Provocative Mermaids Woo Visitors to Warsaw MoMA’s Inaugural Show

Queerness, the environment, and other hot issues all figure into the exhibition.

Elmgreen & Dragset, He (Copper Green), 2013. Courtesy of Victoria Miro.

Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has a temporary new home, the Museum on the Vistula, and has inaugurated the venue with a group show, “The Beguiling Siren Is Thy Crest,” that features distinctly modern takes on the classic subject of the mermaid. Featuring nearly 150 works, the show includes artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Pablo Picasso, Agnieszka Polska, and Wolfgang Tillmans.

The new venue is a portable exhibition pavilion designed by Austrian architect Adolf Krischanitz. It first opened in Berlin in 2008, where it remained for two years, serving as the Temporäre Kunsthalle. The structure is on loan to MoMA from Vienna’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Foundation (TBA21).

The 6,400-square-foot building now overlooks the Vistula River, next to the University of Warsaw library. Polish artist Slawomir Pawszak won a competition to present work on the cement-panel facade for the current installation. The Museum on the Vistula will remain in operation until 2020, when the museum opens its $86 million building in downtown Warsaw’s Parade Square, designed by New York firm Thomas Phifer and Partners.

Museum on the Vistula. Courtesy of Bartosz Stawiarski/the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw.

Museum on the Vistula. Courtesy of Bartosz Stawiarski/the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw.

In a statement, TBA21 founder and chairwoman Francesca von Habsburg predicted that the “temporary exhibition space will become a center for contemporary art and culture in Warsaw.”

The current exhibition takes its title from a poem about the call of the siren by Polish poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Part human, part sea creature, the animal is featured on Warsaw’s coat of arms. The new museum also has a mermaid for a neighbor; it’s located near the city’s famed Syrena monument, a gunmetal statue of a mermaid by Ludwika Nitschowa, installed in 1939.

Agnieszka Polska, <em>Ask the Siren</em> (2017), video still. Courtesy of the artist.

Agnieszka Polska, Ask the Siren (2017), video still. Courtesy of the artist.

Works on view in the new show explore ideas of queer sexuality, as in Elmgreen & Dragset’s recasting of Copenhagen’s famed The Little Mermaid as a man; the economic crisis; environmental concerns as the Earth enters the Anthropocene, a new epoch defined by man’s influence on the climate; and technological attempts to perfect the human condition, among other themes.

The Beguiling Siren Is Thy Crest” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art, Museum on the Vistula, Wybrezeże Kościuszkowskie 22 (Skwer Kpt. S. Skibnierwskiego “Cubryny”), Warsaw, through June 18, 2017. 

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