(PICS TO COME I PROMISE)
As some of you might know, In November 2010 I went to Warszawa, Poland from a museum show. This is probably the longest post I have ever written. I really have a super blast at Warszawa and really want to seal the great memories while it is still relatively fresh. I guess I am getting older, just like a aged porterhouse steak need to be grilled on high heat to seal all the juice in.
I am invited by Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski (Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdów Castle) to participate in a group show called “The Future Is Not What Is Used To Be.” Here firstly, I would like to give many many many THANK YOU to Magdalena Sawon and Tamas Banovich! You guys treated us like family in Warszawa! It is impossible to express through words my gratitude to your kindness and support! So besides kissing your cheeks three times I will forever kiss your cheeks four times when we say hi and bye ;-) And also a big bow to the curator Milada Ślizińska for her hard work, passion and strong belief in the show!
Warszawa, how should I start? The city is 85% leveled by Nazis German during WWII, then ruled by Soviet Communism until 1989. It is hard to not have a preconception about the city. After reading the history, and also how foreigners online often describes the city as gray and Poles as cold and closed to themselves, I found it the completely opposite. We found the city very vibrant in colors and all the Poles we interact with are the most welcoming and sweet people we have ever encountered. It all starts with a Wodka shot and “Niestesty, Nie Mówię Po Polsku.”
We arrive on Sunday, arrive around 2:30pm at the hotel. The museum is so generous they put us in the Sheraton! We of course instantly stands out among the cigar smoking businessman with my Mohawk, punk rock T-Shirts and leather motorcycle jacket and Young’s mix-match eclectic skater-boy military poncho look. We are in Poland, I don’t ant to be those Americans who expect everybody to speak English. With my very very very zero Polish I learned from an iPhone app Lingopal, I try to say “Witaj, Jak się masz? Dziękuję!” to everybody. To my surprise, everybody start smiling at me. Of course later on I learned that I used the words totally wrong in the situation, hahaha! Hey, at least I learn that Poles have GREAT smiles ;-)
We freshen up at the hotel and headed towards the night events- a talk about my works and a hot dog contest we set up with Warszawa Powiśle- a super hip cool bar/café/klub that used to be an abandon run-down ticket booth of a train station. Two years ago, Bartek, the owner and an artist himself, get the permission to renovate the place, bring in a team of awesome architects known as Centrala, preserve the amazing UFO Modernist architecture and transform the interior into a very designy cozy place, and voila, the coolest place in Warzawa is born.
The night run smoothly, unfortunately after my lectures there are some communication error that we thought there is no more hot dog eating contest. So we left. Next Magda, Tamas, Young and I are super hungry and we go to a Polish bar and have my first Polish plates of Pierogi and Kotlet Schabowy in the city of Mermaid. That totally hit the spot!
The day after Bartek told me the house is fully packed and there are at least 30 contestants chowing down the hotdogs competing for a print of my Obama artwork. I also bought two nice bottles of wodka for the 2nd and 3rd runners-up I am happy that they don’t go to waste. The results? The winner shovel down 5 hotdogs in 3 mins. Hey Poles you can do better! Where’s your next “Joey Chestnut” or “Maciej Kielbasa”? Here I congratulate all the winners, hope you don’t have indigestion, I bet your poop looks like multiples hot-dog the next day ;-)
Jak się masz?
In the morning I went to the Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski (here from now I call it the Castle) and meet with the curators and see how my works is installed. Besides Magda and Milada and the director Fabio Cavallucci, I also meet with the assistant curators Justyna Wesołowska (very smart, dedicated, unique, fashionable hard working Xena) and Kamil Malinowski (sweet handsome knowledgeable and passionate dude that should be a runway model). I also meet Dorota, a very sweet Polish lady who is so excited to meet Young because she stays in Korea for 5 months and is learning Korean and make her own KimChi now.
I have to admit I grew up eating dim-sum and wonton noodle soup I have hard times remembering Slavic names so sorry I wrongly mis-spelled and mis-pronounced your names. After we shake hands the first thing they told me is because of my art works the U.S. Embassy pull out the funding from the show. I do really love the Eastern European no bullshit straightforwardness but still I was like WTFOMFG? How does the U.S. Embassy related to the show? Later on I found out the curators are also responsible for bringing the funding in for the show operation, and because of my works a big chunk of money is gone. I feel very sorry but that’s the nature of my works. I believe arts should make people think. Here I want to express my utmost respect for the curators team to sail through this exhibition, not to mentioned they are all working double the workloads of normal US curators, fundraising is itself a fulltime job baby. These people are real unsung art lovers who put their hearts and soul in it.
We later meet up for lunch at the café Qchnia Artystyczna at the Castle, first time having the delicious żurek- a sour rye soup with pieces of smoked sausage, bacon and sliced half boiled eggs. Through the lunch I met Kobas Laksa- a Warszawa based Polish superstar artist whom work in my opinion, is the best piece in the show. Not to mentioned he represents Poland in 2008 Venice Biennials and won the Golden Lion award. We chat about music and he introduced me to a Polish record labels named “A Lot Of Meat” records. Then we engaged in a discussion of video game as arts and other random stuff.
After fine-tuning my piece, I go back to the hotel and meet up with Young, then we wander around and find the restaurants Bartek recommend us to. We arrive at U Kucharzy around 9:30pm and we are fortunate that there’s table available. Opened by the Gessler family- the famous restaurateurs in Poland, U Kucharzy occupied a former kitchen, keeps it white tiles, wood table and stainless steel sink façade and turns it into a Michelin recommended restaurant. The waiters/ chefs bring a cart to your table and sort of prepared the meal right in front of you, like sitting at the chef table of famous restaurant. We got the Steak Tartae, and the chef came and starting making it right in front of us, it takes a crazy 30 mins for him to finely minced and finish the steak tartae, the showmanship is fantastic and at the end he is sweating. I am wondering what he was thinking while chopping the steak? Football match from last night? Car payments? Cunning linguist? Fucking tourist keeps talking to me did I told them I don’t speak English already? Or simply mind of droning?
Wash it down with shots of Wyborowa Wodka, It was quite pyszne! The Steak Tartae got an interesting texture of tuna sashimi, kinda mushy reminds us of baby food. Also, we got Zrazy Wolowe (Stuffed Beef Roulade) and Eskalopki Cielece a la Toklas (Veal Scallops a’la Toklas), delicious and quite heavy food, due to their long and harsh winter. We are so full there is no room for dessert, but there are always rooms for alcohol.
Too Much “Na Zdrowie” is not good for my health!
After that we walk around and discover the Pawilony Bars hidden inside a courtyard from the Nowy Świat street. “Pawilony” means small stall or booth in Polish. This little clusters of bars occupy ex-communist era cozy rows of box-like architectures. Most of them are undiscreet, with clothes or blinds blocking the view from outside which makes them have a very speakeasy feel to it. We randomly go to one of them, called Le Melange, due to its red wall and carpet.
We walk in, sit at the bar and with my zero Polish all I can say is “Dzień Dobry, Niestesty, Nie Mówię Po Polsku.” The bartender, Mike replies “No problem I can speak English.” He indeed, speaks English super well! Then we start chatting about Polish food and identity, different neighborhoods and learned that he is half Syrian half Polish and in 6 months is going to get his Robotics Engineering degrees from the university. Wow this guy’s left-brain is probably 5 times the size of mine!
Young want to try all the different wodka shots Poland can offer, here are some of the ones we samples: Wyborowa, Pure Krupnik, both green and orange Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka, Old Krupnik, Advocaat and others, plus on top of that pints of Tyskie or Żywiec (memory loss!) and pack of Lucky Strike. Young got all happy and shitfaced in the same time, and all of a sudden says: “I will buy everybody a shot of wodka!” (Fortunately there are only probably 9 or 10 peoples including the bartenders at the bar) So she got a plate full of Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka shots, and start passing out to other patrons. Some girls see it and they instantly left hahaha! Then we end up invading a table of lesbians and self-invited our asses in. We are amazed how many young Poles can speak great English! There are extra shots left and Young probably took them all, at that time the bar is closed and Mike and Mariusz (the manager) join us, and the real party that we have very little memories of started.
I remember we laugh a lot. Mike later on told us that Young grab a rose from the lesbians and start breaking it and laughing. Wowza, hopefully that’s not their first date.
So we vaguely remember walking back to the hotel with probably 40 proof of blood inside our body. At one point, Young says she is going to fell, and as a heroic husband I try to catch her and didn’t realize how drunk I am too so we both fell. Young fell on top of me and landed on her butt, I fell with my forehead hitting the sidewalks. And that’s how I got my unique souvenir from Warszawa! We finally arrive at the hotel and we ran into Tamas (which we have no memory whatsoever). He says Young enters the hotel lobby with Jackie Chan’s “drunken fist” steps and great loud continuous laughter. Tamas ask her where am I and she says loudly to his face “1,2,3! 1,2,3!” Then I come with my forehead bleeding. What a night! I feel so close to Hemingway!
Jestem KAC KAC KAC KAC KAC KAC!!!
Needless to say, this morning is hell. Young can’t even get up from the bed so at the day time I stay in the hotel and take care of her. Her body is so intoxicated that any input to her body revolts her stomach. At night we are invited to a dinner with Laura Jasińska and Filip Pagowski, whom we met through Magda and Tamas on Monday at Warszawa Powiśle, and Young really cannot make it.
So I go alone, first we all gather at Laura’s boutique “L’Aura” on Mokotowska st. When I arrive I am super impressed at what her selections- Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, Viktor&Rolf, Anny Kuczyńskiej, Philip Treacy, Veronique Branquinho…etc. and the interiors is designed by Jean Paul Gaultier collaborator Matteo Messervy. Just wander around and look at each “sculpture” hanging on the cloth rack is a educational journey itself. Too bad I am so carried away that I forgot to take a picture of the boutique.
Next we take a taxi and arrive at their place, which Filip give us a warm welcome. I leaned that Filip is the graphic artist whom collaborate with Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo on their PLAY line. He creates the famous ‘buged-eye heart” logo and all the graphics. You have no idea, Rei is my goddess in the realm of fashion and I am completely dumbfounded that I am at his house chatting about antiques and furniture. His parents are both very important intellectuals and iconic artists in Poland. His father is Henryk Tomaszewski, the father of the postwar Polish Poster School. Even French political posters collective Grapus studied under him. His mother is Teresa Pagowska, a prominent painter who looks primarily to her dreams for inspiration. Her poetic deformed human figures interpretation, unusual sensitivity for color and the simplicity of form once redefines the Polish contemporary arts.
Laura serves up some great grilled Polish cheese, along with pickled mushroom and other delicacies. I started taking pictures of the two hand-crafted antique wood cabinet from the 1800’s. One is originated from Gdańsk and the other one is Dutch. I really admired the hand-forge iron hinges and hardware.
Next we venture out to this amazing Polish restaurant called Restauracja Lotos. Once we walk in I know exactly why they bring me here! This place literally stuck in the communist era. Almost everything is red here! I love the retro-futuristic hand made rattan spaceship looking lighting fixtures, the gold rim chairs and the crazy looking bar. Wowza! This really worth traveling 3000 miles to plus there are no tourist since its totally off the grid! No wonder Rolling Stones says Lotos is their favorite restaurant in Warszawa! They are right! This is the coolest restaurant in Warszawa!
We of course start with wodka. I got a steak tartae and I think this is better than the U Kucharzy. They didn’t over-minced the meat here plus you mix all the ingredients yourself so the texture and taste in my opinion, is much better. I also got the Kotlet Schabowy (pan-fried pork cutlet) which taste absolutely Pzysne too! Filip told me that Steak tartae is originated from Mongolians and Genghis Khan. Legends says when they are conquering Eastern Europe they are too busy to cook so they tied up the raw meat under the horse belly so when they ride, the meat is constantly being tenderized by the pounding. Hmmm, very interesting, I will definitely try that on our dog Wiki when we play fetch.
After the great dinner, we go back to their house and they serve us chocolate cakes and tea. All of a sudden they bust out this homemade liquor from his parent’s friend from Slovakia from 1986. Crazy stuff! Then they bring out another bottle, this one is infused with Goose Berries and dated back 1999, hmmmm, this is so yummy I really want to down that whole bottle! There is a great tradition here that people make that own infused liquor, I am very inspired and gonna make a Bacon infused Wodka when I come back to NYC. A nice way to end the night ;-)
Hey Magda and Tamas! You guys have crazy cool friends! Thank You for the introductions!
Nazywam Się Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung
We meet at noon at the Castle for the press conference. It is usual fun. Meet some very intelligent journalists, you can tell by the questions they ask. See Dorota again and this time introduce her to Young and they get along very well. Young says Dorota speaks much better Korean than her!
After the press conference we hang at the cafeteria again with Kobas and Justyna. Kobas is very nice offer to drive us to local places to see the real non-touristy Warszawa. Unfortunately our conversations surrounding arts, politics, music…etc got too interesting and we don’t have enough time to do that.
Next thing is the opening reception. To our surprise, Mike from the bar shows up! He is such a sweet and genuine guy you should totally pay him a visit while you are in Warsawa! Talk to a lot of interesting people, the show is a great success!
After the show we hang at the smaller Café Okna where all the Young kids gather. Justyna and Kamil introduce me to some young artists- Karolina, Franciszka, Ola and others. Karolina is obsessed with my Buco replica motocycle leather jacket because she thinks it reminds her of Nazis uniform due to its shininess and she is designing a stage set for a theater production. One things lead to other we end up drinking and smoking away. We also meet two fellow San Francisco artists in residencies, Trademark and Christy (collectively known as The Evolution Control Committee) and a French-Polish curator Martha Kirszenbaum. They have been living here for 4 weeks already so we mainly talk about the life in Warszawa and how things work here.
Time flies and its 10:30pm already. Young and I are starving, we got to eat something before meeting up with Kobas and the crew to clubbing so we wander around and hey, there’s nothing to eat. We found an overly salted kebab joint and have a simple dinner there, where all single dudes stuffed their stomach before the crazy clubbing.
Next thing we meet up with Kobas, his son and his girlfriend at Club 1500m2 on Solec street. A pretty cool huge club with random raw dancefloor, makeout rooms, concert hall and nooks and crannies. Make me think of a smaller and cleaner version of Leoncavallo in Milan without the Socialism attached and roaming free dogs. One room has hand built thick corten steel cages that people makes out on top of it. Young doesn’t feel so good so she left early. We dance to some good Polish reggae band played at another room. Keep on skanking Poles! One love is the start! Next step is what Peter Tosh says: “ I don’t want no peace, I want equal rights and justice!” Too much love will spoil you.
Next, Kobas drives us to Praga, the infamous borough across the Vistula river to the east. Unlike the western part of the city, Praga remained relatively untouched by destruction of Nazi Germany. Therefore you will see patches of old run-down building scatter around. Due to its lower rent vs bigger space ratio artist start moving in the neighborhood in the last several years. The story is like Brooklyn back in 1990’s.
Kobas takes me to Klub Saturator, according to him, “The most open place in Warszawa”. In fact, right after I walk in through the courtyard with broken glasses, I can tell I instantly belong here. One can see a drag queen with corsets and great makeup’s crawling on the floor, young gorgeous model looking boy wearing buddle wraps, bunch of punk rock girls making out, and the owner of the place dress in this hand painted B&W polka dots cover all with random gold chains on his neck. Basically anything goes here. Reminds me a blend of Rubulad parties in Brooklyn, The Stud in San Francisco and the burning man. There’s no pretensions, bourgeoisies and academic stuffiness, my type of place.
Justyna, Kamil, Karolina, Franciszka and others are here already. They welcomed me by giving me a shot call “Pigwowka”- a homemade sweet and fragrance liquor make from wodka, sugar, a little regional fruit called pigwa (or quince in English). It is so fucking delicious I get a round to everybody and that’s how the crazy party started! Kobas being the superstar introduced me to so many people there, including a giant 6ft 6in philosopher called “King Kong.” One of them is Malgosia Gurowska, a super talented awards-winning poster artist whom works are hanging on the walls of the club. We end up dancing away with Polish rocks including Lady Pank, Republika, Maanam! (Dziękuję bardzo Kobas for sending me the list ;-) I went back to the hotel around 6am. For some reason, the night makes me think of album called “Last Balkan Tango” by Boris Kovac & Ladaaba Orchestra- this is probably how I will party if tomorrow is Armageddon and I am very fortunate that we spend such a wonderful night together.
My new friends, hopefully one day we will party like this again!
Pyszny! Both eyes and stomach!
Today is the only day we decided to do touristy thing, and it proves to be the worst day and the best day to do so. Today is the Poland National Independence Day. Today commemorate the anniversary of Poland’s assumption of independent statehood in 1918 after 123 years of partition by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Today is no good because almost everything- the shops, museums and cultural institutions are all closed. Today is so good also because all the Poles and the families are out! We start walking towards the old town and there are tons of people on the street. We got some street food, randomly bump around and look at people eating Vietnamese food (probably besides sweets shop it’s the only restaurant that’s open).
When we follow the crowded main street entering the Old Town we see a group of serious skinheads walking towards us, each of them have a stick in their hand and some of them look at us intensely. At the center of the old town we run into a big protest. We see different colors of anarchist flags and young kids protesting. I ask some locals they say the right-wingers (probably the skinheads) were trying to take control of an important monument in the old town but the leftist stop them. I later ask a lot of other peoples and they say this kind of protest is very common on Polish Independence Day. Contrary to the BBQ, fireworks and parades of U.S. Fourth of July, Poles used this day to release their steam.
We decided to pay another visit to Mike at the Pawilony to say goodbye. He enthusiastically invited us tonight to come to the bar so we can drink crazy (he didn’t drive so he can party with us), but unfortunately we have a very important dinner appointment already ;-( This times no wodka for sure. We take it easy and have a very fun and “civilized” conversation. It is very hard to say goodbye to a new sincere friend.
For the evening we are invited by the curator of the contemporary arts center Milada Ślizińska and her husband Józef Mrozek to their house for dinner. I was totally dumbfounded when I first walked in, they have a entire dining set from Josef Hoffman! In case if you don’t know who he is, Josef Hoffman is an Austrian designer/ architecture who forms the Vienna Secession in 1897 along with Gustav Klimt. His idea of “Total Works of Art” reflects in his masterpiece the Stoclet Palace in Brussels. Hoffmann is also the teacher of Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele and Le Corbusier, and later formed Wiener Werkstätte as a fine-arts society with the goal of reforming the applied arts (arts and crafts). Basically, he is one of those pivotal figures who set the stepping-stones of modernism in design.
I am so into Josef Hoffmann’s work that the couch I sit on everyday at my home is a replica of Hoffmann’s Kubus sofa. So you can imagine how excited I am to see the real originals. I don’t want to be rude but I just start snapping pictures non-stop like I am at a museum. Besides the sets there are lots of other wonderful stuff, from Art Deco, Arts and Crafts movement to Bauhaus, you name it they have it!
So I am curious how and why they collect the objects. Józef, who is the head of the History and Theory of Design in Industrial Design Department of Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (duh?! Now it all make sense!) tells us the original motive is to have actual objects to show his students so they can touch, feel and use them. Back in the days when Internet doesn’t liberates the information yet and when Poland still climbing out of the Post-Communist hangover, flea markets is the perfect place for treasure hunting. I can imagine nothing can escape their PHD art historian knowledge.
The menu is Polish pleasant food with a twist. On the table are grilled eggplants, tomato with cheese, herrings, marinated salmon, baked then grilled potatoes. The meal of course can’t start without wodka, this time is Żubrówka- a wodka flavored with Buffalo Grass that grows in the Białowieża Forest (which is partly in Poland and partly in Belarus). The dinner is excellent; everything tastes perfect, the potatoes are absolutely amazing! Not to mention that we are eating from museum quality authentic 70 years old Bauhaus plates, dining with art deco utensils and vessels, and sitting on chairs that are more than 100 years old! Indeed, they from time to time loan their collection to museum around the world, for example, the Polish designed teacup I am drinking coffee with come with a teapot and is currently in a museum in Germany!
I also learn that Milada works with Joseph Beuys back in the days (also one of my favorite conceptual artists) through a series of framed photographs. Joseph Kosuth’s paintings are hanging on the wall. She also ran the most progressive avant-garde art gallery in Poland while its still ruled by the communist government. Without her constant courage, vision and hard works, there will definitely be far far far less international artists paying visit to Poland, and the public will have much less chances to see contemporary arts from abroad. I can’t think of any better song to dedicate to her- R.E.S.P.E.C.T.!
Don’t want to learn “Do Widzenia”
Our flight is around noon so we didn’t do much, only gym and breakfast. We ran into Tamas and Magda and meet Magda’s mom at the airport, She is so sweet, elegant and sharp! You can tell by her bright eyes and how fast she response! She keeps telling Young to buy duty-free cosmetics since its much cheaper!
After checking-in its wodka shopping time! There are so many to choose from! Too bad there are no Advocaat! Mike you will be disappointed ;-)
The LOT flight is here. I sit tight with my safety belt fastened. We are going back home. But in my heart there’s a void. This week in Warszawa all of the new friends I met really makes me feel like I am at home. Arts get old, times get old, things get old; but our feelings never will.
I left part of my heart in Warszawa.
As I am typing this last sentence, listening to Maanam’s “Cykady na Cykladach” and Brygada Kryzys’ “To Co Czujesz”, I am doing a shot of Żubrówka.
Na Zdrowie, my Warszawa friends!