Okategoriserade Piotr Piotrowski in memoriam

  It’s not always that the departure of someone whom we have a professional relationship with leaves a physical sense […]

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds Baltic Worlds 3-4 2015, pp 12-13
Published on balticworlds.com on November 19, 2015

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It’s not always that the departure of someone whom we have a professional relationship with leaves a physical sense of loss. But this is how the death of Piotr Piotrowski has affected us, his colleagues at Södertörn University. He was Professor ordinarius in the Art History Department, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland, and its chair from 1999 to 2008. His field of research, world art history, departed from the modern and contemporary art worlds of Eastern and Central Europe. Piotrowski systematized cases from this area into a relational geography of art, or what may be called a horizontal art history. His narrative forms a relentless critique of the universalist voice of Western-Eurocentric hegemonic art history with its conceptual and aesthetic canon of styles, artists, and models of influences. It does so with a theoretical and methodological rigor that could only be earned through an extensive knowledge of marginalized archives.

Professor Piotrowski’s article in this issue of Baltic Worlds is an excellent example of his method and style: a witty attack on fundamental concepts. We cannot assume that art markets, and hence pop culture, work the same way in the US, Sweden, and (post-communist) Central European countries.

So how is a concept such as “pop” to be approached? Contemporary culture may contain expressions of postcommunist, postnational, postcolonial, and postmodern modes of production, but this is also the ground for Piotrowski’s thesis on why and where cultural situatedness must be acknowledged and universalism rejected. Studies in the art history of metropolitan nineteenth- and twentieth-century France or the English-speaking world should not be abandoned in favor of regions such as the Baltics, East-Central Europe, or indeed South America. Since artists and historians insist on connecting with metropolitan art concepts and institutions rather than with each other as Others, a relational geography of art needs to account for why this is so. And, until the very end, Piotrowski was working on a project to globalize Polish art as a counter-model to the “post-” histories that presently function as gatekeepers to the dominant academic discourse on contemporaneity. In fact, in 1999, when Professor Piotrowski visited Sweden as a researcher in the Moderna Museet exhibition After the Wall, he insisted on an anti-universalist approach to studies in the production of art and art history. Piotrowski’s work continuously challenges historians to study the spatial dynamics and temporality of West and East; its connections between individuals, work, and institutions far beyond Europe.

Piotr Piotrowski’s well-known publications include In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe (2005, 2009, 2011), Art and Democracy in Post-Communist Europe (2010, 2012), Meanings of Modernism (1999, 2011), Art after Politics (2007), and Critical Museum (2011, 2013). In parallel to his work in academia, Piotrowski had a long-standing engagement with art exhibitions and criticism. He was the coeditor of the annual journal Artium Quaestiones (1994–2009), Director of the National Museum in Warsaw, 2009–2010, and Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Museum in Poznan, 1992–1997.

Over the years, Professor Piotrowski was invited to several institutions as a research fellow. He took part in the international conference Art in Transfer: Curatorial practices and transnational strategies in the Era of Pop (November 6–8, 2014, at Södertörn University and Moderna Museet, organized by Charlotte Bydler and Annika Öhrner).

We are deeply honored to have had Piotr Piotrowski as a CBEES guest researcher as recently as November 2014. His extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment to criticality and democratic ideals in academia has left indelible marks far beyond the discipline of art history.

  • by Charlotte Bydler

    PhD, is a lecturer at the department of art history and research coordinator in the cultural theory field, Center for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University, Sweden.

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