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East and West Coast Perspectives on Jan Sawka Now on View in New York and California Exhibitions

The Dorsky Museum in New Paltz is hosting the New York exhibition and symposium. The California exhibition is located at RAFFMA in San Bernardino.

Jan Sawka, “California Dream #1, Sunday’s Pleasure” (1977) 48 x 75″, acrylic on masonite, 48 x 75 inches (©Jan Sawka Estate, photo by Camille Murphy). Featured in RAFFMA’s Golden West? Jan Sawka’s California Dream exhibition February 3–May 9, 2020.

Publisher’s note: Physical viewing hours for these exhibitions, as well as the planned in-person symposiums, have been suspended in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Cognizant of the importance of discussions around art and culture during this time, we encourage readers to stay at home and tune in to the online symposium Dreams & Memories: Jan Sawka, Coast to Coast on Saturday, May 2 at 10 am PDT / 1 pm EST / 7 pm CEST.

Now that the world is practicing social distancing itself a form of displacement the art of Jan Sawka is especially prescient. The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz and the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at California State University San Bernardino (RAFFMA) have joined together in solidarity to present an online symposium on the artist, where viewers from around the world will be able to tune in as symposium speakers consider Sawka’s life and achievements. After each presentation, viewers will be able to engage with the speakers over live Q&A chats.

Presenters from the Dorsky include Dr. Ksenia Nouril, the Jensen Bryan Curator at The Print Center in Philadelphia; Dr. Peter Schwenger, cultural critic and Resident Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario; Dr. Tom Wolf, Professor of Art History at Bard College; and Beth Wilson, art critic and the Art History Lecturer at SUNY New Paltz. The presenters from RAFFMA are art critic and curator Peter Frank, Hanna Sawka (Jan Sawka’s widow), Dr. Sławomir Magala, and exhibition co-curators Hanna Maria Sawka and Dr. Frank Boyer.

Visit bit.ly/JANSAWKA to register for the symposium.

Earlier this year, the late Polish-American artist Jan Sawka was the subject of two solo bicoastal exhibitions covering his legacy. The Dorsky hosted Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place), while Golden West? Jan Sawka’s California Dream was held at RAFFMA. Both exhibitions were co-curated by director and producer Hanna Maria Sawka (the artist’s daughter) and Dr. Frank Boyer.

On March 28–29, the Jan Sawka Estate in collaboration with the Polish Cultural Institute New York had planned to present a two-day symposium on Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place). Day One would have been held at the Dorsky in New Paltz, where the panel discussion “The Person and the Place” would have focused on the biographical aspects of Jan Sawka’s life. Panelists included Hanna Sawka (the artist’s widow), Dr. Frank Boyer, and art collector Michael Solow.

Day Two would have taken place at the Kościuszko Foundation in New York City, where the panel “Invoking the Inner Landscape” would have been accompanied by the launch of a thematic exhibition on Jan Sawka’s work with the same title as the panel, on view March 29–May 15. The symposium at the Kościuszko Foundation would have been an academic analysis of the art-historical and critical implications of Sawka’s art practice. Special guests included Dr. Peter Schwenger, cultural critic and Resident Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario; Beth Wilson, art critic and the Art History Lecturer at SUNY New Paltz; Dr. Tom Wolf, Professor of Art History at Bard College; Ksenia Nouril, the Jensen Bryan Curator at The Print Center in Philadelphia; and exhibition co-curator Dr. Frank Boyer. Both this and the Dorsky panel would have been moderated by Hanna Maria Sawka. Visit polishculture-nyc.org for more details.

Jan Sawka in the studio in 1991. (photo by Krzysztof Krawczyk, image courtesy the Sawka family)

Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place) featured Sawka’s paintings and etchings from the Dorsky’s permanent collection as well as pieces from private collections. The work featured illuminates two aspects of his practice: Sawka’s fascination with human consciousness and his interest in place. Similarly, Golden West? Jan Sawka’s California Dream presented how the artist envisioned the American West prior to his exile from Poland up until his experience exhibiting in Los Angeles during the 1970s and ’80s. Paintings and drypoint prints presented visually cinematic explorations of commodification, exploitation, and the dual faces of a society that is quick to abandon the hyped-up novelties of just the day before.

Jan Sawka was a visual artist, painter, printmaker, graphic artist, set designer, and architect. After moving to New York City with his family in 1977, he illustrated commentary for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and designed graphics and sets for Off-Broadway theaters. In 1989, he designed a monumental set for the Grateful Dead’s 25 Anniversary tour as a solution to Jerry Garcia’s concern about stadiums being inhuman concert environments.  He won major awards including the “Oscar de la Peinture” and “Special Prize of the President of France” at the International Festival of Painting in Cagnes-Sur-Mer in 1975, the Japanese Cultural Agency Award (1994), and the “Excellence in Architecture Award” from the American Institute of Architects (2010). Learn more at jansawka.com.

Golden West? Jan Sawka’s California Dream was on view at The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at California State University San Bernardino (5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino, CA) through May 9, 2020. The exhibition was curated by Hanna Maria Sawka and Dr. Frank Boyer, and organized in partnership with the Polish Cultural Institute New York.

Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place) was scheduled to continue at The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz (1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz, NY) through July 12, 2020. The exhibition was curated by Hanna Maria Sawka and Dr. Frank Boyer, and organized in partnership with the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in SUNY New Paltz, the Polish Cultural Institute New York, the SUNY New Paltz Foundation, Inc., and The Kościuszko Foundation.