artist’s daughter Bettina outbids the maximum bid and returns the bundle to her father who throws it into the stove. A member of the Cracow Group, the painter Janusz Tarabuła witnessted it:

I remember that there were maybe twenty people there. It was a small room and there was  almost mystical silence, as he cut that little tree trunk and painted lines, everyone just received it as an religious act. It was probably one of the best and most shocking of his manifestations. No one spoke, no one said anything, the silence was absolute like at a true mass. To this day I remember it very clearly.

(Interview with Janusz Tarabula, 15.07.2017)

His works are presented at the exhibition “Minimuseum of the International Avantarde” at the Arturo Schwarz Gallery in Milan.

He performs manifestations and creates sculptural objects at the same time. These two lines are very close to each other. A number of objects are participatory being instruments for manifestations. On the other hand, during his manifestations sculptural objects get created or used. Bereś calls them thing documents/dokumenty rzeczowe and considers them to be the right – contrary to photographs or video – traces that document the performed act. They do not only contain information but also materialised emotions.

 

In the Dutch magazine „Museumjournaal” Paul Heftig publishes an article devoted to the oeuvre of Bereś. There are included also translations of some of his texts: from the catalogue accompanying his exhibition at the National Gallery Zachęta „Akt Twórczy I”/ “Creative Act I” and the project of „Żywego pomnika pt. Arena/ Live Monument entitled Arena”. Hefting writes that Bereś can be defined as a somewhat sombre critic whose work has nothing to do with literature, but with the current events in his country and the world. The content and suggestion of the content are as important in his work as the form. With his work Bereś often reacts to political situations; he contributes to these (secular and non-secular) situations

(Paul Heftig, “Korte notitie over de poolse beeldhouwer Jerzy Bereś,” Museumjournaal serie 18, No. 6, December 1973)

 

1974

Altar of Face/Ołtarz twarzy, Sprig Altar/Ołtarz wiosenny come into being. In Spring Altar at the sound of the stone hitting the lid, we can lift the head whose face was earlier immersed in the earth filling the trough.

He is awarded the Art Criticism Prize in Sculpture for 1973 by the Art Criticism and Information Section of the Polish Journalists Union in Cracow.

Jerzy Bereś, Wooden Road/Drewniana droga, Gruga Park in Essen 28.08-5.09.1974 (assembling the object), photo by D. Maurer

In Gruga Park in Essen he carries out an elaborate manifestation Wooden Road. He arrives two months late because the authorities delayed issuing his passport. For several days he builds large wooden objects in the park : Political Sign-Post/Drogowskaz polityczny, Puryfying Ritual/Rytuał oczyszczający, Ritual of Law/Rytuał prawa, Erotic Ritual/Rytuał erotyczny, Sacrifice Ritual/Rytuał ofiarny. Meanwhile, the auction of a bundle of logs signed by the artist is underway. On the final day, Bereś, pushing the wheelbarrows made by him, inaugurates the auction of the objects he has created. The price obtained at the auction is five thousand marks, a very large sum for Bereś. His wife outbids it and the bundle is burned. Documentation of Bereś’ action is made by Dora Maurer, a conceptual artist from Hungary. The resulting objects were to be shown at a planned exhibition of Polish art. However, the exhibition did not take place and the objects disappeared. Bereś wrote:

The strangest and most mysterious thing – knowing the scrupulousness of the Germans – was that after a certain period of time I received a message that the sculptures had been destroyed in the park, while having transported them, I repaired the damage and signed them, left them in the warehouse of the Folkwang Museum in Essen.

(Jerzy Bereś, “Zwidy Wyrocznie Ołtarze,” 1989).

 

Jerzy Bereś next to Altar of Face/Ołtarz twarzy, 9.12.1974, photo from the family archive

Altar of Face is a factual document of a manifestation that takes place in December at the Studio Gallery in Warsaw. The tree trunk set on little legs bears the inscription ‘the altar offace’. Bereś divides his face into parts with black lines and at the same time chops the log into slivers. He lights a bonfire from these slivers on the altar of face”. When a substantial hole is burned he extinguishes the bonfire. He pours wine into glasses while painting red flowers on his white tunic. He mounts a board on ‘the Altar’, puts his tunic there like a tablecloth and a loaf of bread on it. The board can be tilted and then the burnt trace can be seen.

1975

The Blues, The Altar of Truth/Ołtarz prawdy come into being. In The Blues a tree trunk fixed on two skids can be rocked like a cradle. While rocking the stones placed in two bottles embedded in the tree trunk generate sounds: one is for wine, the other is for milk. The Altar of Truth is a reclining piece of tree trunk on which a large metal lid is placed, and above it there is a board with a white inscription “altar”. When a lever attached to this board gets pushed, the lid lifts up to reveal the red inscription ‘truth’.

Jerzy Bereś, The blues, 1975, photo by M. Węgrzyn

In May, he performs Reflective Mass/Msza refleksyjna manifestation at the vernissage at the Szadkowski metalworks factory in Krakow organised by Stefan Papp. The vernissage takes place in the presence of the all factory employees and their families. Bereś enters the factory pushing Symbolic Wheel-barrows/Taczki symboliczne  which he then turns upside down and transforms into a table. He demonstrates how an image of a face can be printed using a large seal. At the table bearing the inscription ‘a beautiful altar’ he slices bread, paints the slices blue and arranges them in a circle. Finally, he impresses blue handprints. At the table with the inscription ‘a pure altar’ he pours vodka into glasses and divides his body with horizontal black lines. He invites the workers to have a drink.

Jerzy Bereś, Reflective Mass/Msza refleksyjna, The Szadkowski Metalworks Factory, 10.05.1975, photo by J. Rubiś (Symbolic Wheel-barrows in a private collection)

In October, he presents three sculptures Great Phantom, Miraculous Equipage and Polish Wheel-Barrows at the exhibition Romanticism and the Romantic in Polish Art of the 19th and 20th Centuries at the Zachęta National Gallery in Warsaw.

In November, he performs Lap of Honor/Runda honorowa in Zamość. On a frosty day, dressed only in a wooden hip belt made of two pieces of wood with the inscription “Bereś” the artist pushes Symbolic Wheel-Barrows. At the end, the big crowd of observers print leaflets with the image of his face while Bereś chops and burns the hip wooden belt. The police intervene.

Jerzy Bereś, Lap of Honor/Runda honorowa, Main Square in Zamość, 15.11.1975, photo by Z. Dados

Józef Robakowski the experimental filmmaker and leading representative of the Polish neo-avant-garde realises ‘The Living Gallery’ film in which a fragment of this manifestation is included.

Romantic Cart/Wózek romantyczny with a programme for the manifestation get created. It envisages going around the market square of a city and lighting five bonfires of hope, freedom, dignity, love and truth. Five bundles of wood are attached to a romantic cart. The names of the bonfires are to be painted on the pavement of the market square by the artist. Romantic Cart was first shown at an exhibition in Zielona Góra but was removed after the censors’ intervention. An attempt to perform the manifestation in Krakow ended with a ban by the authorities. Over the following years Bereś would attempt to perform it in various cities but without succeeding.

 

1976

Conceptor/Konceptor, Specter/Widmo, Mental Altar/Ołtarz mentalny, Pendulum/Wahadło, Altar of Sincerity/Ołtarz szczerości, Political Wayside Shrine/Kapliczka polityczna  get created.

Jerzy Bereś, Specter/Widmo, 1976, photo by P. Rybak

Workers’ strikes in Radom and Warsaw in June. The workers, protesting against prices increase, are brutally pacified by the police. A small group of people from Warsaw begins to organise financial and legal aid. It marks the beginning of the formation of an illegal but open opposition in the People’s Republic of Poland.

Pendulum is a direct commentary on these events. A wooden hand swings over a tree trunk that has been hollowed out and can ‘reach’ for bread or for a cobblestone. This hesitation is accompanied by the sound of a bell. Specter is a small roller over which a fabric with a painted flower is stretched. When we set the roller in motion it impresses footprints on the ground as if a person was walking.

Jerzy Bereś, Existential Ritual/Rytuał egzystencjalny, Galeria na Piętrze, Łódź, 4.05.1976, photo from the family archive

After the January manifestation Hearth of Art/Ognisko sztuki at the BWA Gallery Koszalin a series of harassing and derisive articles appear in the press. At the climax of the action, the artist lights a bonfire on which the weekly Art magazine is burning and puts a tunic on his naked body with the inscription “Hearth of Art”.

Manifestations: Sculptor’s Altar/Ołtarz rzeźbiarski in Krakow, Ritual of Sincerity/Rytuał szczerości in Łódź, Existential Ritual/Rytuał egzystencjalny in Lublin and Philosophical Ritual/Rytuał filozoficzny in Toruń.

Jerzy Bereś, Hearth of Art/Ognisko sztuki, BWA Koszalin, 8.01.1976, photo from the family archive

In December, his solo exhibition at the BWA gallery in Bialystok opens. After a few days, the exhibition is closed on the orders of Jerzy Łukaszewicz who is responsible for the press and propaganda at the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party. The gallery director is fired. A brochure is published with a speech by Łukaszewicz addressed to the secretaries for cultural affairs of party committees at various levels. Bereś is among the artists listed whose art should not be shown in museums and galleries. A little later he receives an unofficial message that he can only present his art in student clubs. He is to be condemned to an absence from official galleries and official cultural press.

1977

Philosopher’s Stone/Kamień filozoficzny, Altar of Silence/Ołtarz milczenia, PAX, Altar of Boredom/Ołtarz nudy come into being. PAX is reminiscent of a pan scale. On the left pan there is an engraved red imprint of a left hand, on the right one a blue imprint of a right hand. At the end of the pointer the letter “A” is embedded.  Pressing down on the pan makes it “escape” from its place between the painted letters “P” and “X”. In the Altar of Silence the outline of a face with its mouth lacing up is visible on a large board, surrounded by a low screen with the inscription “Altar of Silence”. The base of Philosopher’s Stone‘ is a hollow tree trunk with a stone set inside with leather straps which enables it lifting up. A revolving cross of planks is set above it. Three question marks and one exclamation mark are carved into the ends of the planks. The rotation of the planks is accompanied by the sound of the stone in the jar.

Jerzy Bereś, Philosopher’s Stone/Kamień filozoficzny, 1977, photo by W. Plewiński

The Manifestation Ritual of Culture/Rytuał kultury performed at the Riwiera Remont student club in Warsaw.

In his book “Contemporary Polish Sculpture,” Wojciech Skrodzki writes:

For him, a work of art is an object equipped first and foremost with a definite meaning; while he rejects all expressivity, metaphoricity and mysteriousness. The actions of art are related to the Dadaist principle of provocation. He seeks to provoke thinking above all. He knows that thinking is not usually a painless activity. And it does not require the support of anything. For everything can turn out to be empty, false and deceptive. He does not trust or believe in anything. For the artist, objects characterised by maximum austerity – logs or pieces of wood and ordinary ropes – become the tools of action. The artist knows that the deepest truths can do without signs and the greatest mysteries can be expressed in the simplest gesture. The creative act is a conscious manifestation of freedom.

(Wojciech Skrodzki, “Dzieła i poszukiwania” [in:] A. Osęka, W. Skrodzki, “Współczesna rzeźba polska,” Warszawa 1977).

Bereś’  artworks can be seen at the Grand Palais in Paris where the exhibition “Romanticism and the Romantic in 19th and 20th century Polish art” is on display and in Middelheim, Antwerp, at the 14th Biennale of Outdoor Sculpture.

In December, he performs Artistic Mass I/Msza artystyczna I at the student club “Jaszczury” in Krakow. Thing Documents from the action end up in the dump.

 

Jerzy Bereś, Altar of Silence/Ołtarz milczenia, 1977, photo by W. Plewiński (National Museum in Warszawa)

1978

An Open Work/Dzieło otwarte is being created, referring to Umberto Eco’s concept. In Bereś’ Polish version, it is simply an open green barrier, standing on a canvas with the inscription “open work.”

Jerzy Bereś, Monument of an Artist/Pomnik artyst, Warcino-Kępice, 25.08.1978, photo by I. Wojtkiewicz

August is the month in which the Open-Air Questions Plein-Air organised by Andrzej Kostołowski is initiated, bringing together the leading figures of the Polish avant-garde and neo-avant-garde over the next three years, as well as artists from abroad. At the first open-air in Warcin, Bereś performs the action Monument of an Artist/Pomnik artysty, although formally the organisers were unable to secure permission from the local authorities for it. Clad only in a wooden loincloth with the inscription “artist’s body”, he carries a banner on his shoulder with the inscription “artist’s spirit” and drags a tree trunk with the inscription “artist’s monument” behind him. In this way, he walks for several kilometres to the nearby town of ” Kępice”. At the “artist’s monument”, he burns his loincloth and puts a banner-tunic with the inscription “artist’s spirit” on his naked body. Finally, he spreads a canvas on the ground with the inscription “artist’s contact with the public”, pours vodka into glasses on it and offers it to a randomly gathered audience. The police intervene.

Jerzy Bereś, Romantic Mass/Msza romantyczna, Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków 16.09.1978, photo from the family archive

In September, he performs Romantic Mass/Msza romantyczna at the Krzysztofory gallery. It is a summary of ten years of performing manifestations. He enters the room with a thick bundle of grey boards suspended around his neck. Each board contains information about one manifestation. He signs more boards, and a gallery employee hangs them on the walls. When he is finally left naked, he puts the signature on his own body. At the climax of the manifestation, the fire on the Altar of Fulfillment/Ołtarz spełnienia burns through the list and the two logs, placed at its ends, fall down, hitting the gong with a resounding thud.

In October he performs the manifestation Philosophers Stone/Kamień filozoficzny as part of the International Performance and Body Art Festival at the Labyrinth Gallery in Lublin. Małgorzata Sady recalls:

He was lighting a bonfire inside the exhibition hall and for me it was absolute magic. It was a ritual that made you fall into some kind of trance. It rarely happens to experience an intense communion with a work of art, to experience it completely with your whole being. It was such a transportation in time. (…) All his movements that were extremely economical stood in contrast to what other artists were doing. Well, just … the power of truth, it seems to me

(Interview with Małgorzata Sady, 06.07.2016)

This manifestation was witnessed by Angela Carter, one of the leading British writers of the 2nd half of the 20th century associated with the feminist movement. In her coverage she wrote:

The stone remains, though the paper is burned away. Bereś takes a brush, paints his name on the stone. Transmutation? Transformation? Have we been present at the creation of Work od Art? An exposition lucid and wonderfully mysterious

(Angela Carter, “Accounts of performances by Jerzy Bereś and Zbigniew Warpechowski at the Gallery Labirynt, Lublin, Poland, October 1978,” Extremes 5, Grantham, 1979)

 

Jerzy Bereś, Altar of Changes/Ołtarz zmia, 1978,  photo by M. Gardulski (Center for Contemporary Art in Toruń)

Altar of Changes/Ołtarz zmian comes into being, the centrepiece of which is four brooms that form a windmill set in motion. The rotation of the brooms is accompanied by the sound of bells. The following year, at the “Sculpture of the Year” exhibition, the censor demanded that the red and white element be removed from the sculpture.

The artist completes the text “Creative fact. The concept of a work of art, part I”, in which he describes his creative path and tries to capture its most important features. He writes:

I oppose the zone of indirect contact to the zone of direct contact with which I associate the creative fact without product characteristics and active reception which does not exclude but rather presupposes the necessity of reliable verbal, photographic, cinematic information about authentic creative works. (…) I consider the prioritisation of a product over a creative fact and thus the prioritisation of indirect contact over direct contact to be a dangerous deformation of our times.

 

1979

At the “Sculpture of the Year 1978”, the jury awards him the prize of the Mayor of the City of Krakow who initially refuses to recognise this decision.

He is invited by Akademia Ruchu to participate in an art festival in Italy. The authorities refuse to give him a passport.

He performs Philosophical Mass/Msza filozoficzna in Łódź, Author’s Mass/Msza autorska in Wrocław and Avant-Garde Mass/Msza Awangardowa at the open-air festival in Świeszyno.

After many efforts, he finally receives a passport. At the international festival “Works and Words” organised by the De Appel Gallery in Amsterdam in September, he performs the action Work and Word. Karel Schampers wrote:

Only the Pole Jerzy Bereś was a prominent performer. While the others seemed rather artificial, unintelligible, and predictable, Bereś managed to shape his ideas in such a simple, direct and intense way, during a kind of ritual act that they immediately resonated.

(Karel Schampers,”Works and Words,” Museumjournaal serie 24, no. 6 November 1979)

Frank Gribling’s take on his action was similar:

The presentation of the Polish doyen of performance art, Bereś, is not only informative but also visually very engaging. In an extremely concentrated, literally naked form, he showed the different layers of meaning of our experience of reality, based on notions of work and words. This was done in a completely irrational way, full of primordial associations, but of a philosophical rather than mystical nature.

(Frank Gribling, “Works and Words,” Museumjournaal serie 24, No. 6 November 1979)

 

Jerzy Bereś, Opus 0, College of Higher Education, Hull, 26.10.1979, photo from the family archive

After his stay in Amsterdam, he participates with Zbigniew Warpechowski and Andrzej Kostołowski in a long tour of the UK, organised by the English performance artist Roland Miller. He performs ten different manifestations dedicated to the mysteries of the artwork in various British cities, including Liverpool, London, Glasgow, Hull, Nottingham, Cardiff, among others. The “Performance Magazine” publishes an article by Angela Carter:

Jerzy Bereś and Zbigniew Warpechowski are the two most exciting artists working in the field of performance in Poland, perhaps in the whole of Eastern Europe, at the moment. (…) Though Bereś often incorporates his woodcarvings into the events he creates with such luminous simplicity, his work itself is always performed in the first person and involves an exposition of the inherent beauty, dignity and infinite fragility of human body. The naif element of his work relates it to certain Slavonic traditions of the holiness of Innocence yet his underlying themes concern the nature of art itself.

(“Performance from Poland. Angela Carter on two performance artists visiting Britain,”The Performance Magazine”, No. 3, October/November 1979)

Bereś’ works are shown in the exhibition “Ten Polish Contemporary Artists from Collection of Museum of Art Łódź” at the Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh and ‘L’Avangardia Polacca 1910-1978′ at Palazzo delle Esposizioni’ in Rome.

The artist writes the text “The work of art and the perfect product” in which he reflects on the ways of conceiving a work of art:

I propose a work of art as a creative fact, as opposed to a work of art conceived as a perfect product. (…) If we conceive of the whole of civilisation as one great work of art, conceived as a perfect product, it can be found at a stage of realisation in which, in principle, the objectification of nature has already taken place by treating it as a material, and subsequently, slowly but inevitably, as a result of the improvement of the methods and the didactic tool with a view to the work thus conceived, the objectification of man must also take place. The proposed notion of a work of art in which man can be both a subject and an object, and allows nature to be itself, at least partly, offers the possibility of opening up a dialogue.

1980

He performs the manifestation Dialogue with Ignacy Witkiewicz/Dialog ze Stanisławem Ignacym Witkiewiczem at the Pryzmat gallery in Krakow. It refers to Witkacy’s concept of “a pure form”. He smashes against a stone an empty bottle of vodka which he treats as a pure form. During the manifestation, he paints a green question mark on his chest and puts a dot on his phallus.

Jerzy Bereś, Political Mass/Msza polityczna, 14.09.1981, photo from the family archive

August sees a wave of strikes in major factories. The authorities bow to social pressure and agree to form Solidarity, the first free trade union in the Soviet bloc. Lech Wałęsa, the strike leader from the Gdańsk shipyards, becomes its leader. Solidarity is not a typical trade union, but rather a nationwide social movement against communist rule which is soon joined by ten million people. Among the postulates raised is the abolition of censorship and the release imprisoned political activists.

In September, at an open-air workshop in Świeszyno, he performs Political Mass/Msza polityczna in which he refers to the Polish revolution. Stamping white marks, he advances on his knees along a long strip of canvas lying on the floor with the inscription “the political altar”. Halfway there, he lights a bonfire and writes a red letter ‘V’ and the word ‘sacrifice’ on his naked chest. He continues marching along the canvas already standing, leaving red footprints.

He exhibits his works at exhibitions of Polish art in Dresden, Barcelona, Dusseldorf and Paris.

 

1981

Jerzy Bereś, Altar of Wisdom/Ołtarz mądrości, 1981, photo by A. Polakowski (Regional Museum in Radom)

The Altar of Wisdom/Ołtarz mądrości comes into being. From a lightly hewn and sawn piece of a tree trunk, Bereś made palms that when put together fit perfectly. Their outer side is covered with bark. The palms have been set on narrow boards and folded as if in a gesture of prayer or meditation. It is possible to open them but it is limited by the cord on which the bell hangs.

At the Krzysztofory Gallery in Krakow, he opens an exhibition of documentation of his activities in the years 1968-1980. During the opening, he performs the manifestation Pure Work entitled The Nude/Czyste dzieło pt. Akt.

He receives the Second Degree Award of the Minister of Culture and Art but does not collect it.

At the open-air workshop in Osieki, he performs the manifestation Wheel-Barrows of Freedom/Taczki wolności. Naked, he pushes the primitive wheelbarrows through the park alleys. From time to time, he stops and paints on his body important dates from Poland’s recent history, all connected with the Second World War and the rebellions against communist rule: 1939, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1976, 1980. They are the dates that anyone living long enough in the communist Poland has experienced first-hand. At the end of the action his body looks tattooed.

Jerzy Bereś, Wheel-Barrows of Freedom/Taczki wolności, Osieki, 10.09.1981, photo by R. Motkowicz

In November, he performs the action The First Dialogue with Marcel Ducham/ I dialog z Marcel Duchamp at the Labyrinth gallery in Lublin. It alludes to a situation from 1963, when Marcel Duchamp played chess with a naked female model using her as a ready-made object. Bereś reverses this situation. He enters the gallery naked with a board bearing the inscription “readymade object”. He lights a bonfire and puts the board in the fire. He walks over to the table and starts a game of chess with the girl who is dressed. While playing chess he paints a green question mark on the chest bit by bit. When it is finished, he stops the chess game, walks over to the bonfire and takes out a charred piece of wood. He crosses out the question mark on his chest with charcoal and places it under Duchamp’s name, painted on the wall.

Jerzy Bereś, The First Dialogue with Marcel Ducham/ I dialog z Marcel Duchamp, BWA Lublin, 6.11.1981, photo by A. Polakowski

He writes the text “The work of art as a stimulator of judgement”, in which, using his own works as an example outlines a prophetic conception of art. Its objective should be to provoke viewers to judge reality. He begins the text with the words: If a philosopher says that when the transcendental becomes the concrete one should stop thinking, then this is the right moment for an artist to act.

On 18 November, as part of the 9th International Krakow Meetings, he performs  Romantic Manifestation/Romantyczna manifestacja using the Romantic Cart on the Main Square in Krakow. He walks around the Cloth Hall pushing the ringing “Romantic Cart” and lights the five bonfires of hope, freedom, dignity, love and truth among the gathered crowd. This action can take place because the authorities relaxed their control of events in public space during the Solidarity period. However, before the manifestation, they stipulated that they did not take responsibility for what might happen. The names of the bonfires painted on the Market Square were to remain for a few days but were removed the following night. The manifestation is recalled by the journalist Jolanta Antecka:

I saw an old lady who, while reading out the inscriptions suddenly started crying! It was something absolutely incredible. Then I started looking around. There was also a moment of absolute astonishment. Someone asked: dignity, dignity, what does he mean? And someone replied: you’re so stupid, dignity is simply dignity!

(Interview with Jolanta Antecka, 30.11.2016)

Jerzy Bereś, Romantic Manifestation/ Romantyczna manifestacja, Main Market in Kraków, 18.11.1981, photo by R. Bobek (Romantic Cart is in the collecton of National Muzeum in Kraków)

On December 13th martial law is declared in Poland. During the pacification of the Academy of Music where the students were on strike Bereś exhibition which was there at the invitation of the strikers disappears. He was never able to find out what happened to it. An important element of this exhibition was the Altar of Fulfillment from the 1978 Romantic Mass.

1982

Social and cultural life in Poland comes to a standstill. In the first few months most institutions are out of action. Thousands of Solidarity activists are interned. The authorities succeed in suppressing strikes and thousands of protest demonstrations that take place all over Poland. There are fatalities, sentences of many years imprisonment for illegal activities. Some Solidarity activists go underground and try to continue their resistance. When, after a few months, the authorities want life to return to normality, artists announce a boycott of state cultural institutions including galleries, mass media, press, radio, television. It will continue for the first half of the decade. Anyone who breaks this boycott is labelled a collaborator with the regime. The independent culture movement gets activated and relocated to churches and private venues. One of the few exceptions is the BWA Gallery in Lublin, which due to the person of its director Andrzej Mroczek and his contribution to art is exempted from the boycott. The Krzysztofory Gallery hosts closed meetings with artists and unofficial presentations of their works. Bereś would actively participate in the independent culture movement in the following years. Censorship makes sure that the name of Solidarity disappears from mass media. Even the most modest manifestations of resistance in public space are of extraordinary importance. Everyday life is difficult, basic food and  various items are rationed. There are eternally long queues in front of shops.

Jerzy Bereś, Stigma/Piętno, 1982, photo by L. Fidusiewicz

Works commenting the reality of a terrorised society come into being : Stigma/Piętno, March/Marsz, Face/Twarz, Appeal/Apel, Place/Miejsce, Flower/Kwiat, Shield/Tarcza.

Jerzy Bereś, Face/Twarz, 1982, photo by M. Węgrzyn

Face was created exactly six months after the imposition of martial law. It is a spider-like form with a lump of tree trunk at its centre bearing the delicately carved outline of a face in a silent scream. This face is obscured by the large green inscription “face”. Thus, there are two faces, one hidden under the other. The head block has been pierced with three poles which are whips but the knotted cords hanging from them, thanks to the green bows, are associated with braids. March is a big foot in a stride, chained up. In Stigma, a ‘bloody’ nail hole appears in a palm-shaped piece of wood after the pole with a red and white flag is tilted. Flower is dry, growing from a slice of tree trunk bearing the inscription “1981/82” and the word “flower” in coloured letters. In Place two laced boards hang over the tree trunk, resembling a face. A red and white cushion lies on the tree trunk with long nails sticking out of it. In the 1980s, Bereś used a number of sculptures from the 1970s attributing to them a new and more relevant message.

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1983

Trance/Trans, Eye/Oko, Cross/Krzyż, Altar of Independence/Ołtarz niepodległości come into being.

Jerzy Bereś, Altar of Independence/Ołtarz niepodległości, 1983, photo by M. Gardulski

Trance is a kind of Pegasus – wings with white and red ailerons grow from a tree trunk set on four legs. “Pegasus” is tethered by a cord to a peg with the inscription “1983”. The Altar of Independence was part of a collection unofficially shown at the Krzysztofory Gallery. Someone did not like this sculpture and reported it to the censor. From then on, the censor began to control what was shown at the Krzysztofory Gallery. The work consists of a stump over which a banner with the inscription “The Altar of Independence” is spread. A multicoloured star has been cut into the tree trunk. When a lever is moved, it is covered by a dome of dry brushwood which can go up in flames from a single spark.

In April, he performs a manifestation at the BWA Gallery in Lublin entitled Art vs Reality/Sztuka i rzeczywistość, at the end of which he says: when reality becomes fiction, art is reality, but there is no place for it.

In May, at the Krzysztofory Gallery, he performs The Reflective Mass II/ Msza refleksyjna II, exclusively for members of the Krakow Group. He throws the regime weekly “Polityka” on the floor. Around it, he paints the word “art” in green. He cramples the newspaper and sets it on fire. Pouring vodka into glasses, he writes the victory sign “V” on his naked chest. He offers vodka to those gathered and toasts to the victory of art. When a pile of ashes is left of ‘Polityka’, the word ‘art’ shines around.

Jerzy Bereś, Art vs Reality/Sztuka i rzeczywistość, BWA Lublin, 28.04.1983, photo by A. Polakowski

In June, he participates in the independent exhibition “Sign of the Cross” at the Church of the Divine Mercy on Żytnia Street in Warsaw.

His works are presented at the grand exhibition “Presences Polonaise” at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

 

1984

Powstają prace: Attention/Uwaga, Wait/Czekaj, Road/Droga, Conscience/Sumienie, Front, Folk Altar/Ołtarz ludowy, Polish Blues.

Jerzy Bereś, Folk Altar/Ołtarz ludowy, 1984, fot. z archiwum rodziny

Polish Blues is simply a branching bough in the shape of a victory sign hanging from a peg. The Folk Altar is a tangle of boughs and boards decorated with white ribbons. In it, one can spot the victory sign ‘V’ and the modification of the World War II sign “Poland Fighting” which is a combination of an anchor and the letter ‘P’. Instead of the letter ‘P’ there is now the letter ‘S’, standing for Solidarity. Conscience is shaped like a pendulum which activates a clenched fist pounding on a board until a hole is created in it. Wait is an aerial propeller immobilised by a string. Front is a wooden board cut in the shape of a man’s chest. The inscription on the chest reads ‘front’, the legs are tied together with a string and nailed with pegs to the tree trunk. The flag with an outline of a face is placed at the top.

In March, he has an individual presentation at St. Catherine’s Church in Krakow as part of the Art-Science-Religion seminar at the Papal Theological Academy. The documentation of the manifestation is taken down following the harsh intervention of the church authorities.

He performs the manifestation  Polish Mass/ Msza Polska at the Galeria nad Fosą in Wrocław. Naked, he tramples over scattered copies of the regime magazine “Here and Now/Tu i Teraz.” He paints the date ‘1939’ on his side, then asks the gathered people to paint more dates related to the history of the last decades on his back. When the dates are painted he cramples the magazines and sets fire to them. He breaks the bread into pieces and paints the word “front” on his chest as well as a red and white victory sign underneath. He serves the bread to those gathered.

He participates in the exhibition “Intellectual Trends in Polish Art after the Second World War” at the BWA Gallery in Lublin..

Jerzy Bereś, Dispute on the Supreme Values, part I/Spór o wartości najwyższe, cz. I”, Galeria BWA, Lublin, X 1984, photo by A. Polakowski

In December, he gives a manifestation-lecture at the Labyrinth Gallery in Lublin entitled Dispute on the Supreme Values/Spór o wartości najwyższe. Naked, he walks in front of the audience painting a white vertical line and a red horizontal line on his chest, bit by bit, forming a cross. He says: Leaving open the question of whether life is worth living or not we follow those who believe it is worth living. For this is a prerequisite for attaining the highest values as they are unnecessary in contrast to the fundamental values that are necessary for life. Without language, faith, art or science one can survive biologically. The highest values are not necessary, but instead can become indispensable, can reach a state of indispensability for human beings.

He continues by contrasting the attitudes of the tragic hero and the knight of faith, referring to Kierkegaard analysing the case of Abraham who at God’s command was about to kill his son Isaac. At that moment he entered a paradox as he did not know whether he was a man of the greatest faith or a murderer. The tragic hero is on everyone’s lips, the Knight of Faith is alone, unable to share his paradox with anyone. Although the tragic hero is great and famous, the knight of faith has one advantage over him. He simply remains himself whereas the tragic hero dissolves into the general. The knight of faith becomes a personality and therefore is also great. But his greatness resides not in the fact that he is free from fear, despair and misery, but, contrarily, in the fact that, unable to get out of the paradox, he is trapped in fear, despair and misery.

Stuart Brisley, a British performance artist, is making a film  “Being and Doing”, featuring a fragment  dedicated to Bereś.

1985

New works:  Movement/Ruch, Protest, Altar of Patience/Ołtarz cierpliwości.

Jerzy Bereś, Altar of Patience/Ołtarz cierpliwości, 1976-85, photo from the family archive (Camp Museum in Prague)

Movement is a “horse-like” tree trunk on four legs which carries an “s”- shaped spinning banner with the word “movement”on its back.

The Altar of Patience is a figure cut out of a wooden board which stands on its head and has its hands tied together with rope. Protest resembles a scarecrow. A piece of canvas with the word ‘protest’ is stretched between its clubbed legs, while two clenched fists hang tied from a transversely fixed branch. It is a grotesque protest but in the mid-1980s it seemed that the communist regime had succeeded in pacifying society.

In February, the artist participates in the exhibition “Against Evil, Against Violence” at St Maximilian Kolbe Church.

He exhibits The Road a work created a year earlier following the death of Jerzy Popieluszko, the Solidarity chaplain assassinated by the secret police. It is a slightly ascending wooden amphibian with green footprints on it leading to a long and thick split pole bifurcating into a ‘V’ shape. Perpendicular pegs with black fabric attached on the top were inserted at the ends of both parts. When joined together the two parts of the poles would form the sign of a cross.

In October, he takes part in the exhibition “A new heaven and a new earth?” at the Żytnia church in Warsaw. There he lights bonfires of hope, freedom, dignity, love and truth.

 

1986

Boycott/Bojkot, Prayer/Modlitwa and  Creeper/Pełzak come into being.

Jerzy Bereś, Creeper/Pełzak, 1986, fot. z archiwum rodziny (National Museum in Wrocław)

Creeper is associated with a cowering man. It is a beam supported by hands cut from a wooden board and a twisting branch forming a tail. Above it there is a stretched piece of canvas with an image of a face. The Prayer is a wooden wheelbarrow from which  very long handles painted blue at the end go up, as if they were intended for the Lord. A pitchfork is stuck into the wheelbarrow which also has a very long handle. The base of the Boycott is a tree trunk which has a red and white victory sign on its front. Strictly speaking, the sign is white and red and white and reminds of a turning on the mountain path. Embedded on top of it is a crowned head carved from a tree trunk with an outline of a face. Its eyes are obscured by a wooden board on which the erased inscription ‘Solidarity’ can be read.

In March, the second part of the manifestation-lecture Dispute on the Supreme Values/Spór o wartości najwyższe takes place at the BWA Gallery in Lublin. He walks naked in front of the audience and paints red and white lines on his chest. He continues his reflections on the tragic hero and the knight of faith. He concludes by saying: the anti-nationalist, non-ideological, non-religious national personality is, in my opinion, next to language, faith and art, the highest value. (…) I claim that our national personality has reached a state of inalienability, it has become an indestructible value and therefore allows us to initiate a partnership dialogue among Poles internally, as well as an external one, an international dispute about the hierarchy of values of today’s world. I therefore believe that it makes sense to look forward to a genuine dialogue. He ends by painting a red and white line that forms a question mark with a red and white dot on his phallus.

Jerzy Bereś, Dispute on the Supreme Values, part II/Spór o wartości najwyższe, cz. II, BWA Lublin, 20.03.1986, photo by A. Polakowski

In June, he performs a manifestation entitled Picture of Poland/Obraz Polski at the student gallery ‘Dziekanka’ in Warsaw within the scheme of the International Meetings “Art Beyond Time”. He paints red stripes on his back and the word ‘boycott’ on his chest. At the end, he asks the audience whether the painted image is good or bad.

[JB45, „Obraz polski”, Galeria Dziekanka, 11.06.1986, fot. T. Sikorski] BRAK FOTOGRAFII

In November and December, he shows works from 1980-1986 in a solo exhibition “New Content/ Nowa Treść” at the Krzysztofory Gallery in Krakow. In the invite, the artist writes: Can content without form be beautiful? With this question I want to bring a number of potential works to the public judgement. The censorship removes two sculptures from the exhibition: Folk Altar and Polish Blues because they refer to the de-legalized Solidarity and social resistance against the communist regime. No review of the exhibition or any mention of its opening can be published.

 

1987

Ymbol, Altar of Survival/Ołtarz przetrwania, Political Altar/Ołtarz polityczny” come into being.

The Political Altar is a winged bough attempting to fly while it is held tethered by a clenched wooden fist. In the Altar of Survival Bereś returns to the motif of the tightened bow with the string passing through a large block of wood in such a way that it enters between the legs of a gouged red male figure on one side and exits between the legs of a gouged white female figure on the other. Hope thus remains in biological survival. In Ymbol Bereś refers to the Polish national emblem, namely the eagle. In his edition, the eagle’s wings are in the shape of the letter ‘S’ which complements the title painted in white paint on his chest.

Jerzy Bereś, Political Altar/Ołtarz polityczny, 1987, photo from the family archive (Museum in Bochum)

Receives the Solidarity Independent Culture Committee Award for his sculptural oeuvre.

Participates in the exhibition “Expressiv. Mitteleuropäische Kunst seit 1960” at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna. The exhibition will subsequently tour in 1988 to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.

 

1988

While hope for Poland has now faded, the political atmosphere begins to change unexpectedly. The totalitarian regime, under the pressure of economic problems, begins to crumble. There are rumours of some form of an agreement with the de-legalised Solidarity. Changes are due to the new policies of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. However, no one believes that the situation can change radically. No one believes that the communists could give up power.

Jerzy Bereś, Get Up/Wstań, 1988, photo by R. Górka

The work Get Up/Wstań is created. It is a call. The anthropomorphic structure is associated with a female figure lifting with difficulty from her knees. Above her there is a little banner with the outline of a face wearing a crown.

In March, on the twentieth anniversary of the 1968 student revolt, he repeats the Prophecy II manifestation at the Krzysztofory Gallery. Once again bonfires are burning. Standing on a pile of wood, he writes the word ‘time’ on his bare chest at the end of the manifestation and declares I believe that the prophecy indicated at that time is working for us.

In September he travels to the United Kingdom. At the exhibition of Polish art “”Art at the Edge” organised by David Elliott at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, he carries out the manifestation The 2nd Dialogue with Marcel Duchamp/ II Dialog z Marcel Duchamp.

At the “Edge” festival in London he presents the action Picture from Poland/Obraz z Polski. It is a version of the manifestation that took place at the Dziekanka Gallery in 1986. He announces that it will not be a performance, as he does not make any performances. Instead, he will paint a picture for the audience to judge. He talks about his experiences. Naked, he alternately paints red welts on his back and a white serpentine line on his chest. When the line becomes a question mark he puts a dot on his phallus. He asks the audience to judge if the painting is good. As the discussion does not provide an answer, he administers a vote.

Individual exhibition at the “Gallery 7” in Chełm.

 

1989

Grip/Chwyt and Spirit/Duch come into being.

Grip is a large hand, pierced at the wrist with a sharp pole and clamped on a whip string. Spirit is represented by its traces. These are two large logs placed side by side almost vertically. On one of them there are the footsteps going downwards on the other the footsteps going upwards.

Jerzy Bereś, Spirit/Duch, 1989, photo by M. Gardulski

In March, he opens an individual exhibition “Phantoms, Oracles, Altars” at the Gallery in Krakow. Andrzej Kostołowski concludes his text in the catalogue with the following words:

Combining in his visions, oracles, altars, masses, rituals and rounds the somewhat pathetic vernyhorism of the Polish bard with the puritanical clarity of Swedenborg, Thoreau or the shakers, Bereś knows that nature is “the discipline of understanding intellectual truths”, and that the messages which are created by him result from his practical knowledge of transformation. And the artist is not concerned with cheap enthusiasm for streams or mountains, but with the fact that, according to the simple economy of nature, each sacrifice allows for a specific transfiguration. In the last few decades, humanity has produced a dozen truly great sculptors. They were Giacometti, Moore, Calder, Hesse, Smithson. They are probably also: Tinguely, Andre, Long, Matsuzawa, Bereś. The art of the latter, although insufficiently known internationally, certainly deserves exceptional attention.

(Andrzej Kostołowski, “Time and Statics” [in:] “Phantoms, Oracles, Altars,” BWA Lublin Gallery, Lublin 1990)

Since February, so-called ’round table’ talks have been taking place between the opposition and communists who are seeking for a new formula for their presence in political life. They do not acknowledge giving up power, and if they do, it is to be in a very slow process. The agreement is concluded on 5 April. On its basis, Solidarity is to be re-legalised and partially free elections are to be held.

A day later, Bereś presents The First Presentation of Live Muniment entitlen Prophecy II/ I Prezentacja żywego Pomnika Przepowiednia II at the Uniwersytecka Gallery in Cieszyn. When the audience enters the gallery the artist stands on top of a pile of wooden logs. He recalls the history of Prophecy . He then alternately paints red stripes on his back and white letters on his chest which at the end form the inscription ‘it comes true’. Finally, he paints a red and white dot on his phallus.

Jerzy Bereś, The First Presentation of Live Muniment entitlen Prophecy II/ I Prezentacja żywego Pomnika Przepowiednia II, University Gallery, Cieszyn, 6.04.1989, photo from the family archive

In the June parliamentary elections end up with a crushing victory of the opposition party. In the Senate it wins almost all the seats, in the Sejm all that could be won. Under the agreement, 65% of the seats in this chamber were guaranteed to the incumbent government. General Jaruzelski who was responsible for imposing martial law in Poland in 1981 is elected President. However, the communists fail to form a government and the opposition activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes Prime Minister. This is the first non-communist government in the Eastern Bloc.

Bereś writes the text “Phantoms, Oracles, Altars/Zwidy, Wyrocznie, Ołtarze”  in which he gives an account of his creative path from 1978 to 1989.

1990

David/Dawid is created in which the main element is constituted by the hands holding a slingshot with a red and white string.

In April, he holds the The 3rd Dispute with Marcel Duchamp/ III Dysputa z Marcel Duchamp at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw.

He opens solo exhibitions at the BWA galleries in Lublin and Zielona Góra.

The artist participates in the exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery in Warsaw “What is the use an artist in a mediocre time?” which sums up the independent art of the 1980s.

1991

Miracle/Cud and A Paradox are created. The Miracle is difficult to describe. It is a strange, seated human-bird hybrid with outspread wings loaded with symbolism. The wings get transformed into cloth-wrapped hands that hold an oil lamp with a red and white light. A Paradox is a structure in which a wheelbarrow made of a heavy tree trunk is paradoxically balanced by a long thin rod.

In order to understand the emotions of the Poles at that time, one needs to know the history of the country. It was wiped off the map of Europe for 123 years, then a nearly 20-year period of independence after the First World War ended in 1939 with the annihilation of the state after the attack by Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. During the Second World War, Poland suffered huge human and material losses. The end of the war did not bring the country freedom. It was incorporated into the Soviet empire and it seemed to be an irreversible situation for geopolitical reasons. Meanwhile, the events in Poland in 1989 set in motion a whole sequence of changes that no one had expected a year earlier. “The Berlin Wall” which had divided Europe into a free world and one subordinate to Moscow came down. In 1990, Lech Wałęsa became President of Poland, in 1991 the Soviet empire collapse, and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland began.

He takes part in the exhibition „Touch – The Iconography of the 1980s” at the BWA Gallery in Krakow. He exhibits his sculpture Creeper.

In May, he performs the manifestation Dialogue with Tadeusz Kantor/Dialog z Tadeuszem Kantorem at the Krzysztofory Gallery. It is a hommage to this artist who died suddenly in December 1990. In the same month, he shows works at the exhibition “Geistes Gegenwart” at the Bochum Museum. At the opening, he performs the manifestation The 4th Dialogue with Marcel Duchamp.

He presents four sculptures at the exhibition ‘Configura 1. Kunst in Europa’ in Erfurt.

Two sculptures by Bereś Great Phantom and Cllapper are presented at the exhibition “Collection of 20th Century Art at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź” at the Zachęta Gallery in Warszawa.

In November he presents Antiperformance/antyperformance at Ośrodek Sztuk Plastycznych/ Centre for Visual Arts in Wrocław. It argues against the objectification current in art.

His new texts are:  “New Contents/Nowa treść”, “A Work of Art or Fetish?/Dzieło czy Fetysz?”, My Contacts with Tadeusz Kantor and Grupa Krakowska in the 1960s/Moje kontakty z Tadeuszem Kantorem i Grupą Krakowską w latach sześćdziesiątych.”

 

1992

Jerzy Bereś, Personnel Roulette/Ruleta kadrowa, 1970-1992, fot. M. Gardulski (Regional Museum in Nowy Sącz)

Personnel Roulette/Ruleta kadrowa, Ethical Plough/Socha etyczna come into being. Works created after 1991 relate to a completely different social and political situation. The totalitarian system has been replaced by a democratic system, still imperfect and weak in its early stage. It turns out, however, that the works from the 1970s have not lost their relevance at all. They are so universal that their message can be applied to the new situation. Some examples: Round Table, Rag, Political Stool/Stołek polityczny, Cllapper, Star, Desk and many others.

Personnel Roulette can be turned and after a few rotations accompanied by clatter it stops and an outstretched hand points its finger at one person standing round it. The Eethical Plough, resembling a primitive plowing tool, is equipped with a wing on one side and a whip on the other.

In May, he travels to Spain. He participates in the “Polish Art Exhibition” at ‘Expo 92’ in Seville. Before the exhibition, he shows his selected works at the Krzysztofory Gallery.

The artist writes the text “On the avant-garde in Poland and in Krakow”.

Waldemar Janda shoots a film about Bereś “Theatre of Life”.

 

1993

Secret/Tajemnica is created. It is a large trunk on little legs over which a canopy of grey cloth is suspended. An oblong hole is hollowed out in the trunk and a little blue suitcase hangs in the centre.

Jerzy Bereś, Secret/Tajemnica, 1993, photo by M. Gardulski

Individual exhibition “Jerzy Bereś. Material documents of manifestations 1968-1993” at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. At the opening he performs The Second Presentation of Live Monument entitled Prophecy II/II Prezentacja Żywego Pomnika pt. Przepowiednia II.

At the Pryzmat Gallery, he exhibits his works along with his daughter’s paintings. The exhibition is entitled: “Phantoms from 1963-1966” and “Paintings from ‘1986-93”. It is then moved to the Grodzka Gallery of the BWA Gallery in Lublin. The works shown were created when Jerzy and his daughter were about the same age.

In her article “Belief (in art) works wonders”, Krystyna Czerni writes:

With his somewhat counter-cultural naturist ‘naivety’ and his consent to ‘persecution’, Bereś is in his own way part of the tradition of heretical movements from the early days of Christianity, movements advocating a return to paradisal innocence, evangelical poverty and simplicity. (…) They walked naked in the streets and temples; they were persecuted – and thus had an effect opposite to the one intended. (…) Standing naked in the midst of an elegant vernissage audience, patiently repeating his attempt at discussion and argument, Bereś seems at times isolated in his beliefs. Wooden stocks, rope, pillory, the colourful stigmata on his body = the artist stands on the pyre he has erected, incessantly demanding dialogue and judgement. In vain. Perhaps the greatest impression of these manifestations comes precisely from the dramatic situation between the ardour of the testimony, his – to use Beres’ words – ‘fear, despair and shame’ and the triviality of the response, the helplessness and embarrassment of the audience for whom the language of this testimony often remains mute. (…) Bereś’ art is one great appeal for the rebirth of imagination, for a creative attitude that – and only that – can save man.

(Krystyna czerni, “Belief (in art) works wonders/Wiara (w sztukę) czyni cuda,” „Znak” 1993, nr 458)

That summer, he takes part in “The Artists from Krakow” exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery in Warsaw.

In November, The 3rd Presentation of the Living Monument Prophecy II takes place at the BWA Gallery in Wrocław.

He writes “An Authobiographical Sketch”.

1994

Altar of Forgiveness/Ołtarz przebaczenia is created: two long rods are crossed at the top. At their ends there are impaled two large gloves, each pierced with a spike.

He takes part in several group exhibitions: “Polish Sculpture of the 1960s at the Polish Sculpture Centre” in Orońsko; “Ars Erotica” at the National Museum in Warsaw, “Art vectors/Wektory sztuki” at the Municipal Gallery “Arsenał” in Poznań; “Classics of Modernity” at the National Museum in Warsaw; “Grupa Krakowska 1932-1994” at the Zachęta National Gallery in Warsaw. At the latter exhibition he performs the manifestation Challenge I/Wyzwanie I with the motto “The Uncommon Thing”.  It is a critique of the cultural policy of the new authorities that favour art similar to that emerging in Western Europe.

Jerzy Bereś, Challenge II/Wyzwanie II, Galeria BWA Lublin, 20.10.1994, photo by A. Polakowski

He participates in the exhibition “Europa – Europa. Das Jahrhunder der Avantgarde in Mittel-und Osteuropa” at the Kunst-und Austellunshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn.

On the 25th anniversary of the “Labyrinth” Gallery, he performs the manifestation Challenge II/Wyzwanie II at the BWA Gallery in Lublin. He criticises the postmodern situation prevailing in art. He rolls a large and heavy ‘roller of judgement’ into the room which is to separate the works of art from junk. He says:

What is emerging, however, is the norm of placing junk in the most prominent place where the works of lasting value should be positioned. It is constantly changing, but it is there. This norm is so strong that it begins to permeate even museums where one can see more and more often the collections of fetishes instead of valuable works. (…) It is becoming impossible to continue to defer judgement, determine what is a valuable work of art and what is junk.

Krystyna Czerni realises a film about Jerzy Bereś in the cycle „Album of Krakow Art”.

1995

New works: The Wind of History/Wiatr historii, Lever of the Electorate/Dźwignia elektoratu, Timber Altar/Ołtarz drzewny.

A long ribbon with the inscription “the wind of history” floats up from the mast as if it had just been carried away by the wind. When the lever in Lever of the Electorate is pushed, a wooden fist clenching a wad of paper rises from the ground.

Jerzy Bereś, The Wind of History/Wiatr historii, 1995, photo by M. Gardulski (Centre od Contemporary Art in Toruń)

In March, he travels across Canada. At the gallery “Le Lieu – Centre on Art Actuel” in Quebec, he performs the manifestation Monument vivant. At the gallery ‘Langage Plus’ in Alma, the  manifestation The Last dispute with Marcel Duchamp. Guy Sioui Durand comments:

He walks in naked, tense, with a thick rope tied around his neck and his penis painted white and red. Tension gives way to interest, curiosity. This ‘marked animal’ – to invoke Henri Van Lier’s beautiful expression – speaks. He talks about life, about this encounter, this exchange, about his insights into what art and performance are; he simply talks about himself and his life in culture. Before filling the glasses to full and offering refreshments, he paints the word ‘Paradox’ on her chest in green, letter by letter. On his back he makes black ‘graffiti’. Signs or words? A bodily message or language? A disguise or simple ritual? An artificial effect or natural gesture? These discussions intellectualising art become the real experience here with each knot tied by a man on a thick rope marking time. (…) With visible effort, this sign-marked man climbs onto a stump, the pedestal of a ‘living monument’. Holding a ball of knots above his head he utters: “I am now in the middle of a performance, and therefore have no possibility of evasion”. No gimmicks, no extras, no special effects, no media distance whatsoever… At the end, he serves us vodka after he has left his footprint on the trunk-land-culture. (…) Jerzy Bereś, a human monument, is an almost legendary figure in his country.

(Guy Sioui Durand, “Des signaux technologiques á l’animal signe,” Inter. Art Actuel, Québec, numéro 62, 1995).

In April, his solo exhibition “Reflections/Refleksje” at the Krzysztofory Gallery in Krakow.

In May, his first retrospective exhibition at the National Museum in Poznań. In September, it will be moved to the National Museum in Krakow. The exhibition shows the entire oeuvre of Bereś from his earliest works to the latest. A comprehensive catalogue documenting his oeuvre is published. Piotr Piotrowski concludes his text:

Jerzy Bereś, an artist who is ideologically conservative, not only by his method of presentation, but above all by his historical context, became an artist critical of the status quo of his time, and his work acquired the character of resistance art, paradoxically, almost exactly in the sense in which Hal Foster defined it. Moreover, it became such precisely because it used a thoroughly traditional, logocentric – as if following Derrida – system of ideological references; concepts such as truth, love, freedom, independence, and symbols of sacrifice, resurrection and national identification.

(Piotr Piotrowski, “The Artist’s Body/Ciało artysty” [in:] “Phantoms, Oracles, Altars, Challenges,” National Museum, Poznań 1995)

Andrzej Kostołowski ends his text with the following words:

(…) in his art the artist operates with ‘what is hanging in the air’, that is, with the elements of what is just beginning to happen. And perhaps because he enters into the processes of active nature, he knows that his sacrifice is needed here: the artist’s subject turned into ‘a ceremonial object’. Showing humility, he arranges his manifestations or masses in the hope of communicating rather than for the sheer pleasure of the action. Because he is uncompromising, the eloquence of what he does sometimes leads to irritation or embarrassment in some viewers. For these are often actions that are ‘lost in time’, programmatically strange or funny. But it is never certain that we ourselves are not even stranger, funnier and more trivial. Let us not underestimate the giggle of time.

(Andrzej Kostołowski, “The Giggle of Time. Comments on the art of Jerzy Bereś /Chichot czasu. Uwagi o sztuce Jerzego Beresia [in:] “Phantoms, Oracles, Altars, Challenges,” National Museum, Poznań 1995)

 

1996

The fundamental work ‘Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings’ is published. It was compiled by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz and published by the University of California Press. It includes excerpts from Bereś’ text “The Work of Art as a Stimulator of Judgement” from 1981. Kristine Stiles writes:

With the easing of political tensions in the mid-1960s, Bereś created actions and demonstrations of a more direct political nature. Like Knižák and other Eastern European artists, Bereś’ ambiguous gestural narratives and oblique significations visualized the unique symbolic language Eastern Europeans developed as an alternative mode of communication under communism but also a means for survival and subterranean resistance.

(Kristine Stiles, “Performance art” [in:] Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1996)

In June, he takes part in the exhibition “Magical Structures” (together with Władysław Hasior and Magdalena Abakanowicz) at the National Museum in Wrocław. Next year the exhibition will be shown at the Szent István Király Múzeum in Hungary.

He participates in the exhibition “Impact. Avant-garde cracovienne apres 1945” at the Polish Institute in Paris.

In November, the manifestation Challege III. Dispute with Andrzej Wajda/Wyzwanie III. Spór z Andrzejem Wajdą at the Krzysztofory Gallery in Krakow.

 

1997

The Round/Runda gets created. It is a kind of Pegasus with one wing functioning and the other bandaged. From the bandaged one hangs a dice on a string.

Jerzy Bereś, The Round/Runda, 1997, photo by M. Gardulski

In March he performs the manifestation Challenge IV. A Duel with Utopia/Wyzwanie IV. Pojedynek z utopią at the Manhattan Gallery in Łódź

The artist participates in the exhibition “Haltungen” at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresdnes Schlos / Georgenbau, at the opening he performs the manifestation Toast.

He writes the text “Trembling of the subject/Drżenie przedmiotu”, which is a critique of current phenomena in culture:

In culture, democracy is also triumphing, but it is informal democracy. In formal democracy, the trembling of the human subject, this troubling sense of responsibility in the face of an external challenge, has a chance to materialise. Weakly, but it can tremble, when casting the ballot. (…) In informal democracy, which increasingly overpowers culture, the human subject has no say in choosing what is being promoted, what is becoming all-obliging and all-pervasive. Here, the trembling of the human subject has no chance to have a voice. The initiative on his/her behalf is taken by or rather self-appointedly snatched by large editorial, recording and advertising agencies, etc., that effectively dictate what should appeal to us in culture.

1998

The Fig leaf/Liść figowy gets created. It is large, made of wood and placed in an oriental canopy lectern. Marked with a white and red stripe. It is meant to cover up embarrassing things.

A solo exhibition, “The Romantic Round/Runda Romantyczna”, at the Krzysztofory Gallery in Krakow in February. Brian McAvera publishes a review of the exhibition in “Sculpture” magazine:

Bereś is an artist who clearly distrusts facility, much in the same way that certain painters deliberately shackle their gift for draftsmanship by drawing with the left hand. He distrusts the neat finish of craftsmanship and operates instead in a world of rough honesty. One of the most impressive elements of his work resides in fact that, although clearly earthed in Polish soil and Polish history, the works themselves are universalized; they are icons of integrity, reaching towards our primitive tribal instincts but requiring a sophisticated and complicated response.

(Brian McAvera, “Jerzy Bereś”, Sculpture, September 1998, vol 17 No. 7)

 

In June, he is participates in the major cross-sectional exhibition “Out of Action. Between Performance and the Object. 1949-1979” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. In the same year, the exhibition is shown at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. The following year it will be presented at the Museum d’Art Contemporani in Barcelona and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.

In July, a recording of his manifestations is being shown in the exhibition “Body and the East” at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana.

In October, he performs the manifestation Shame/Wstyd at the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko. In the introduction, he indicates that he intends to sculpt shame. He talks about his life, paints red stripes on his back and letters on his chest, while tying knots on a thick rope. When the inscription “shame” is ready, he paints a red and white stripe on his phallus. He weaves the rope into a hoop and, like a crown and places it on his head. He climbs onto the trunk and asks the audience whether the monument thus created is good or bad. He starts a conversation with the audience. Finally, he places the ‘crown’ on the trunk and cuts through it with an axe. The painting of red stripes on his back, symbolising life experience, will be repeated in subsequent actions. Tying knots on the rope and coiling it into a large withers or ‘crown’ will also take place in other manifestations.

1999

20 April Maria Pinińska, Jerzy’s wife, dies after a year-long illness.

In June, a small exhibition, “The Romantic Round II/ Romantyczna runda II” at the Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków.

In November, he is involved in organizing Maria Pinińska-Bereś’ retrospective exhibition planned before the artist’s illness. Maria was working on it, but unfortunately did not live to see it. The exhibition opens at the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery in Krakow and the following year it will be shown in Bielsko Biała, Poznań and Słupsk. Each time Bereś arranges it.

The book ‘Znaczenia modernizmu’ by Piotr Piotrowski is published. The author writes:

Bereś’ resistance, therefore, is directed against communist power, but also – let us emphasise – against contemporary postmodern culture. In fact, he actually constitutes its negation. His body is of a more mystical than physical nature; it does not speak of pleasure, gender tensions, eroticism, it is not a critique of sexism and patriarchalism, etc.; it is connected to sacrifice, transformation, independence and national identity. It is – contrary to postmodernist perspectives – instrumental to the spirit. Paradoxically, however, Bereś’ art gains support and understanding in progressive rather than conservative circles. The latter, for example, the Catholic Church, just like the communists, vehemently rejected it. Bereś’ art thus exposes a certain paradox. Using – if we may say so – postmodernist language, it simultaneously refers to pre-modernist discourses: national symbolism and spiritual rebirth.

(Piotr Piotrowski, “Znaczenia modernizmu,” Dom Wydawniczy Rebis, Poznań 1999)

 

2000

The Altar of Cult/Ołtarz kultowy is being created. It resembles a large shield set on a vertical pole. Arrows are stuck in the shield but all of them far from the centre. On the other side of the shield a blue key is carved.

Jerzy Bereś, The Altar of Cult/Ołtarz kultowy, 2000, photo by R. Pietruszewska

His works are shown in the exhibition “Körper versus Materie. Im Kreis der Krakauer Gruppe” at the Polish Institute in Duseldorf.

Jerzy Bereś, Out of action, Performance Art Centre , Cultural Centre, Lublin, 22.10.2000, photo from the family archive

In June, he takes part in the exhibition “The Art of Eastern Europe in Dialogue with the West” at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana.

At the beginning of October, he visits Germany to participate in the opening of the exhibition “Verteidigung der moderne positionen der Polnische Kunst nach 1945” at the Museum Würth in Künzeslsau.

In October, he performs the manifestation “Out of action” at the Performance Art Centre in Lublin.

In November, he again performs The Romantic Manifestation in the Main Square in Krakow. In the evening, bonfires of hope, freedom, dignity, love and truth are burning. They were burning there in 1981.

He writes the text “Does the Krakow Group Still Exist?” devoted to the phenomenon of the group of artists affiliated with the Krzysztofory Gallery since 1957.

 

Jerzy Bereś, Romantic Manifestation/ Manifestacja romantyczna, Main Square in Krakowie, 19.11.2000

2001

Jerzy Bereś, Altar of Freedom/Ołtarz wolności, 2001,photo by M. Gardulski (National Museum in Gdańsk)

The Altar of Freedom/Ołtarz wolności gets created which resembles a horse captured while jumping. “The ‘head’ of the horse is a flag with a simplified image of the horse’s head.

In October one-man exhibtion „Jump/Skok” at the Otwarta Pracownia Gallery in Kraków.

In November he participates in the exhibition „2000+. Arteast collection” at Orangerie Congress in Insbruck.

2002

High five/Przybij and Stain/Plama are created.

The latter is a remake of a sculpture from 1971. By pulling the canvas with the word ‘stain’ on it, the previously folded hands diverge at the sound of a bell and then you can see that their inner surfaces are stained. There is a white stain on one hand and a red stain on the other. High five is a large wooden hand extended in a ‘high-five’ gesture.

Jerzy Bereś, Seal, Tokio Kagurazaka Die Platze, 26.06.2002, photo by A. Shibata

In February and March, he takes part in ‘The 8th Nippon International Performance Art Festival’ in Japan. During the festival he performs four manifestations in different Japanese cities.

In May he travels to Wales. At the Trace Gallery in Cardiff he performs the manifestation Material Document II and at the Dartington Gallery the manifestation Contact II.

In May he opens a solo exhibition in Zakopane, in June in Gorlice and in July in Kielce.

In an elaborate article about Bereś published in “Opcja” journal Łukasz Guzek writes :

Bereś seems today a living relic of the avant-garde carrying alone his ethos of the unyielding artist. But it is precisely this ethos that could be extremely useful to contemporary, especially young, artists who badly need guidance on how to be an artist, how to find their way in a culture where, as in present-day Poland, nothing encourages it. However, the avant-garde ethos would have to be adapted to the needs of the modern world. To do so, all absolutism, all remnants of the elitism of the avant-gardes would have to be removed, and replaced by pluralism and relativism. But this is precisely what Bereś would not want to happen. He would probably consider such a move as annihilation of what is most precious in the values he professes – their universalism. The model of modern imagination is provided by the media. Bereś, however, quite consciously places his art at the antipodes of media culture.  And young people today live in the world of the media which are their natural environment.

(Łukasz Guzek, “Jerzy Bereś’s story is fatal/Jerzego Beresia historia fatalna,”Opcje nr 2(43), kwiecień 2002).

Bereś performs the following manifestations: in June, Stigma/Piętno at the Kronika Gallery in Bytom, in October, Material Document III/Dokument rzeczowy III at the Manhattan Gallery in Łódź.

Otwarta Pracownia Gallery publishes a collection of texts by Jerzy Bereś entitled “Shame/Wstyd”. It includes almost all of his texts from 1968 onwards.

He writes the text “The Concreteness of Sculpture/Konkretność rzeźby”.

 

2003

Jerzy Bereś, Global Altar/Ołtarz globalny, 2003, photo by M. Gardulski

The Global Altar/Ołtarz globalny is created. It is a large linen glove raised above a crossed trunk on which the four sides of the world are marked.

2004

Poland joins the European Union in May.

In November, the artist participates in the exhibition “Warsaw-Moscow, Moscow-Warsaw” at the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw. The following year, the exhibition is presented at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Manifestation The Seal/Pieczęć at the Performance Art Centre in Lublin. He paints seven slices of bread blue and the eighth one halfway through. On his back he paints “74”, the number of his years. He stamps blue handprints on the white tablecloth next to the painted slices, then unfurls the flag of the European Union. He paints his phallus in red and imprints its mark in the middle of the flag. Pouring vodka into glasses, he divides his body with red lines. He invites people to share a toast and sign his/her name on the tablecloth. In front of the flag, he places a bottle with a flower in it. In this manifestation the European Union flag appeared for the first time. It will appear in future manifestations. Bereś will stamp it with the his red and white phallus imprint.

He travels to Germany where at the Maschinenhaus Centre in Essen performs the elaborate manifestation  My Road to Europe/Moja droga do Europy.

2005

He participates in the exhibition “Memory and Participation. 25 years of Solidarity” at the National Museum in Gdańsk.

In September, he participates in the exhibition “Egocentric, Immoral, Outdated” at the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw. At the Krzysztofory Gallery, he realises The Reconstruction of the Altar of Fulfilment/Odtworzenie Ołtarza spełnienia, which was lost in 1981 during the imposition of martial law.

He participates in the”East Art Museum. An exhibition of East Art Map – A (re)construction of the History of Contemporary Art (1945-1985) in Eastern Europe” at the Karl Ernst Osthaus-Museum Hagen.

Piotr Piotrowski’s book “Avant-garde in the Shadow of Yalta” is published. The author writes:

Artists (men), as I mentioned using their bodies, were relatively rare in Central and Eastern Europe. Far fewer, however, were those who directly turned their own gender into a medium that, if one may use the paradoxical term, ‘gendered’ their bodies in their artistic practice. Here I will mention only two, quite different artists, using completely different strategies, references, and even – as we shall see – different ideologies. One of them is the Polish artist Jerzy Bereś, the other – the Romanian Ion Grigorescu.

( Piotr Piotrowski, “Avant-garde in the Shadow of Yalta/Awangarda w cieniu Jałty,” Dom Wydawniczy Rebis, Poznań 2005).

Piotrowski analyzes both attitudes.

2006

In January, his solo exhibition “The Global Altar/Ołtarz globalny” at the Labyrinth Gallery in Lublin.

In February, he performs ‘The European Manifestation/Manifestacja europejska at the Manhattan Gallery in Łódź. He writes the word ‘test’ on his naked chest. At the end of the manifestation, he checks whether the red and white phallus imprint will break through the European Union flag and be visible on the kitchen board placed behind it which becomes a ‘material document’ of the action. He asks those present to give their credibility to this document and place their signatures on the board.

In April, his work is shown in the exhibition ‘Trace: in New York’ at Franklin Furnance in New York.

In June, a solo exhibition “Art bends life/Sztuka zgina życie” at the Bunkier Art Gallery in Krakow dedicated primarily to his manifestation. In the catalogue Klara Kemp-Welch writes:

By using words such as “altar” or “mass” in a controversial way and creating manifestations around them, Bereś questions the validity of the appropriation of language by particular groups and, consequently, also the mechanisms of meaning production. The criticism and scepticism he has had to face over the years shows how and, more importantly, also why it is often difficult to use language to simply ‘articulate a message’. He uses ritual to explore language and vice versa: he tries to figure out why the systems of symbols we use to mediate with the world are never neutral. The words that Bereś paints on his own body pose questions about how meanings are created in the dynamic relationship between the one who expresses them and the object. One word is enough for one manifestation: the poetry of action does the rest, sending the viewer on an active, critical and contemplative journey.

(Klara Kemp-Welch, “Understanding Bereś’s Manifestation” [in:] “Art Bends Life”, Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków 2007)

In September, he takes part in the International Performance Festival “Territories” at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, where he performs Political Manifestation/Manifestacja poltyczna.

In November, he repeats Romantic Manifestation for the third time in the Main Square. In the same month, he opens a major solo exhibition at the BWA City Gallery in Bydgoszcz.

Jan Świdziński produces an episode of “The Alphabet of Polish Performance” on TVP dedicated to Bereś.

 

2007

The Altar of Democracy/Ołtarz demokracji is being built. It consists of a huge and heavy trunk provided with wings: one red, the other blue. It would like to fly, but it is held down by the clenched fists set around it. Bereś uses the colours red and blue to signify the opposing forces that fight each other in any democratic system.

Jerzy Bereś, The Altar of Democracy/Ołtarz demokracji, 2007, photo by M. Gardulski

In September he takes part in a session organised by Zbigniew Warpechowski entitled “Manifestations.  Hommage to Jerzy Bereś” at the Baltic Gallery of Art in Ustka. The session features performances by Adva Drori (Israel), Esther Ferrer (France), Osamu Kuroda (Japan), Seiji Shimoda (Japan), Natalia LL (Poland). Bereś perorms  the manifestation Material Document VI.

In December, together with Jan Świdziński and Jürgen Blum-Kwiatkowski participates in the exhibition “Shows/Pokazy” at the Labirynt Gallery in Lublin.

2008

New works: Altar of Love/Ołtarz miłości, Existential Cart/Wózek egzystencjalny” and Utopia. The Altar of Love is dedicated to Maria Pinińska-Bereś. It contains elements alluding to her art: a corset stretched over two poles tied with a pink ribbon. It is surrounded by beads made of pieces of a thick branch strung on a rope. Utopia resembles a wheelbarrow but is constructed in such a way that it cannot be driven.

Jerzy Bereś, The Way of Being, part I/Droga bycia, cz. I, Park Kolibki w Gdyni, 16.05.2008, photo by L. Ogorzelec

In May, he participates in a panel discussion and exhibition documenting the 1st Symposium of Artists and Scientists in Puławy „Art in the Changing World”‘. The symposium takes place at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw.

In May, it performs the manifestation The Way of Being/Droga bycia‘ in Kolibki Park in Gdynia. It consists of two parts. The second has a similar structure to “The Romantic Manifestation” and complements it. Using an Existential Cart/Wózek egzystencjalny made on the spot, he lights bonfires at the stations of despair, shame, misery and fear.

In November, he takes part in the exhibition he “Signs of Identity/Znaki tożsamośc” at the Labyrinth Gallery in Lublin.

Jerzy Bereś, The Way of Being, part II/Droga bycia, cz. II,, Park Kolibki w Gdyni, 18.05.2008, fot. D. Grubba

He suddenly falls ill. A life-saving operation is necessary. Having returned from hospital, he struggles to recover.

 

2009

In October he travels to Belfast, where he takes part in the international performance meeting “Aiming” at the Naughton Gallery.

In November his work is shown in the exhibition “Gender Check. Feminity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe” at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig MUMOK in Vienna. The exhibition will be shown in Vienna next year.

2010

The Political Wheel-Barrows/Taczki polityczne are being created – two wheelbarrows joined with their wheels in a ‘waltz’ like stags with their antlers. One is marked in red, the other in blue.

His works are shown in the exhibition “Dido’s State/Państwo Dydony” at the State Art Gallery in Sopot, and in October at the same gallery in the exhibition “Resistance”.

2011

The Polish Altar/Ołtarz polski is created, featuring two hands extended in a gesture of welcome under the European flag.

In May, together with Bettina, he takes part in a meeting at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in connection with the exhibition “Gender Check”.

In October, he participates in the exhibition “Thymos. The Art of Anger 1900-2011/Thymos. Sztuka gniewu 1900-2011” at the Znaki Czasu Centre for Contemporary Art in Toruń.

In November, he performs The Romantic Manifestation in the Main Square in Krakow. However, he no longer has the strength to push the cart and light the bonfires himself. Students from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków do it for him.

2012

The Altar of Serenity/Ołtarz spokoju  is created: a wooden hand in a gesture of farewell towers over a table on which is engraved a red and white infinity sign. This is Bereś’ last sculpture.

Jerzy Bereś, The Altar of Serenity/Ołtarz spokoju, 2012, photo by R. Pietruszewska

In August he travels to Sokołowsko for the International Festival of Ephemeral Art CONTEXTS where he performs his last manifestation entitled Toast. He splits a small trunk of wood in half with the help of a person from the audience as he is unable to do it himself. He paints the word ‘Toast’ and the current date on the inner surfaces of the wood with blue paint while pouring vodka into glasses. He folds the two halves of the trunk together and ties them with the blue headband he had on his forehead. He places a bottle with a flower next to it. He walks around with a tray serving vodka to the audience.

Jerzy Bereś, Toast, 19.08.2012, photo by G. Polak

He passes away on 25 December.

 

autor of the timeline: Jerzy Hanusek

translated by Małgorzata Sady

copyright Fundacja im. Marii Pinińskiej-Bereś i Jerzego Beresia, 2022 | made by studio widok

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