Fow it works?
The International Triennial of Tapestry is the world oldest (1972), biggest and the most representative textile art review; winning a prize in this competition (even if without financial gratification) offers prestige superior to all others in this art discipline. Comparable international events in Lausanne and Kyoto broke up in the 1990s. The mystery about the continuity of the Łódź triennial lies in the unbroken vivid interest it arouses among artists all over the world, unquestioned leading position of Polish artists, large and active textile milieu in Łódź supported by the Strzeminski Academy of Fine Arts, established international position of the Central Museum of Textiles as well as unfailing contribution of the City Government (financing the event) that cares for the textile tradition of Łódź.
The triennial of tapestry is the largest international festival in Łódź and its world renown – in the art area – outclasses the biennial of graphic art in Cracow or the Warsaw poster biennial. Emancipation of textiles in the world as a genuinely independent means of expression dates back to the 1960s, yet fame of artists (ex.: M. Abakanowicz, W. Sadley) and excellence of their masterpieces have not contrived general tendency to approach textiles as functional objects rather than strictly artistic. Therefore, the above mentioned other art events are better observed in the media than textiles.
For the Central Museum of Textiles, as its sole organizer, it is the most serious cyclic organizational challenge. The process goes on, under the guidance of the Programming Board, for two – two and a half years. Selection of countries, artists and works, is conceived in such a way so that the event is representative of the present state of the contemporary textile art in the world, without decreasing the artistic rank of the show. Organizers strive for participation of artists from the countries, which represent the highest level in this area as well as those, which rarely, or never, partake in international shows. Selection of artists – usually from 50-55 countries – is the task of national consultants (outstanding artists, teachers, art critics, directors of museums and galleries in a given country). It is very rarely that we undertake the effort of selection; we believe that consultants known better who, in their country, is the best, the most original and creative.
Habitually, there are 130-140 participating artists. With regard to the artistic potential of a given country, the Programming Board sets the limit of 1 to 5 participants. The exception is the Polish representation. Artists from Poland are selected (in secret ballot) by the Programming Board, yet no more that 15-20% of the expected number of all artists (it is the privilege of hosts, which does not guarantee dominating position).
The selection of works to be put on show is the task of artists, according to the regulations. Organizers believe that artists themselves, not even national consultants, know better which of their pieces is the best. The work cannot exceed 3 x 3 x 3 m. The surface – flat or three-dimensional – is used variously. Sometimes, the work is moderate in size, in other cases it largely exceeds the allowed dimension limit (the jury excludes the work from the competition, but leaves it in the exhibition). Submitted works must be made of fibrous materials (flexible, which can be interlaced) in one of the textile techniques. Organizers never impose a theme, they do not promote any technique or style. Objectivism of the jury panel is guaranteed by its international character, where Poles are in minority that can be outvoted.
The triennial lasts from May till October. On the opening day the verdict of the jury, secret till the very last moment, is announced to the international public gathered in the Museum; majority of prize-winners are present and receive medals personally. The day of opening and the one-two days, which follow, with the numerous associated exhibitions and events (in 2007 there were 110) form a genuine textile feast, one of the kind in the world.
From the beginning
With the passage of years, the more established the international position of the Triennial of Tapestry in Łódź, the more its “originators” emerge. Unquestioned and first is Krystyna Kondratiukowa. She presented officially the idea of the “Biennial of Contemporary Tapestry” in 1965 to take advantage at home of the international successes of the Polish weavers (Abakanowicz, Owidzka, Sadley) during first two events in Lausanne (1962, -64).
The Łódź triennial started in 1972 as a national show – 1 National Triennial of Industrial Textiles and Tapestry. The Central Museum of Textiles was one of its organizers. Works of 161 artists were displayed and judged in two sections (some participated in both) – Tapestry (art) and Industrial Textiles. Organizers, in view of the existing potential, expressed hope in the catalogue introduction that the next show would be international. Exhibition was applauded both by the public and media.
In 1975, artists from 14 countries showed their works at the 1 International Triennial of Tapestry. The exhibition was on show in the Central Museum of Textiles – and remained there ever since. It was Polish-French-Russian event. There was one donation for the museum collection, the practice more frequent in the following years.
The next exhibition in 1978 adopted yet another name - 3 Triennial of Tapestry and Industrial Textiles. Its participants were to refer to the following theme: “Textiles – idea – man” (it did not give encouraging artistic effects and the idea of imposing a theme was given up). The event was subject to reform. Organizational Committee was replaced by the Programming Board as the supreme body, Polish and English were official languages and new system of prizes was adopted (one gold medal, two silver medals and three bronze medals). As the Polish representation was limited on the international scene, the National Exhibition of the Polish Tapestry was established to associate.
In 1981, during 4 International Triennial of Tapestry and Industrial Textiles, the industrial section was non-existing, even if the name remained, because artists cold-shouldered in view of illegal copying of their designs.
After suspension of activity of the Polish Artists’ Union under martial law, several new organizations emerged, competing with each other; they approached the triennial as the potential area of influence and attractive possibility of promotion as well as the source of finances. In the situation, the Ministry of Art and Culture consigned the Central Museum of Textiles with the task of sole organizer of the triennial. The Programming Board of the 5 International Triennial of Tapestry in Łódź introduced changes into the regulations obliging until the present day: exhibits should be executed of fibrous materials or interlace technique (previously the two conditions were obliging simultaneously); due to growing interest in the exhibition, artists can take part in every second triennial; Medal of the Central Museum of Textiles was included into the list of regular prizes; in order to retain international character of the show the number of Polish representation cannot exceed 15-20% of the whole; in order to guarantee verdict impartiality of international jury the number of Polish hosts is never dominant. Another event was founded – National Exhibition of the Polish Miniature Textiles.
Further editions were organized regularly with some minor modifications to the programme and regulations (ex.: limit of dimensions and weight of exhibits) with constantly growing interest of potential participants and public. The record-breaking triennial - in 2007 - noted 162 artists from 54 countries (although it happened that the number of countries was bigger). Apart from regular prizes new ones came, some permanent, like Medal of the Polish Artists’ Union and Medal of Polish Artists’ Union “Polish Applied Art”, other – sporadically awarded – prize of Crafts Council or Foundation “Akapi”. Apart from national Polish exhibitions, which accompany the triennial there are several other associated events, varying in rank and character, organized all over Poland, some of them forming textile art festivals (Gdańsk Coast, Cracow, Lower Silesia), usually amounting to 100-110.
Many people “dress up” as initiators of transforming the national Polish exhibition (1972) into the international one (1975). The “driving spirit”,though, was Krystyna Kondratiukowa (founder and first director of the museum) who, a dozen years earlier, introduced Polish artists-weavers into the most prestigious European art venues. Their successes at the 1 and 2 Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne (1962, -65), aroused hope for similar renown to be the share of the textile art competition in Łódź.
The international niveau of the triennial has continued, the measure of which is – with moderate interest of the national mass media – the number of critical texts in professional journals, imposing international public (not only on the opening day) and the number of donations offered to the museum collection in recognition of its fame and promotional contribution. The interest in the Łódź triennial has not grown weaker; in view of textile art geography we can say that 50-60 represented countries is maximum, which means that the triennial cannot “expand internationally” because there is no sense in it.
Decision to organize the exhibition in three-year cycle may have been taken to distinguish it from the two-year basis of the Lausanne event. It turned out advantageous, though, both for artists-participants as well as for organizers. Making tapestry takes more time than a graphic print or painting. The most valuable works are not created every three years, but it’s more probable that an artwork appears in three rather than in two years. If we add the condition included in the regulations that an artist can partake in every second edition, we can expect that in 6 years they will create several items to select the best out of them. Time censures expanded considerably the circle of potential triennial participants, but they have not “condemned” for a longer absence those whose talent and invention is always the source of our admiration.
Also, due to organizational reasons, three-year cycle is optimal. Preparation of every exhibition takes our small museum team 2,5 year. It is uneasy to square daily museum chores with the effort related to elaborating the show of triennial high rank. That is why we are the only museum in the world that undertakes the challenge.
Other cyclic events display posters, prints, drawings. We show textiles because we are the Central Museum of Textiles.
In the early 1960s, due to its art potential, only the Warsaw art milieu was prepared to organize a prestigious exhibition like triennial, but successes of artists may have “put to sleep” the energy of organizers. Ca. 1970 Łódź expressed its intention to underscore its unique position on Poland’s art map, worked out by the community of artists and artists-designers from the State Higher School of Art and Design. Organizational efforts of artists in need of international self-promotion were supported by the state and industrial mills. Animators of the triennial proved their discernment. In order not to discourage sponsors with excessively modern art, they combined in one event two actually different shows (ministries, unions, corporations which differed in financial and political influence) – tapestry and industrial textiles. It was hardly possible to support one half of the exhibition, so the subsidies went for the whole event and in concord with the obliging, in the Łódź art community, belief that design disciplines cannot progress without earlier experience and experiments undertaken in textile art, which envisaged the postulate of the “symbiosis of arts”.
When, in 1981, the exhibition of industrial textiles was given up (mainly because of its unattractive and bad formula unacceptable for foreign artists-designers), no one doubted that the International Triennial of Tapestry will defend its position with the sole arms it had – the art of textiles, which, in international perspective, is on display nowhere else, but here, in Łódź.
Between May 25 1975 and October 31 2011 thirteen exhibitions of the International Triennial of Tapestry in Łódź were on show for 1737 days. In the triennial data base 1618 persons are noted (participants, consultants, jury members, organizers, members of Programming Boards; members of Honorary Committees were not included) from 76 countries (including now non-existing states).
7 triennial (1992) was the longest (182 days), at the 3 (1978) the largest number of exhibits was shown (204) by the largest number of artists (204), at the 11 (2004) the largest number of countries representations (55).
1367 artists represented 71 states. Poles were present at every of the thirteen editions; 12 times (which is maximum, because the 1 Triennial was national) representatives of Belgium, Finland, Spain, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Hungary and Great Britain were hosted.
7 countries participated only once. The most numerous representations were from Poland (309), Japan(63), USA (55), Hungary (39), France (37) and Switzerland (36); 8 countries had only 1 representative.
Majority of 1732 items were made by artists themselves, only 31 by two authors or more (even 6!)
1090 artists presented their works only once, but there are some who showed their pieces several times: 9x (Stefan Popławski) and 7x (Maria Teresa Chojnacka, Kazimiera Frymark-Błaszczyk, Jolanta Owidzka). The above named artists have been with the triennia from its first edition. Popławski was there at 1-7, 9, 11, 13.
188 prizes were awarded (medals, prizes, distinctions, honorary mentions) to 165 artists from 37 countries. Jolanta Rudzka-Habisiak was awarded 4 times; 3 x Włodzimierz Cygan, Peter Horn, Jolanta Tworek-Pierzgalska and Urszula Plewka-Schmidt.
Among 69 medal winners (gold, silver and bronze medals) the largest number comes from Poland (18), Japan (11) and Germany (4). Gold medals went 5x to artists from Poland (Włodzimierz Cygan, Katarzyna Józefowicz, Dobrosława Kowalewska, Jolanta Rudzka-Habisiak, Konrad Zych), 2x Japan (Tomoko Ishida, Naomi Kobayashi) as well as representatives of Denmark (Berit Hjelholt), Norway (Ane-Gry Loland) and Lithuania (Zaiga Putrâma). Four of ten gold medalists showed their works only once at the triennial.
Taking into consideration the number of representatives for one medal, the most effective were representations of Columbia (3), Slovakia (3,33) and Japan (5, 73). Representatives of 47 countries never got a medal.
Nine persons in the history of the triennial have been noted as the most versatile ones, they participated in various triennial editions as artists, consultants, jury members: Androna Linartas, Aurelia Mańdziuk, Anne Morrell, Adam Nahlik, Urszula Plewka-Schmidt (+ medal), Margot Rolf, Jolanta Rudzka-Habisiak (+ medals and participation in the Programming Board), Wojciech Sadley (+ medal), Bolesław Tomaszkiewicz.
212 consultants came from 63 countries. As a rule, they selected artists from their own countries, some for two or more (Norbert Zawisza from 29, Jolanta Piwońska from 23). Many consultants partook in other editions as artists (55) or jury members (32). 122 consultants performed their job only once, others more often with some very often: Norbert Zawisza (9x), Eulalia Morral i Romeu (8x), Halina Jurga and Bernard Kepler (7x)
90 jury members from 22 countries evaluated the exhibits. The most often: Norbert Zawisza (9x), Konstantina Hlavácková (4x), Adam Nahlik (3x), Bolesław Tomaszkiewicz and Teresa Tyszkiewicz (3x).
Museum received 160 donations from 144 donators from 57 countries. Three times from Wojciech Sadley, twice - Alvaro Diego Gomez Campuzano, Anne Mor-rell , Ewa Maria Andryszczak, Natalia Piontek. The largest number of donators comes from Poland (16), Russia (8) and Spain (7). 7 donators never participated directly in the triennial.
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