"Who crushed the Pope" "An art", "a work of art", and "an artist" in a press discussion about jubilee exhibition in the Zachta Gallery
Sociology Graduate School for Social Research Warsaw, Poland
In December 2000 Zachta Gallery in Warsaw opened a jubilee exhibition. Its curator, Harald Szeemann, was asked to present his own, subjective vision of 100 years of Polish art. The effect of that presentation raised one of the stormiest discussions in Polish media about artistic event. However, after conducting an analysis of media discourse concerning this exhibition, it turned out that newspapers did not discuss art at all. A direct conclusion that can be draw out of the semantic field analysis of selected 17 articles and textual analysis of over 250 texts is that the most powerful message for readers consisted of what art is not instead of what it is or might be. This lack of positive postulates and, above all, denying that contemporary art is a true one, became a characteristic for articles mainly concerning one piece present at the exhibition - Maurizio Cattelan´s "No title", which showed a figure of Pope John Paul II crushed by a meteorite. According to analyzed (and supported by interpretation in Pierre Bourdieu?s categories) articles, art should not question established social order, break a taboo, or change audiences´ mentality. Any attempt of being political became a disqualifying factor for art. Additionally, in this case it was not an artist who made a political statement, but it was a politician who made artistic one - two Polish Parliament members covered Cattelan´s artificial statue with a white sheet as they would do if it was a real dead body. Therefore, art entanglement in politics, on the one hand refused, on the other, became an example of a subversive strategy. This situation have shown, first of all, a failure of professional art critique, which did not react almost at all on political, religious and ideological attacks on Cattelan, his work, Zachta Gallery, and even its director, Anda Rottenberg who eventually resigned. What is more, a journalistic critique has shown its potential in mobilizing public (a large number of letters to newspapers is evidence); it was distinctive however, that it did it without using messages encouraging people to think about art individually.