In the time of COVID-19, when our world is practicing social distancing, itself a form of displacement, the work of Jan Sawka is especially prescient and moving. Sawka's works dealing with the longing for freedom, coupled with the deep empathy and sense of loss that only exile can bring, express an expansive sense of the beauty that hope, art and nature make available to human beings.
Separated by the whole of the country, two university art museums currently exhibiting the work of the late artist have joined together to present a symposium on his profoundly touching and, ultimately, humane work. In early February, The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art (RAFFMA) at Cal State San Bernardino opened an exhibition featuring works dealing with his dream of the West, tempered by its problematic promises, titled Golden West? Jan Sawka’s California Dream. Almost simultaneously, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz opened a thematic show titled, Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place) about memory and the places through which a human life passes. The exhibitions opened to critical and public enthusiasm, and full programs of events were planned for each institution, throughout the run. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, both museums were closed to visitors in mid-March.
The staff of both museums, together with the exhibition curators, have partnered to create an online symposium. Viewers from around the world will be able to join in as symposium speakers consider Jan Sawka's life and achievement—and the connection of his career and art with California and New York— from several points of view, including the biographical, the historical, the technical, and the personal—yielding a composite portrait of this protean and visionary artist. After each presentation, viewers will be able to engage with any or all of the speakers over live Q&A chats. Presenters from The Dorsky are Dr. Ksenia Nouril, Dr. Peter Schwenger, Dr. Tom Wolf and Beth Wilson, M.Phil. Presenters from RAFFMA are Peter Frank, Hanna Sawka (Jan Sawka's widow), Dr. Sławomir Magala, and the exhibition co-curators Hanna Maria Sawka, MFA and Dr. Frank Boyer.
This online symposium will take place on May 2nd at 10 a.m. PST / 1 p.m. EST / 7 p.m. CEST.
About Jan Sawka
Jan Sawka was a visual artist, painter, printmaker, graphic artist, set designer, and architect. Already known internationally as a member of the Polish School of the Poster, he was exiled from Poland in 1976 and settled in New York City with his family in 1977, where he illustrated commentary for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and designed graphics and sets for Off-Broadway theaters, as well as launching a successful gallery career as a painter. In 1989, he designed a monumental art-installation for the Grateful Dead’s 25th Anniversary tour. 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), a Gold Medal in Multimedia at the 2003 Florence Biennial of Contemporary Art, and the “Excellence in Architecture Award” from the American Institute of Architects (2010). Learn more at jansawka.com.
The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art, nationally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, houses a collection that includes Egyptian antiquities, ceramics and contemporary art, and hosts ca. 10-12 temporary exhibitions a year. Located at Cal State San Bernardino, RAFFMA presents the largest public display of ancient Egyptian art in Southern California. The exhibition, Journey to the Beyond: Ancient Egyptian in the Pursuit of Eternity, will be on display through April 2021. Visit the RAFFMA website for more information.
About The Dorsky Museum
Through its collections, exhibitions and public programs, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art supports and enriches the academic programs at the College and serves as a center for Hudson Valley arts and culture. With more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space distributed over six galleries, The Dorsky Museum is one of the largest museums in the SUNY system. Since its official dedication in 2001, The Dorsky has presented more than 100 exhibitions, including commissions, collection-based projects, and in-depth studies of contemporary artists including Robert Morris, Alice Neel, Judy Pfaff, Carolee Schneemann and Ushio Shinohara.