The endless glass towers refract the sunlight off their myriad surfaces, though their interiors are dim save for the guards wielding flashlights. This is a city of optical illusions, a city of memory, a city sitting still for its future. Perspective is off-kilter; the architecture is skidding off its foundations, the cladding slippery. It is a city emptied, gutted, warped—in one gray-palette painting, a figure slides down a wall while holding onto a beam.
In Tomasz Kowalski’s exhibition of new work, his first at 15 Orient, the Polish artist on the vanguard of a new Surrealism movement turns his sights on the city. If not necessarily COVID-inspired, then these paintings, seen at this time in this city, are certainly COVID-inflected. The exhibition literature describes a creation myth that functions as a pipe dream of return to normalcy. “Open your lips and blow, listen to the sounds coming out which fill the spaces, blow harder, let your breath spread into the conference halls and corridors, meeting rooms and elevator shafts,” Kowalski writes in Polish. “Fill them with air. The building rises up again. You can go in now and get back to work.”
The residents, too, have turned stranger. The exhibition’s title, “Psy-Trans,” refers to psychedelic trance music—Kowalski also owns a music label and composes music and audio plays—but it might also describe the beleaguered figures who drive, waltz, slumber and fly through these canvases. In one largely grayscale work, the viewer cranes one’s head up toward a trio of figures who either hold up or push in the walls. The ceiling falls in above us. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Tomasz Kowalski, Deszcz monet, 2021. Oil and cold wax medium on canvas, 27.5 x 20.4 inches.