Warsaw-based Michał Budny is known for austere sculptures made from commonplace materials like cardboard, colored foil, paper, plastic and paint. With a subdued palette tending toward gray, black, brown and white, these sculptures can be very unassuming, yet also supremely evocative.
Budny's excellent exhibition at the newly relocated Raster Gallery was surprising, because at first glance the gallery seemed conspicuously empty, save for several plastic sheets hanging from the walls, and an off-color section of one wall that looked as if it were being restored. Immediate bafflement ensued: Had the dates changed? Was this the aftermath of an exhibition that had recently closed, or perhaps preparations for an exhibition yet to be installed? Such confusion shaded into enticement when you realized that Budny had subtly, yet comprehensively, transformed the whole space, using his signature, bare-bones materials and rudimentary geometric forms to decisively alter the architecture.
The exhibition commenced in the front of the gallery, where a bank of windows looks onto the street. Budny left most windows alone but covered two with colored plastic film, which changed the incoming light to a bluish mauve. To the right, a large, slightly off-white, rectangular section of one wall seemed to be painted but was in fact covered with transparent adhesive tape, like a tactile "skin" clinging to the surface. It was one of many variations on reductive painterly abstraction. A recessed doorwaylike area was sealed at its back with a gypsum and cardboard barrier and fitted with soft, plastic foil walls, creating a nebulous and vaporous, even ethereal, space.
Elsewhere, two hanging plastic sheets suggested a work site, or a debased version of elegant drapery. Behind one, the wall was covered with another "skin" made from paper, through which you could partially see grayish painted drips and streaks and, at the bottom, congealed green paint on the floor: a burst of ragged, colorful intensity. Nearby, Budny had carefully prepared and painted a rectangle of an already white wall his own white. Gouge marks delineated its borders and revealed layers of old paint—the room's own material past.
As your eyes adjusted to the quiet variations in color and texture, and as you realized that all of the seemingly casual things present were there for thoughtful and specific reasons, the whole space-a distressed "white cube" revealing multiple traces of its own use and history through the decades, down to the worn tile floor-seemed alive; not a neutral container for displaying artworks, but an active and vital force that heightened one's experience. Moreover, this exhibition changed (at times dramatically) in response to shifting natural light. Past and present, entropy and renovation, normalcy and potent transformation all fused in Budny's exhibition, titled "˙Zywica" (Resin), a Polish word related to "˙zycie," meaning "life.
Photo: Partial view of Michał Budny’s exhibition “˙Zywica,” 2012; at Raster.